How to write a press release about an exhibit
and turn it into an article in Carolina Arts.
(Written in Dec. 1999, and last updated on March 31, 2011)
by Tom Starland, editor/publisher
I can tell you what's not a press release. An artist's resumé
is not a press release. An artist's statement is not a press release.
A copy of an article written about another exhibit by an artist
who will show at a different gallery with a different group of
works is not a press release. Any combination of these three items
does still not make a press release.
I have received press releases which after reading them only leave more questions unanswered than information offered. Some press releases forget to tell you the ending dates of the exhibit, while others forget to include the location of the exhibit, and my favorites are the ones that spell the name of the artist several different ways in the same sentence. The all time worst ones are those that come in plain envelopes with no return address and no name or number of the person who sent it. It's kind of hard to call someone and ask them what the hours of the gallery are, the street address, and a contact number when they don't give you a number to call to ask questions. You can do an investigation and find out how to get that information, but does any editor pressed for time bother? I know I don't anymore!
Every press release about an exhibit should have the following (typed) information (for both non-profit and commercial galleries):
1) The who, what, when, and where paragraph. The first paragraph of the press release should give the gallery name, general location, exhibit title, names of participating artists (you are responsible for the correct spelling of names), short description, and opening and ending dates of the exhibit.
Here's an example:
Works by Cat-in-the-Hat to Show at Carolina's Hooterville Museum
The Green Eggs
and Ham Gallery at the Hooterville Museum of Contemporary Art
in downtown Hooterville, Carolina, will present an exhibition
of conceptualized photographs by Cat-in-the-Hat entitled, A
(an) Honest Look at City Hall. The exhibition will open on
June 14 and continue through June 15, 1999. A reception will be held at the gallery on June 14, from 1pm to 1:15pm. It will be the first
and only opportunity for the public to view these controversial
works which caused the Mayor of Hooterville to cut the city's
funding for the Hooterville Museum of Contemporary Art.
2) The next paragraph should give information about the artist and the works in the exhibit.
Our continuing example:
Cat-in-the-Hat moved to Hooterville in 1991 to take the position of Artist-in-Residence at Hooterville University. It was at the University where the artist developed his new medium of choice - conceptualized photography. Conceptualized photography is where the viewer sees whatever they want and that is exactly what the artist wanted it to be. The artist does admit that with this new form of photography the burden is on the viewer more than it is on the images' creator.
Before the development of conceptualized photography, Cat-in-the-Hat thought of himself as a creator of insider art - art created by people with numerous art degrees and no creative vision, but have total support and acceptance by the established art community.
A (an) Honest Look at City Hall, will feature 16 conceptualized photographs showcasing Hooterville City Hall, including images of Mayor Yertle the Turtle. It is these images which the Mayor is trying to stop the Museum from showing by threatening to cut the City's funding to the Museum. "It makes you wonder if the Mayor is afraid to find out how the public views him," commented the artist when asked about the controversy.
Before moving to Hooterville, Cat-in-the-Hat lived in Whoville, SC, where he was working on a project, funded by the National Endowment of Self Indulgence, to document the everyday life of Whoville. His day involved carrying around a video camera attached to a hat that was set up to take 15 seconds of video every hour. At night the artist would just point the hat at himself while sleeping. Cat-in-the-Hat had completed eleven years of the project before Congress cut funding for the NESI in 1990. The artist protested the action by Congress by smashing his video hat on the front steps of the Lincoln Memorial, stating that he would remain enslaved by Congress until NESI funding was restored. It was this action which gained the artist the attention of the Art Department at Hooterville University and the Artist-in-Residence position.
3) The next paragraph
should give further background information about the artist, as
far as education, grants, awards, and inclusion of works in collections.
And, any other important accomplishments.
Our continuing example:
Cat-in-the-Hat has the highest degrees available at leading universities throughout the country. He has received continuous grants and fellowships from every funding agency known. His works are included in all the important private, public and corporate collections, as well as those that are not yet known to be important at this time. Cat-in-the-Hat is also credited with designing the "first" cover of the Beatles' LP, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which was never seen by the public and no known copies exist.
4) The final paragraph should include important information about the exhibition space and contact numbers for the space, as well as those providing the press release. This could include website URL.
Our continuing example:
For further information about the Museum call 100/987-6543.
For further info about Cat-in-the-Hat, call the Lucky 100 Agency at 200/123-4567, e-mail at (IM@home.com) or on the web at (http://www.16Lucky100.com).
Special Note: It is advised that you should send color electronic images (jpgs or tifs) at least 3" wide at 300 dpi. If we need larger files, we will contact you.
Now, our example
press release may have more information than will be used by the
media, after all, that's what editors are for. Nonetheless, it
has all the information needed to be a good press release and
a future article in Carolina Arts. Most people just send
the info found in the first and last paragraphs, and most of the
time, they don't include all that info. I find it hard to believe
that anyone presenting the public with an exhibition of art by
a single artist, duo, or a group of artists can't follow this
formula to produce a respectable press release. If you don't know
this information or the artist can't provide it, I don't know
if you should be presenting the exhibit - you're not ready or
prepared to have a successful exhibition.
In some cases, representatives of other media, otherwise known as real art reporters, may contact you for further tidbits of information to justify their salaries. At Carolina Arts, we don't have time and we prefer to receive all the information we need in the press release. Depending on how well it is written and how informative it is, we may reprint it as is. Some people think of press releases as just an invitation to call to ask about something unrelated to the exhibit or as an opportunity for poetic license to interpret what you said on the phone any way they want. At Carolina Arts we think you should know your artist(s), what you are presenting, and what you want the public to know about it, better than we do or ever will. We're in the business of distributing information about the visual arts.
This is how people get articles in Carolina Arts and how we can operate this newspaper without a staff on a monthly basis, every month. I hope you find this article informative.
One last thing. Don't send us a press release if you don't have a gallery space in North or South Carolina. If you are from outside our area of coverage and want information about your exhibit in Carolina Arts, you can purchase a display ad to have that info included.
article first appeared in Carolina Arts, back in Dec. 1999,
I have received many comments and questions about the piece. Overall,
many people found it helpful and informative. Some people found
it to be just another smart-ass piece by me and another way to
slip a commentary into the paper. Although it's in my nature to
be smart-ass, most of the time I'm not trying to be, and yes,
the article was just another opportunity for me to make a few
editorial comments about some people in the art community, but
the main purpose was to help others write better press releases.
Each month we receive a few so-called "press releases" that are just too incomplete to use, so some just end up as gallery listings, as we don't have time to chase down further info.
We don't just include press releases that only come from our advertisers. If that was so, more than half the articles you see each month wouldn't be there. Many of our advertisers don't send us press releases - they prefer their ads to do their talking. We don't sell inclusion in our paper, but we do consider the needs of our supporters, and rightfully so, they are the people who make the paper possible. We have had many articles about many exhibit spaces who have never advertised with us and we will continue to run those press releases - that's the way we do things here. At least that is the current policy. This could change, as the paper grows larger. We think balance, content and information are as important as selling ads in the paper. Our supporters seem to agree with that policy too.
If you still don't think you can write a decent press release, even after our helpful advise - there are lots of writers for hire out there. They talk the talk and can write volumes about anything.
The final point is - I think it is extremely important to publicize your exhibitions - through advertising or by press releases. Not with just us, but to many sources. And, not taking advantage of any and every free opportunity just doesn't make sense to me - does it to you?
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