Advice on Crafting a Strong, Compelling Curatorial Proposal
After a few years of accepting open call applications for curatorial projects, we've decided to put together a list of tips for curators to keep in mind while putting together a proposal. While some of these are specific to our program, many of them are universal. Good luck!
Use simple language and avoid jargon and buzzwords.
Start with a strong, clear sentence that succinctly articulates your idea.
Write directly, and avoid passive and future tense (to be/will be). “The exhibition addresses xyz.” vs. “The exhibition seeks to address xyz.”
When crafting the proposal, every sentence should answer one of these questions: What is this about? Why these artists? How is this a unique approach?
For this open call, we are specifically looking for well thought-out, researched proposals. This usually means a level of specificity: a proposal that examines artists' responses to the prison system in the United States (2013 open call winner, Yaelle Amir) is a stronger curatorial inquiry than “artists working in x medium” or “artists using the same imagery in different media.” We’re also looking for things we haven’t seen before, in our space, or anywhere.
Be specific when writing about each artist’s work. Don’t write about the artist’s practice generally, write about the specific project or artwork that you want to use, and make a clear, compelling case for its inclusion. How does it connect to the theme of the exhibition? How does it contribute to the show? How does it contrast or complement the other pieces?
Clearly describe the exhibition plan: ie. how will viewers experience the work? Think about the scale of the gallery space. We strongly recommend you come see the space before submitting your application or visit our Vimeo channel for video documentation of past exhibitions.
Ask questions. If a part of your proposal hinges on something related to the space: hanging from the ceiling, or building a false floor, or painting everything black, send us a short email asking if it’s possible, and we’re happy to let you know. Proposals are often rejected because they aren’t realistic for our space.
Think about the diversity of the artwork you’re including. When seen as thumbnails, do all the works look the same? Oftentimes we see proposals where the artwork is all so similar, we can’t tell that it’s made by different artists, which does a disservice to the work.
Make sure you’re using high-quality, professional images of artists’ work. Images should be bright, clear, and photographed on a white background. The stronger your images, the stronger the proposal.
Think about the order of your slides. Start with the strongest, most dynamic image you have to catch the attention of the jury.
If an artist’s work is video or time-based, attach a video and include a link to the full piece. Jurors don’t feel comfortable approving a proposal without fully understanding the scope of the work.
Your curatorial inquiry is as important to us as the artwork you’re including. There should be a clear purpose to the exhibition. That said, the artwork should not seem to only serve the mission of the curator/exhibition. Context and balance are important.
Do not, under any circumstances, undersell your experience. We see a lot of applications that include caveats such as “though I have no curatorial experience” or “I know I have limited experience but…” We ask for your CV for a reason, and will address the question of experience if necessary, but we purposefully encourage applications from curators at all stages of their careers. We'll work with someone regardless of experience if they have a great idea.
Follow the application instructions to the letter. Failure to follow each and every instruction results in disqualification.