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 when crafting a proposal. While some of these are specific to our program, many of them are universal. Good luck!
Use simple language, avoiding art jargon and buzzwords.
Open with a strong, clear sentence that succinctly communicates your idea.
Write directly, and avoid using the conditional or future tenses. “The exhibition addresses ______,” is a stronger phrase than, “The exhibition would address/ will address/ seeks to address______.”
When crafting your proposal, be sure to answer these questions: What is this project about? How is my approach innovative or unique? Why is it important to include these artists?
With our open call, we look for thoughtful, well-researched proposals. Successful proposals tend to have a specific focus, such as an examination of artists' responses to the Unites States prison system (2013 open call winner, Yaelle Amir). A focused curatorial inquiry makes for a stronger proposal than a more general theme, such as “different artists working in oil paint .” We also look for ideas and approaches we haven’t seen before, in our space, or anywhere.
Be specific when writing about each artist’s work. Rather than describing 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 relate to the theme of the exhibition? What does it contribute to the show? What relationship does it hold to the other works in the exhibition?
Clearly describe the exhibition plan: how will viewers experience the work? Think about the scale of the gallery space. We strongly recommend visiting the space or reviewing documentation on our Vimeo channel before submitting your application.
Ask questions! If your proposal hinges on something related to the space (hanging from the ceiling or building a false floor) 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.
Consider the range of the artwork you’re including. Does it form a dynamic and cohesive exhibition?
Be sure you’re using high-quality images of artists’ work. Images should be bright, clear, and photographed on a neutral background. The stronger your images, the stronger the proposal.
If an artist’s work is video or time-based, include a video sample and a link to the full piece. Provide jurors with a clear sense of the artist’s work.
Your curatorial framework is as important as the artwork you include. 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.
Skip caveats that undersell your skills and experience, such as “though I have no curatorial experience” or “I know I have limited experience but…” We encourage thoughtful applications from curators at all stages of their careers.
Read and follow all application instructions carefully.