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The 411 on Non-Profit Galleries

The 411 on Non-Profit Galleries

Installation view from Matters of Sensation, Artists Space, New York, September 25 – November 22, 2008. Photo: © Adam Reich 2008.

Valerie Atkisson / ArtBistro

October 12, 2009

You may wonder what non-profit galleries are or why you might want to show your work in one. Let ArtBistro guide you through all you need to know about non-profit galleries; and then take the ArtBistro tour of some of the top non-profits around the country!

Non-profit galleries typically show the work of younger lesser know artists, with sometimes edgier or more experimental work. Why is this the case? Non-profit galleries do not depend on sales to keep in business. They rely on donations and grants to run. However, depending on the gallery, they will take a commission on you work but usually not more than 30% of the price. Non-profit galleries typically do not “represent” artists or enter into contractual relationships with them, but you should sign a loan/exhibition form before you leave your work or at the time it is picked up. This form will often state what kind of insurance they do or do not have to cover reparations if your work is damaged.

Artist, Karina Skvirsky, gives her perspective on non-profit galleries. “I find that there is a lot of overlap between for profit and non-profit galleries. They both provide exhibition opportunities which lead to exposure which lead to more exhibition opportunities. There are, however, some interesting differences. Non-profits traditionally take more risks with the work they exhibit often showing work that does not have proven market reach. Because of their non-profit status they also provide funding sources. I have exhibited in numerous non-profit galleries and feel that those galleries have helped me tremendously. In showing at these galleries I have formed relationships with the galleries and the staff members which has provided a base of support for my work over the years.”

Getting In

Many non-profit galleries have a submission program. Visit their website, or stop by to pick up the materials that you would need to submit to be considered for a show or for their artists registry. Some non-profit galleries hold a registry for artists that are open to the public. Curators look at these registries to find artists to exhibit in shows that they are curating. Some registries are curated and you need to apply to be accepted. Other registries are open to all artists such as Artists Space pictured here.

Elizabeth Hirsch of Artists Space says,: “The Irving Sandler Artists File at Artists Space represents a commitment to emerging artists over 30 years in the making. The file now exists entirely online – extending the mission beyond the walls of the gallery to an interactive site. It has become a useful resource for artists, curators and arts professionals worldwide, further supporting the ideas of dialog and experimentation so central to Artists Space’s mission.”


Non-profit galleries have fundraisers so that they can financially support their gallery. The fundraisers come in many forms but they usually hold auctions of artists work. The artist donates their work of art and the money raised from purchases goes to the gallery. This is a good opportunity to get your work “out there” and network. You can find out the person who bought your piece and offer to put then on your mailing list or invite them for a studio visit. You can also invite your friends who will support you to the auction to bid on your work! Auctions are fun places to meet other artists.


Volunteering is a great way to get to network with other artists and administrators. Your colleagues will likely ask about your work. Take that opportunity to invite them to your studio. Go and see their work too. Many artists overlook volunteering as opportunity to get your foot in the door.


Many non-profits have internship programs. They often take a few months for the whole process so start early. Interning is a great way to get to gain experience, get a look behind the scenes and make more contacts. The contacts that you make from an internship will be valuable for years to come.

Artist and curator, Letha Wilson explains her relationship to non-profits: "In my case non-profits have influenced me quite a bit – first and most importantly as my introduction to the art world of NYC was as an intern at Artists Space. This internship led to a part-time job as the Artists File Coordinator which I kept as I went on to grad school at Hunter, and then worked there full time for two years after graduation as the Associate Curator. The great thing about this place its small scale and staff, openness to new ideas, and constant influx of artists / interns and new ideas. The downfall of course eventually was the time it took and eventually I left to give my studio work the time it needed to move forward. 

Also as an exhibiting artist I have found the importance of non-profits is their often open structure to new artists, as that is what they do. A couple of shows I got in by answering an open call for a specific proposal, that was open for anyone to apply. This kind of chance is not possible at museums or commercial galleries, and it really gives a chance for artists to get their work out there and a foot in the door. This being said it also sometimes takes many many proposals and attempts before a piece will end up fitting with a show, so as usual try not to give up after one proposal is not accepted. The nice thing about non-profits in New York also is they get as much exposure as the other galleries and make your work available to that audience, and press persons, curators. etc. Additionally non-profits are usually pretty good about giving the artists at least a small honoraria and even a production budget in the best situation."

Where are they?

The following is a guide to the many non-profit galleries in some of the art centers of the nation.

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