Quick guide to proposals

Quick guide to proposals

a-n/AIR’s Exhibition Payment Guide says artists should make sure they provide clear evidence of their work and experience when approaching a gallery with a proposal. This quick guide offers advice on the main areas to consider when developing a proposal, and includes tips on what to include when responding to an approach from a gallery or making a speculative pitch.


Researching the organisations you intend to approach is the most important step to creating a successful proposal, so before putting a proposal together… research, research, research!


Engage with an organisation’s remit to find the best fit for your project.

Different types of organisations have different approaches to programming. Are they large, mid-scale or small? A festival, publicly funded or local authority venue? A commercial gallery or an artist-led space?

In making a speculative proposal or responding to an open call you should find out as much as possible about an organisation’s artistic direction and programme themes. Visit and attend events to learn how an organisation operates and who its audience is. Use its website. Look at past exhibitions and events, social media, artistic policy and the organisation’s vision to give you a sense of whether your proposed project will fit.

Consider the focus of the organisation you are making a proposal to. Does it work with emerging, mid-career, or established artists with an international exhibiting record? Is it committed to commissioning new work, promoting regionally based artists or does it demonstrate a preference for group or solo projects? Artist-led spaces may work with a close peer group that reflects its own ethos, or may be very open to proposals from a broad range of artists.

For a speculative proposal you need to research the best ways to contact the organisation and ultimately how receptive it is to receiving proposals.

Understanding these differences will save you time. There’s little point pitching to an organisation whose remit isn’t aligned with your career stage, work or type of project.


Consider timescale when researching and submitting a proposal. Some arts organisations outline a procedure for receiving proposals on their website – they may be open to receiving submissions all year round or may have specific deadlines. A number of galleries run annual open submission programmes. Larger organisations may review applications infrequently or only once a year, which can impact on the scheduling of your proposed project.

Open calls

Open calls for submissions will give you specific guidelines to follow on how to apply, what the organisation is looking for, what support will be provided and a timescale for successful applications. Follow the guidelines and don’t send more material than requested – always consider that the person on the other end will be dealing with a volume of entries.

The proposal

The five key things to include in a proposal are:

  • A description of the proposed work.
  • An estimate of the space required to exhibit.
  • A biography or CV of the artist/s involved.
  • Links to a portfolio, or images of relevant or recent work.
  • An itemised budget.

The proposed work

Within the opening three sentences of your proposal you should clearly and concisely state:

  • The kind of activity you are proposing (eg a solo or group show, or an evening of performances).
  • Who will be involved.
  • The duration of the project.
  • Why your project is important.

Be as concise with your opening description as possible and go into more detail with the rest of your application. Don’t expect the reader to work through pages of information before discovering what you want to propose.

The length of your application should reflect the scale of your project; proposing a talk between an artist and critic can be a short and snappy proposal, whilst a large international group exhibition will require more justification in the rationale for staging and selecting artists.

Consider the benefits to the organisation of your proposed activity. Does it draw on the local context or build upon existing themes within its programme? Will it bring a new audience to the venue?

It is not essential to achieve all of these things, but demonstrating an understanding of the organisation’s remit and how, and why, your project might benefit it could increase your chance of success.

The space

Your proposal should reflect the size and scale of exhibition space so consider the physical space available, and how much space you realistically need. If it’s a proposal for an event, consider how it will work within the context of what else is programmed for the space.


Make sure that you edit CVs to reflect the activity that you are proposing. Include work experience only if it’s relevant to your project.

Portfolio and images

Ensure that your images are the best quality possible. High definition is good, but having a well-lit, suitably cropped photo is much more important. Your images should be a suitable size to fit in an email or be small enough to download quickly.

If you are sending several attachments remember to label them all clearly.

Itemised budget

Your proposal must include a clearly itemised budget to realise the exhibition or project.

See Quick guide to Budgets for advice on how to create and manage a simple budget for a funding proposal or exhibition.

If you are preparing a budget for an exhibition with an organisation which receives public funds you should make sure you include a separate budget line for the Exhibition Payment so it is ring-fenced from other production or installation costs. See a-n/AIR’s Exhibition Payment Guide for more details.

This is an edited version of a guide from a-n Resources. It is provided here to support the implementation of a-n/AIR’s Exhibition Payment Guide, the outcome of the Paying Artists Campaign. For full access to a-n’s member resources and other benefits go to www.a-n.co.uk/join

More on a-n.co.uk

The artist’s fees toolkit
Enables artists to calculate an individual daily rate for services they supply based upon their unique circumstances and overheads, and to prepare quotes when pitching for freelance work.

Contracts toolkit
To fully inform your negotiations and create a bespoke, formal arrangement you can use the Exhibition agreement within a-n’s Contracts Toolkit.

Straightforward advice on how to construct and manage a simple budget.




Posted on

October 10, 2016