Help Desk is an arts-advice column that demystifies practices for artists, writers, curators, collectors, patrons, and the general public. Submit your questions anonymously here. All submissions become the property of Daily Serving. Help Desk is cosponsored by KQED.org.
Is a gap in your artist résumé detrimental to your current job, exhibition and other prospects? I haven’t exhibited art in a year for various circumstantial reasons. Now I am looking for a job as an art teacher and in a few months, I will be applying for exhibitions here in my new home of New York City. What if 2013 rolls around and I have no exhibitions or work to show for 2012? Am I in a hole that just gets deeper and deeper with each month?
The short answer is that a hiatus from exhibiting is not a disaster. The longer answer depends on how lengthy your pause is and how you deal with it. Let’s go through the finer points.
I contacted a number of art-school human resources departments, but no one was willing to go on record and pony up a definitive answer. However, Stephen Slappe, who serves as the Chair of Video & Sound at Pacific Northwest College of Art (he’s sat on a number of hiring and grant committees), came through with some reassuring advice for the job seeker: “A one-year gap wouldn’t even be a blip on the radar from my point of view. A person could have been working on a big solo show, relocating to a new city, or even suffering from an illness. I think most hiring committees understand the ups and downs of careers and lives. If your CV had a multi-year gap then it might draw more attention from a committee.” So you really don’t need to worry at this point.
Bear in mind that you’ll use different informational formats to apply for teaching gigs than you would for an exhibition proposal or grant application. A teaching résumé will emphasize your instructional experience, media-specific expertise, and other specialties like working with age/language populations. There are lots of sample art-teaching résumés out there, and you can check out a few here (but leave off the little painter’s palette icon, please), here, here, and here. Also, a job résumé is often limited by length (usually one or two pages), so you’ll want to use the space to highlight your pedagogical experience and accomplishments instead of your exhibition record. When you’re applying for a job, do pay particular attention to the requested page limit. Having sat on a few hiring committees myself, I can tell you that when you’re faced with a giant stack of applications, you start to look for ways to sort the wheat from the chaff; applications that don’t adhere to the stated guidelines are often relegated to the circular file.
The terms of engagement are different for teaching jobs than for exhibition proposals/grants/residency applications, and you’ll want to tailor your document to suit. Often these submissions ask for a CV with no set page length, and they are meant to be a complete list of all of your art-related achievements, which means that your gap might be more apparent here. Even so, a one-year lacuna is still not a big deal for the same reasons pointed out by Professor Slappe, above. For further information on formatting a standard CV, you can review the College Art Association’s handy guidelines here.
Instead of worrying that this gap is going to put you out of the running for various opportunities, is there something self-directed you could be doing to move forward? There are plenty of artist cooperatives in the Outer Boroughs (like Brooklyn Art Space) with gallery space and exhibition opportunities. Open Studios are another way to get the ball rolling and they can be super for meeting patrons and other artists. Bushwick Open Studios got quite a bit of press this year and you can also check out GO Gowanus, Bushwick, and Greenpoint. Additionally, volunteering for a job on the Open Studios organizing or administrative committee can help you build your resume and make connections that might lead to exhibition opportunities.
There are also call-for-entry websites like the CAA’s and re-title.com where you might find a good match for your work. Caveat emptor, though—only apply to calls from reputable spaces and keep one hand on your wallet. It’s not worth the head-and-heart-ache that comes from applying to a dubious organization that charges more than a small administrative fee, especially if the result is a rejection.
Also consider creating an opportunity for yourself from scratch. If you are really concerned about a lack of recent exhibitions, scout some empty storefronts and contact the owners/managers. They might love to have someone stage an exhibition rather than keep windows papered over, and might let you put up a temporary show for little or no money. In my opinion, actions that demonstrate imagination and initiative are more attractive for the job-and-exhibition seeker than waiting for an opportunity to come along. Good luck!