Fiber Revolution

How to Use Your Computer to Grow Your Own Exhibition Opportunities

By Martha Sielman

In May 2002 I had a question: Since it was difficult to find exhibition opportunities for myself, would it be easier to find them for a group of artists? My computer turned out to be the key to answering this question.

As the Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA) representative for Connecticut, New Jersey and Delaware, I had a pool of potential partners. So I sent out an exploratory email: "Would you be interested in creating a group to market our artwork jointly?" Twelve artists responded that they were willing to give it a try. One even volunteered to put together a portfolio for us on her computer, and thus Fiber Revolution was born.

The following year (2003) Fiber Revolution had nine exhibitions. By the end of 2004 Fiber Revolution will have had nine more exhibitions, and we are already booked for seven more in 2005. We have grown to 30 members (a voluntary limit to keep the group's size manageable) and have a waiting list. Members now come from Vermont, Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania, in addition to the original three states. We have a group portfolio, slide sets, postcards and a gorgeous web site (

Being in an exhibiting group is wonderful. Many of the members have a variety of professional skills in addition to their artistic abilities. We have been able to take advantage of professional graphic designers, professional writers, and professional computer programmers. There are 30 people all working to try to find exhibition opportunities. There is always plenty of artwork available to fill the opportunities that arise, even on short notice. There are plenty of people to help do the work of creating presentation materials, sending out press releases, hanging the shows, etc. It's easier to get the work done, and it's also more fun. These artists were initially colleagues, but now they've become friends.

Importance of the Internet

Fiber Revolution would not exist without the Internet. When I first conceived the idea of a group-marketing venture, I was able to make the proposal to the members of my SAQA region because of our connection through email. At that time I had met only three of the members in person. The rest knew of me through my email communication network: weekly member news messages and a monthly fiber art event newsletter. All of our organizing for Fiber Revolution is done via email. Unlike the regular (snail) mail, it's almost instantaneous. Unlike a phone call, it's free and can be done at your convenience. This fact is essential as I have five children, and the phone is either tied up or the background noise is overwhelming.

Fiber Revolution started communicating as a group using a list, which was free but the ads were annoying. Then one of our members came up with a better solution. Gloria Hansen, a partner in GloDerWorks web-site design company (, designed our web site ( and set up a group email list through the site. This feature works beautifully to let the group communicate quickly and easily.

The web site has been instrumental in letting people know about our form of art and the diversity of artwork within the group. It is a beautifully designed site that really showcases members' artwork. GloDerWorks continually tailors the coding of the site to maintain its ranking in the search engines such as Google. We have received several invitations to exhibit from people visiting the Fiber Revolution web site. Individual members have been approached about possible sales of artwork and about solo exhibition opportunities.

Having a web site is as essential as having business cards. Our web site does all the usual practical things: it showcases our artwork; it provides a means to contact the group as well as individual artists; and it provides an exhibition schedule so collectors and venues can find out where our upcoming events will be. But perhaps most importantly, its careful design conveys the message that we are professional artists, who create beautiful and thought-provoking artwork.

Organization is critical

A group of thirty artists in seven states has tremendous marketing power, but nothing would happen without good organization. Initially I handled all of the organizational details, but as we grew it became necessary to delegate more and more. Now many different people take charge of various aspects of running Fiber Revolution: web site maintenance, portfolio preparation, slide library, postcard design, postcard distribution, mailing list database maintenance, membership list, creating labels for shows, writing and sending out publicity.

Each exhibition is coordinated by the member who contacted the venue with plenty of help from the other members in choosing which pieces to exhibit, publicizing the event, installing the artwork and even providing refreshments. It may be hard to believe, but it is ALL organized through our email group. We have developed a form that exhibition coordinators fill out with the details for a venue that it is posted on a members' only page on the web site. This summer we will be exhibiting in several places at the same time in three states. Careful coordination among the members will make that go smoothly.

Future plans

Fiber Revolution is already planning exhibitions for several years ahead. We are able to approach more prestigious venues, because of the reputation that we've built up through exhibition reviews and publicity. We hope to expand coverage of our exhibitions and have reviews of our artwork published in national journals. We are also exploring expanding the group, expanding sales and offering spin-off items, such as postcard sets of member work.

Email communication will continue to be central to Fiber Revolution's future. As Fiber Revolution has grown, good communication has been even more critical to creating a smoothly running organization. Our web site will continue to be integral to maintaining our reputation as a group of professional artists. People from across the country and all over the world can visit and view our art.

So, find a few artists working in your medium and start using your computer to create your own exhibition opportunities!

Take art to the people

Part of the impetus behind organizing the Fiber Revolution group was a concern that art quilts are a relatively unknown art form, frequently confused with traditional bed coverings. There are very few galleries who show fiber, because they mistakenly feel that "craft" is somehow not appropriate to an "art" venue. I believe that repeated exposure to an art form is necessary before galleries feel comfortable showing it and collectors feel comfortable buying it. Fiber Revolution is creating that exposure for our art by showing frequently in a variety of settings.

Because we believe that education must occur before recognition and sales, we set out to try to show in an eclectic variety of venues. We have shown in museums and university art galleries. And we've also shown in libraries, conference rooms, office building lobbies, local arts centers, a fine furniture store and a vineyard. We believe that it's important to take art to where people are. Many people visit museums and art galleries regularly. Many more go to work in office buildings, borrow books at libraries and go to wine tasting parties.

Marketing depends on preparation

A large part of our rapid success is that many of the members are established artists who had already been marketing their work. This means that local venues were aware of them before they were approached about having a Fiber Revolution group show. I had been sending out postcard mailings of my work for three years prior to starting Fiber Revolution. Thus eight of our shows so far have been through people who knew of my work previously. Twelve of the shows were through other artists' contacts. Two of the shows were from publicity for Fiber Revolution – one from a listing in the New York Times and one from the web site. Only one show resulted from a truly cold call.

Success breeds success. Getting our first shows allowed us to send out announcements, press releases and postcards. We have worked hard to get good publicity. The web site has been a fantastic way to let people know about our work. Sending out postcards is essential: even if only a small fraction of the recipients come to see the exhibit, they've all seen the work on the postcard. Calendar listings in local papers are important. And we've gotten many reviews and articles published locally, nationally and on the web.