Things I learned, things I'd do differently, things I'd recommend.
Who to invite:
As I mentioned before, in my circumstances I felt I needed a safe group of people to invite. That meant people I know who I felt relatively sure would do more than smile and say, how nice and then not show up. Nothing more deflating than giving a party that no one comes to. It did NOT mean just people who are savvy about quilts or textile arts. I really wanted some feedback from people with no quilt background but knowledgeable about art in general. The members of my small church fit this description perfectly.
Opening it up to the public was far too risky on several levels. Primarily, my studio is the back bedroom in my rented house, so there were real safety issues, both during and after the open house if I didn't control who came. Also, parking is problematic; opening it up to the public had the potential to increase the numbers beyond what I could handle (or have that dreaded no one show up happen).
If my studio were a stand alone structure large enough to display a good number of pieces, then I would be somewhat less concerned about large groups of strangers traipsing through. If all I wanted to do was exhibit work, I'd definitely find a space off-site and broaden the invitation.
All in all, I liked the informality of the event, having control over who came, but also having a professional air to it all. I think I struck a good balance.
If in the future I decide to broaden the guest list to include people I don't know, I would feel the need to have a person in every room of the house where the guests would be milling, as a security measure. I think I would still worry, though, about the odd miscreant who'd come to case the joint.
How to invite:
I wasn't sure what to do here. I had access to the church's mailing list, so could have printed formal invitations and mailed them. But that would have been quite costly, and risked inadvertently omitting people. I considered just making an announcement at coffee hour as I've seen some people do for events that aren't church activities but might be of interest to members. But I know how I am about that; if I don't have something written in hand, I'll forget all about it. Then I noticed some simple fliers lying out on a table during coffee hour - invitations to a Basque party. That struck me as the perfect solution. I'd make the announcement two weeks before the event and encourage people to pick up a flier with all the info including directions. It worked just fine.
On a whim, I also decided to invite some business people I've had contact with since moving here. These little fliers just didn't seem appropriate, so I printed up a more formal card with one of my quilts on the front and mailed them a week before the event. To be honest, I was disappointed that only one of the six responded and came. Maybe that's a good percentage as these things go, but I would hate to spend the money to send out a lot of formal invitations if only a few responded. On the other hand, those people now have a sample of my art in hand and may be passing along my information unbeknownst to me. I guess the best thing to do is keep cultivating contacts and leads, that all important mailing list, send out personal invitations as I can afford it and not worry about how many actual bodies show up.
Don't do this alone!
Yes, no doubt I could have pulled this off totally without help. But why put myself through that if I don't have to? (Oh, because I hate asking for help, I'm a control freak, I don't always think things through...) Doesn't matter if it's a husband, kids, or good friends, chances are at some point all the details will become overwhelming and it will be to your advantage to have someone who can take care of some of them for you.
Particularly on the day of, I'd recommend letting someone else totally take care of setting up and monitoring any refreshments. This same person(s) could also be taking coats, pointing arrivals to the guestbook and explaining which rooms are included in the tour. I really should have roamed a little more than I did, and I probably would have if I hadn't been standing at the door as people arrived. Probably should have been farther in the room, near the guest book.
Oh, yes, and don't forget to eat before hand! I was smart enough to have a second cup of coffee before guests arrived, but I erroneously thought I'd nibble on food all afternoon so didn't need to eat lunch. Well, that didn't happen. I developed a terrible headache and eventually had to excuse myself to escape to the kitchen and wolf down some food.
Of course, after everyone left, there was clean-up to do - putting away the leftover food, moving furniture back into place, putting out the garbage. It was nice to have a few bodies around to help. And to give their impressions of how things went. And to crash with while watching a movie after the adrenaline wore off.
Final thoughts (well, I think they're final):
There were half a dozen people who had conflicts and couldn't attend. One woman who did come was sorry her daughter was out of town and had to miss it. I found myself saying that I wasn't going to be taking things down right away - call me when she gets back in town and bring her over. The next day the church was all abuzz about the open house and before I knew it, I'd invited a group to come out the following Sunday after church. Well, why not? It always takes more time to put up a show than to take it down, I particularly wanted this group to see my stuff, and they understood this was a private showing sans refreshments. I'm really glad I did. It made me realize I should have spent more time talking with the guests, and I got some excellent feedback and comments.
Speaking of comments, I was particularly interested in how the men responded to my pieces. I guess there was some fear that they would find them not to their taste, too feminine perhaps or not of the kind of subject matter that would appeal. Such was not the case. One even commented that he particularly like the different colors of threads I used in the quilting of one piece. (And no, he is not the husband of a quilter.)
Overall, these people are quite art savvy. I guess that's why I valued their reaction to my work. I trusted that they would not gush to make me feel good then roll their eyes when my back was turned. They weren't sure what they would see, only knew that it was not going to be quilts in the traditional sense. I watched carefully for that first unguarded reaction as they caught sight of my pieces, and it was nearly universally surprise and delight. I knew they were getting it by the comment of one woman who said to several people, "These expand the concept of what a quilt can be." Thanks!
The other comment that sticks in my mind was one that still puzzles me: "Your quilts are so happy! Such bright colors and just happy!" Huh? She obviously didn't take a close look at "Camelot" which is anything but a bright happy quilt! She kept going on about one quilt in particular, one that is all rich dark fall colors. Mmm. Well, I wasn't about to argue with her.
Someone seemed surprised that I'd be taking most of the quilts down, thinking I'd want to leave them up to enjoy. Oh, please, don't make me try to explain how uncomfortable I felt surrounded by so much of my own work. It hadn't occurred to me that up until now, I'd only viewed a few pieces at a time, one or two in several rooms of the house, or seen one or two pieces displayed with many other quilters' work in traditional shows. It made me feel very odd surrounded by so much of it, knowing that I alone was the focus of this "exhibit." Not that I haven't thought about what it would take to put on a solo show and what that would be like, just have never done it before. It took me a long time to get comfortable with so much of it surrounding me. I think it is because every piece carries so much baggage, has some story behind it, represents some kind of struggle, and often reminds me of my limitations. It was like a huge tribunal throwing accusations at me, with only one or two taking my side and saying, good work! Ah, I think it was good for me to face that and get over it.
I think I already mentioned this in a previous post, but it was also a good exercise "curating" this group. Collecting and grouping and displaying so many pieces spanning a number of years helped me see just what I've been doing and where my work has led me, willingly or not. It posed questions I had not thought to ask, and some work impressed me as better than I originally thought. I was also surprised that a few pieces that I had only seen in the studio and not on my walls look better under "normal" lighting than the daylight bulbs.
The added bonus, of course, was to have a group of people who don't know my quilting journey, or really very much about me in general, affirm that this is work others can relate to, appreciate, even want to purchase. It definitely has given me incentive to get back in the studio and produce more, and assurance that the themes I'm working with are ones that appeal to the locals. Not that I would actively create with a particular market in mind, just that it's reassuring that what I love to make has an audience here.
Perhaps more importantly, though, by opening up to this particular group of people, I may be commissioned to make additional pieces for the church (beyond the piece I am donating), have an opportunity to exhibit work in the gallery they hope to incorporate in the new facility, and have my name spread by them to others in the community. They have already expressed interest in hosting an "artist koffee klatch" after I mentioned the idea of the artist salons. All these things suggested to me, not me asking to have it happen. I like that!