How to Pop-Up


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The pop-up gallery phenomenon is everywhere. “Pop-Up” is now a well-recognized term meaning a quickly assembled, one-night-only exhibition event which usually takes place in borrowed vacant retail space donated by the property owner.

I like pop-ups because they are typically parties. Filling unused retail space with art, music and people, pop-ups disrupt rustbelt retail dormancy and remind the community of the possibility of growth instead of “decline.”

In Kenosha Wisconsin, Francisco Loyola is the master of the pop-up. Working with volunteers and artists and in partnership with Kenosha Art Association and his ExposeKenosha crew, Loyola has taken the “Windows of Kenosha” program to a new level by mounting a series of highly visible dynamic pop-up galleries in downtown Kenosha this summer.

Loyola was inspired by pop-up galleries in other cites like the Phantom Galleries in San Jose and the Pop-Up Art Loop in Chicago. It’s important to point out that pop-ups are often collaborations between city and arts organizations. For example, Pantom Gallieres SJ is produced by Two Fish Design, in partnership with the San Jose Downtown Association and the San Jose Redevelopment Agency. In Chicago, the Pop-Up Loop is working with the City of Chicago to create a “HOW TO POP-UP” guide. Loyola says that, “after working with building owners all over downtown for years with the “Windows of Kenosha,” it was not difficult to ask to use the empty retail spaces for very short occupancy pop-up exhibitions. In Kenosha, we need a permit and permissions from the city and the support of the businesses in the area, but we leave that part of the process to the building owner because every city has a different process.” 

How does he get so much participation from artists? They bring their work, hang it, help transform the space into a gallery and then clean it up the morning after the event. “Since September 2007,” Loyola says” has been promoting the arts and creativity in Kenosha with events and its online ezine. Over the past few years we establish a network of connections with many local arts organizations, educational institutions and individual artists.  The announces events and reports on events and of course it’s tied in with facebook. Also, before the Pop-Up galleries, we had already set up exhibitions through ExposeKenosha in coffee shops and ice cream parlors. So we have experience working with alternative exhibition spaces.

Most of the time artists are invited. “Sometimes we have been able to persuade artists to come in from Milwaukee or the Chicago area.”  In July legendary comic artist John Porcellino, creator of “King-Cat,” the oldest running comic zine in the country participated. Porcellino came in from Chicago, Loyola reports, “he set up right along side Kenosha’s own nationally syndicated comic strip artist John Hambrock (“The Brilliant Mind of Edison Lee”), Dan Pavelich (“Just Say Uncle – Kenosha News “Kenosha County:”), and Ryan Pagelow (very funny dark webcomic-Buni). Porcellino later blogged about selling a bunch of stuff in Kenosha.”

Why are pop-up galleries a good idea instead of starting a traditional gallery with regular hours and staff?  Loyola says “The one-day events create excitement and a sense of urgency.  It is easy to get the word out through facebook and email and it’s a party, an opportunity to share the artwork we make in the community with the community. If artists sell their work that’s great, but the success of the event does not hinge on sales as it would in a gallery.”

What makes a pop-up gallery successful? Loyola says “it’s both good content and taking time to make a really good presentation.”

How do you get good content? “We think in terms of themed exhibits. In June it was quilts, in July it was comics, in August it will be gardens, flowers, fountains. Think ahead and plan themes based on what’s percolating in the community. We keep our eyes open for art that will best suit a pop-up venue. For example, John Porcellino’s whimsical  illustrated book Thoreau at Walden (Center for Cartoon Studies, 2008) was first exhibited at UW-Parkside Galleries and the director loaned them to us for our show.  In November the plan is to have the participation of the photographers of the Kenosha News for a Pop-Up Gallery sponsored by the newspaper. Every January the Kenosha News publishes a special edition of the best editorial photography of the previous year.  Our pop-up gallery will feature a slide show of all the best photos of the year  and the 12 best photographs (selected by the newspaper) printed in large formate. ”

Although one wouldn’t expect it, a professional presentation is surprisingly important for the success of a pop-up. No one wants to be involved with a shabby event. ” The space has to look great by the time of the event. Even when it isn’t  finished retail space, we put in track lighting even though it is for only one night.  The artwork needs to look good on the walls and viewers need to be able to see it clearly.”

It’s exciting to hear that ExposeKenosha and the Pop-Up Art LoopKen organizers are talking about doing an informal artists exchange . It may be that pop-up galleries will do for artists what musicians have always done: that is, take their art on tour to a sting of one-night gigs around the region.

About Patricia Briggs
Patricia Briggs is the director of galleries and curator of exhibitions at Jamestown Community College in Western New York. She writes the blog "Scene Unseen: Viewing Notes" about visual art in her community.

One Response to How to Pop-Up

  1. GH says:

    This is a very useful introduction of a term I didn’t know and a concept I now love! How many urban spaces could be transformed by the sudden appearance of art–and an event that invites people to experience that art together?

    I know that our village would be a perfect location for Pop-Up Art, and my mind is already racing to themes that I would love to see. What would we need to do–campus and community–to make this happen in Fredonia?

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