Fundraising photo exhibit lessons I learned in a pandemic


“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are”  


OK, Teddy. I will organize another fundraiser to support those who are doing good in the world. I will create anther “HOPE in the DARK” fine art photo show. This time the sub-theme of the exhibit will be “Why I’m Voting” and I’ll raise as much money as I can for two voters’ rights organizations: RepresentUs and the ACLU‘s Voting Rights Project.

The 2020 unique journey to making that happen.

It seems so long ago, but back in February, when I decide to do another show.The COVID-19 cases in the US were not yet on the national news horizon. I had no way of predicting just how different this event would need to become.

I feel blessed that the pandemic has not touched my immediate circle of family and friends. My heart aches every time PBS News Hour runs their In Memoriam segment showing the touching bios of those who’ve been lost to COVID-19. Truly makes it real to see how many families from all walks of life have been affected by this virus. It’s challenging to realize that there’s so little I can do about this.

But what could I actually do in these times?

I can get back to jut following Teddy’s simple directive.

The past HOPE in the DARK events I created were to support social service agency, RefugeeOne. I loved raising thousands of dollars for them and learning more about their mission to help new refugees and immigrants get settled in independent lives in Chicagoland as quickly as possible.

I intuitively knew that I wanted to support a different organization this time. 

When I watched “Unbreakable”, the 12-minute video  featuring Jennifer Lawrence, produced by the non-partisan voters’ rights group, Represent.US  I got a huge wake-up call. I learned the stunning facts about what’s actually going on with crisis facing our democracy. The statistics I saw in the film were truly sobering.

I immediately knew what organization I’d raise money for this time. I want to support Represent.US in every way I can as they are on the front lines fighting to protect everyone’s right to vote.

Choosing the theme and the event’s beneficiaries

So this year’s theme became: HOPE in the DARK: Why I’m Voting

I reached out to a number of my photography marketing consulting clients who I knew had fine art images and who also are as concerned about protecting democracy as I am. The artists selected for the exhibition live in both “red” and “blue” states. Nine of this year’s selected artists were previously exhibited in the other two HOPE in the DARK shows. Anyone who saw those past shows has seen the fantastic quality and beauty of those artists imagery. 

Initial planning challenges

In February I was visualizing I’d have the most attendees, the best refreshments, the coolest raffle prizes, absolutely the most fun but, most importantly, we would double –or triple–the amount of money raised. (To give you some context, I have virtually no fund-raising or event planning training. I don’t even throw dinner parties for more than 3 guests! )

I learned to ask for help and am so grateful to those who stepped up and shared their tips and resources. This is truly my “learn-as-I-go adventure, don’t-make-the-same-mistakes-next-time” journey. I learned to let go by repeating the mantra “Progress not Perfection.” It’s the one I share with many of my clients who also have perfectionist tendencies– like most artists do–when they don’t attempt doing something unless it can be perfect.

When the stay-at-home order started in mid-March in Illinois, I had no idea whether to keep planning for the event or abort the whole project. Just like everyone else, I had to pause and go into “wait and see” mode. While I lost months of production planning time, I did not lose anyone to the pandemic!  Perspective matters.

Ironically, my full-time creative consulting business, has become busier than ever during the pandemic. Photographers now seem to have more time to meet with me since they are shooting fewer assignments. They’re now ready to get new marketing plans and get a fresh edit of their portfolios. It was a blessing in disguise to not have planning the HOPE event on my plate during the surge of new client work.

Producing an event in the time of a pandemic

As the COVID-19 infection numbers in Illinois flattened and then decreased, I once again began moving forward with the event planning. It was clear that I would not be able to have the kind of reception that I had in the past. I knew the event would have be vastly different. But how different was still unclear.

I’m a big fan of science so I follow Dr. Fauci’s recommendations. I’ve got a great collection of masks that I don’t mind wearing. I have friends who do go out regularly following all CDC guidelines. But I also know many others who are at the other end the spectrum in terms of how willing they are to go out and how often. I needed to be aware that the opening reception would probably have far fewer people attending.

Blaming “pandemic brain” when things go awry

So back to what I’ve learned while trying to create a “perfect production” in the time of COVID. Everyone has a neural load that is affecting them in various ways. Having the constant background hum of worry about how to stay safe and care for our friends and families during this time of great uncertainty, takes its toll on our brains. It has affected how much attention we have available to what else we have to do. e.g., I’ve screwed up appointment times as have a few of my usually “very buttoned up” clients.

It was becoming apparent there were some aspects of this event that I just didn’t have the mental bandwidth or administrative support to pull off. Time to surrender. Progress not perfection.

Organizing an event like this now has its own neural load stemming from having to deal with a whole new set of production choices. How can I pull this off in a pandemic?

I knew the power of regular meditation on focus and creativity and I certainly knew I needed a boost in that area. So I kept meditating regularly.

I also knew that stress and anxiety negatively affect the immune system. Staying healthy during COVID-19 was also a goal, so I upped my commitment to make sure I meditated not just once but twice-daily. I knew about Transcendental Meditation for its evidence-based anti-anxiety effects. I suspected that producing this event during all of the pandemic uncertainty might cause some stress and anxiety. What a balm it was to have that tool. I am also loving that my favorite yoga classes are available via ZOOM. I’m actually eating and sleeping better than I did pre-pandemic.

Framing and reception support team changes

In addition to safety protocols, I was aware that there were new economic issues as well. E.g., it soon became apparent that there was no way I would reach out to my past restaurant and beverage sponsors to ask if they’d donate refreshments for the reception. Instead, I knew it was I who needed to support them by upping my to-go dinner orders substantially. Which I gladly did.

I also couldn’t have the artwork framed in wood and plexiglass the way I had last time via the support of my 2018 framing sponsor, BLICK Art Materials. I needed a less-costly, but still good-looking, framing solution.

I remembered seeing one of Ted Glasoe’s  exhibitions at Creative Coworking where his prints were not under glass, but rather were framed using a split-rail aluminum framing system. Ted readily shared that framing resource with me. He also said he’d again help me hang the whole show. His skill and patience in that area of production are so appreciated.

And it is also with great gratitude that I can report that awesome fine art digital printer, Karl Herber, once again provided the printing for the show. His skill in that arena is stellar. Wait until you see the prints!

Promotional challenges

Speaking of printing. there would be no other printing done for the show as mailed postcards would have had to go via the USPS because… you know…..

It’s ironic that the whole issue about voters rights as it relates to mail-in ballots being labelled fraudulent by the Administration hadn’t started yet. The recent actions to remove USPS sorting machines and mailboxes, further threatening vote-by-mail, etc. also hadn’t started back then.

I don’t post that much on social media. I occasionally post on LinkedIn and FaceBook and sometimes Twitter. I’ve been an avid follower of my clients’ Instagram feeds, but I’ve rarely ever posted. I realize Ive got to get my hashtag game on for this event. Follow me on IG here. Maybe I’ll finally get it together on there. Maybe not. Progress not perfection.

New way to accept donations

Since I was regularly on FaceBook,  I created my first-ever FaceBook donation event. The online donation component was added so people who would not be at the opening could at least contribute to the beneficiaries. So far so good. The link is HERE if you would like to contribute. Any amount is helpful. ANY.

I also added the ACLU as a second beneficiary since they have a voting rights initiative Also, I know many more people are aware of the ACLU than of RepresentUS. Branding matters. And so does synergy.

New protocols for the opening reception

By far the biggest hurdle I faced was knowing if the in-person September 12th reception would be possible and, more importantly, if it’d be safe to hold the reception live.

Happily, by mid-July, I knew the in-person opening reception could go forward. I attended Creative Coworking’s Art and Wine event July opening reception. It was their first opening since the March shut down. I am so happy to report that their COVID-19 safety protocols were rock solid and will continue that way.

Masks are required throughout the gallery space. There are many stations equipped with hand sanitizer. The refreshments that will be served at the opening will be served OUTDOORS on the 2nd floor patio deck.

Hope to see you on Sept. 12th we can raise a glass and toast the artwork of these exhibiting artists: Drew Endicott, Justin Fantl, Ted Glasoe, Michael Hart, Alyce Henson, Karl Herber, Michael Schoenfeld, David Tepper, and Craig van der Lende.

(I think you probably don’t need to know that this post was originally going to go out on Aug.22 which was exactly 3 weeks before the opening. I thought it’d be a really good date to promote the event. But I had frustrating internet access issues and had to give that idea up. Sigh.. Surrender. Progress, not perfection. )



October Photo Events

LOTS going on this month!!

Starting with the webinar I’m doing tomorrow (Tuesday, Oct. 17th at 12:00pm EDT) with ASMP on “How to Create Presentations that Work” there are many photo business connection options for photographers this month.

I know many photographers who are headed to NYC next week for PhotoPlusExpo. Many will be attending seminars, but some will also be getting their portfolios reviewed. Those of us who do reviews at the Palm Springs Photo Fest at PhotoPlus Expo (open to all who register and pay) and at the ASMP booth (free for ASMP members with a $25 admin. fee) often lament that while most photographers are prepared for a face-to-face meetings, many are not. The webinar will hopefully help them be better prepared.

I’ll be at PhotoPlus the whole time it runs (Oct 25th-Oct 28th) and I will be doing reviews on Friday, Oct. 27th for both organizations. I am really looking forward to connecting with my consulting clients and old friends and colleagues. There’s nothing like hanging out in person with folks you don’t see but once a year.

I’ll also get to soak up some culture in one of my favorite cities. In addition to my annual visits to MOMA and the International Center of Photography, I’m going to check out a some fine art photography gallery exhibits.

Here are a couple I’ve bookmarked:

Julie Blackmon’s exhibition Fake Weather which opens Oct. 19th at at Robert Mann gallery

and Steve McCurry’s The Importance of Elsewhere at Cavalier Gallery 3 W. 57th Street, 4th Floor, New York, NY 10019, USA which runs from Wednesday, October 18, 2017–Sunday, November 12, 2017

One of the best parts I love about NYC is actually just wandering around and taking in the sights, sounds, tastes, and visuals. The fashion, the food, the unique expressions of humanity–on every corner.

Shoot me an email if you’re also going to be there and would like to connect.

Photo exhibition reception worth attending in Chicago on Sunday 9/23/12 from 10am-1pm.

Before heading over to Navy Pier for the last day of Expo Chicago, Chicago-area fans of fine photography, social documentary, or those who’ve just come to town for the not-to-miss Expo, should also not miss Stephen Daiter Gallery (230 W. Superior, 4th floor, Chicago, IL 60654).

On Sunday 9/23/12 from 10:00 a.m -1:00 pm there’s an artists’ reception for a number of the photographers featured in the current, and well worth-seeing exhibition “Collateral Damage: The Human Face of War

Some proceeds from the sales of prints in the exhibition will benefit post-traumatic stress support groups such as Wounded Warriors. In the case of sales of prints from the Gays in the Military series, funds will be sent to the Service members Legal Defense Network, an organization that advocates for LGBT personnel. The reception occurs on the one-year anniversary of the repeal of “Don’t ask/Don’t tell.”

Powerful work. Important issues.