It is flattering and exciting to be invited to exhibit artwork at a gallery, especially a gallery at a college or university. College and university galleries are funded by their affiliated institutions. This allows the curators to focus on presenting challenging work that is useful to their student body, instead of focusing on sales of artwork in order to support themselves. Some of the most interesting work I’ve seen in recent years was at college art galleries. Often the curators are young energetic faculty from the college itself. These highly educated academic thought-leaders find cutting-edge art that is fresh and interesting. Exhibiting in the company of these artists can be beneficial. You may be invited to lecture during the exhibition, further expanding your visibility. The gallery will also produce a postcard and promote your exhibition to their community. Networking potential is good. College and university art galleries are great places to meet interesting, like-minded artists, in the form of faculty, staff and student body.
There are several downsides to showing your work in these spaces. Because the galleries do not rely on sales in order to survive, they will make no effort to sell your work. College art galleries are usually staffed by students and faculty, and although they may be enthusiastic and educated, they are not professional salespeople. Colleges and universities are always in a financial crisis. You will not be compensated for your efforts in delivering or installing your work. You may not be insured. You may be asked to lecture for free. Another drawback is that these galleries have terrible hours. They serve their student body primarily, as they should, and are therefore only open when school is in session. Most are not open weekends or evenings. This can be frustrating for the professional artist. Many art enthusiasts, buyers, and regular folk are only able to go visit art galleries on weekends and evenings. Also, these galleries often have terrible accessibility and are hard to find. Campuses are notoriously unfriendly to outsiders. Parking is often impossible. Signage is limited. Maps are incomprehensible. This may be why arts writers and critics rarely review campus exhibitions. Lastly, the postcard for your show could be either awful or terrific, depending on the skill of the design student chosen to create it.
Despite the negative factors, I find it worthwhile to exhibit at college and university galleries when I am asked. This may not be true for everyone. I think of myself as an artist and an educator. I believe in education for everyone as the best path to improving our world. It may be the only path. Too many college students have never been in an art gallery or museum. Very few have ever been exposed to contemporary art at all. Because of this, I gladly shoulder the burden of making, delivering, installing, and speaking about my artwork at educational institutions.