I started #TheGalleryProject in the summer of 2016. TQU already existed at this point, but it was mostly a website with some resources and information I had collected, some stories and interviews by me or some of my friends. While that is not a bad thing in itself, I had always hoped for TQU to grow into something bigger. But actually making that happen was quite scary. I was, and am still struggling to support myself financially. As a self-employed, self-taught web designer with a masters in humanities, jobs that pay well are rare. I didn’t have any money to put into this and I knew that I would have to continue to work different jobs to support myself while also working for TQU full time.
I wasn’t particularly good at asking other people for support, and even if I was planning on taking a personal risk, I wanted to make sure that nobody else would get hurt or lose anything in the process.
The idea I came up with was quite simple: I would create an online space for artists to exhibit their work, and everybody who participated would get their own little online gallery. The number of pictures was the only limitation. There was no risk for the participants, because they would show works they had made previously and they would get to decide over the copyrights themselves and in that way, remain in full control over their work. At the same time, it wouldn’t cost me any extra money, since the website already existed.
The tricky part was reaching people. With algorithms controlling what people can see on popular websites, simply posting something somewhere and talking to a few people wasn’t going to be enough. And while I do have quite a few artist friends, and it probably would have been easier to reach more people in Berlin, I didn’t want the project, or the website for that matter, to be too Berlin-centric. People here would find out and participate anyways. The hard question was: How can I reach people very far away and in places I really didn’t know anyone?
For a previous job at a startup for a queer social network, I had already done a lot of research on LGBTIQ magazines and organizations in different countries and knew how to reach them. But unfortunately, it’s hard to motivate people you don’t know to pass information on. It’s not even that easy when you do know the people personally. Believe me. (Such a big thanks to all of you who have been so supportive!)
So the progress of spreading the information really relied on people who immediately believed in the idea. One of these people was working for a commercial art newsletter in Russia, who contacted me and translated and distributed the call free of charge. Which is probably the reason why I got quite a few submissions from Russian speaking countries. What else did I do? I liked every LGBT facebook page, I joined every LGBTIQ facebook group and posted the call there. I contacted people on Couchsurfing. I cannot recount how many nights I stayed up reaching out to individuals, to zines, to universities, art institutions, really anywhere possible.
The call first got sent out in July or August of 2016, the deadline for submissions being the end of that same year. And the submissions I received were really amazing right from the start. So it seemed natural to suggest to take some of the artworks and bring them together in an actual physical exhibition.
Then, even a month or two before the deadline for submissions, some lovely people from Tallinn, Estonia invited me to host the first exhibition there in March 2017. So in January/February I talked to all the participating artists, picked out the pictures for the exhibition with them, ran a successful crowdfunding campaign to produce the exhibition, and designed a catalog to go along with the exhibition. It was a really exciting, if at times also quite stressful time that I would have never been able to handle so well without the support of all of my amazing friends, especially Anna and Tom.
After Tallinn, where the exhibition took place in a very lovely book shop (see more), #TheGalleryProject got invited to exhibit in Sofia and was part of Pride Art Week there. Ambassadors came to the opening, there was a queer poetry reading to accompany the event, and the main Pride party was hosted in the location of the exhibition and drew quite a large crowd (see it all).
In September, the exhibition went to Podgorica, Montenegro as part of the program around the Pride Parade. Since it took place in a hotel with a big conference space, a lot of people from government organizations and businesses who wouldn’t otherwise have gone to any queer events got to see the exhibition, as well as the participants of a conference held there for LGBTIQ organizations from the Western Balkans and Turkey.
The final exhibition of 2017 took place in Prague, in a lovely new gallery called Patra. It opened at the same time as the queer film festival Mezipatra, so it also got quite a bit of media coverage. The exhibition has been on display in Prague for over a month now, with lots of related events, film screenings, discussion groups, and receptions going on in the same space.
While all of this was happening, I also launched three new projects on TQU and set up the legal structure in Germany so that from next year on TQU can legally work as a non-profit. I also almost gave up smoking and adopted a second dog. I went to a sauna for the first time in my life. I still work three other jobs. I don’t regret any of it.
It was such an amazing year. Of course, it was much more work then I had ever expected going in. And everything didn’t always work out the way that I would have expect it to. I had to practice a lot of breathing and letting go. But I learned so much, met so many amazing people, heard so many stories and got the chance to travel to wonderful places I had never been to before. I feel humbled that all of the artists trusted me with their artwork, and so grateful for this opportunity, challenge, and adventure.