A novice’s guide to art walks, museums and fairs

You’ve made it to the weekend and finally decided to drive down to Downtown Fort Lauderdale, Wynwood or another art district to hang out with friends, take selfies with some hand-painted backdrops and sass any naysayer who says that you aren’t #cultured. Things are going well until you arrive at your destination and the fear sinks in because: you don’t know where to go, what to look at or how to exist while all the “professional art lovers” mill around you. Anxiety sets in, you snap a few photos to prove that you went and then get out of dodge, reminded of why you never do the “art thing.”

I’ll admit that as an art student, I’ve been there and occasionally get a sinking feeling at art events but then I remember a few things I’ve learned and it’s smooth sailing from there on out. I’m no expert, but here are a few tips you can take from me:

Scope out the event

Going to an art fair, exhibition opening or art walk should be planned much like any other place you’ll be visiting for the first time. For example, if you were going to a new movie theater, you’d likely Google its location, movies that are showing, find out about the dress code, pricing and parking situation and read a few reviews. Going to an art event isn’t much different. You don’t have to conduct extensive research, but having an idea of what’s to be expected will help you feel more comfortable and help prepare you. So, if you’re planning to check out the Downtown Hollywood Mural Project, figuring out the general location of the murals beforehand would be helpful.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions

To that point, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions if you get lost, or have an inquiry. Sure, there may be a few stuffy art fanatics who turn their nose up at those who aren’t in the know, but they’re so few and far between you will likely never meet one. Generally, curators, participants, artists and even visitors are friendly, welcome questions and can be very helpful. Plus, in the end what’s more valuable to you: swallowing your pride to find something out or wasting a good opportunity?

Mind your manners

Everyone at that event wants to see the artwork too. Being courteous to others will go a long way toward your enjoyment and will keep you out of trouble. If you’d like to take photos, ask a guard or gallery representative if you can do so. Try not to distract from another visitor’s experience by talking loudly on the phone or with a friend, blocking the artwork or monopolizing the time of a tour guide, artist or curator.

Also, for the love of all things lovely, do not touch the art unless you are explicitly given permission to do so. Yes, it’s shiny and beautiful and you just want to run your hands long the surface. Don’t. Oils and dirt on your hand can ruin finishes and you risk knocking the piece over. Of course, murals are a little different, as they’re exposed to the elements and intended to be interacted with, but still do your best to leave the piece as nice as you found it so others can enjoy it too.

Keep some cash handy

Whether it’s for parking, buying food or paying for admission, it’s always a good idea to keep a little cash handy. Sometimes card readers don’t work, or the vendor might not have had one to begin with. Either way, having a few dollars can turn out to be pretty helpful.

Be aware of your surroundings

The fact is that there are some people who take advantage of situations, especially when there are large crowds of people. Choose to carry a smaller bag instead of a large purse, keep valuables locked away and out of sight and monitor your surroundings, just to be on the safe side.

Dress comfortably

Yes, you will want to capture those Instagram-worthy pictures but if you can’t make it around the block or through the museum because your feet hurt or your clothes are restricting, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Additionally, if you’re going to be outside for a majority of the time, dress for the weather. Conversely, you may want to carry a little sweater or wrap if you tend to be cold in air conditioned settings.

Opt for a tour

If you really have no idea what to look for or wish to have a knowledgeable person walk you through the exhibit or location, consider going on an art tour. For a small fee or sometimes for free, you can tour through the space while learning about the nitty-gritty details of the artwork. If you’re especially new to the art scene, these tours are a great way to make friends while looking at some really amazing works.

Have an open mind

You may see works that truly speak to you and you may see some that aren’t really your style. Keeping an open mind can allow you to enjoy even those pieces. Spend some time looking at the work. Ask yourself why the artist chose to make certain choices and what the work reminds you of. With a little time, you may find yourself valuing the piece a little more than before, but that can only happen if you stay open.

At the end of the day, the goal is to have fun and you know better than anyone what you want to get out of your art-viewing experience. Doing a little preparation before you arrive, being courteous and staying open minded can only enhance your experience, and that’s exactly what it’s all about.

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