Staying Relevant: The Pop-Up Art Gallery

Easels Under the Big Sky

Nowadays, successful art galleries are thinking outside the box – or gallery. Such is the case with the successful Missoula, Montana based art gallery, Dana Gallery.

pop up art gallery

Candace Crosby, Dudley Dana, Lori McNee

Each summer, Dana Gallery strategically travels to affluent mountain towns and converts empty retail shops into pop-up art galleries.


Awarded the distinction of Missoula’s top art gallery, Dana Gallery was founded in 1996. Co-owners and husband and wife team, Candace Crosby and Dudley Dana, are accustomed to creative marketing. “Montana is a large state with seasonal clientele,” states Candace, “we think of the pop-up as marketing.” 

Last week, I was one of 12 artists who participated in the gallery’s successful, Easels Under the Big Sky, Montana plein air painting event.

Candace and Dudley chose a perfect location between popular restaurants and retailers. The empty space had once been a framer’s shop, complete with lighting and plenty of exhibition walls.


pop up art gallery

Setting up the ‘pop-up’ art gallery

Banners and posters announcing the 4-day event were hung around town. During the four days, the artists were expected to bring studio pieces and then paint plein air (outdoor painting on location) scenes of their choice – I even spent a day painting in beautiful Yellowstone National Park.

artist painting in yellowstone

Lori painting in Yellowstone

The nationally recognized artists together with the temporary pop-up art gallery created a sense of urgency and a buzz around Big Sky and the surrounding area. The event culminated with a gallery exhibition, and artists’ reception that showcased the fresh plein air paintings. Local art enthusiasts and tourists traveled from near and far to buy art – I sold 7 paintings within the first hour!

pop up art gallery

The trend of pop-up retail shops, or flash retailing has evolved into a useful tool for both landlords, real estate companies and proprietors. Some of the biggest brands including Target, Kate Spade, Diane Von Furstenberg, and Gucci have used pop-up shops as part of their campaigns.

Short term leases for events like Easels Under the Big Sky help to revitalize neighborhoods in a down economy, and offer unique branding opportunities for both the gallery and its artists. It’s a lot of work, a lot of fun, and worth the effort.


You can also find me on Twitterand Google Plus, Pinterestand join in the fun at Fine Art Tips Facebook Fan Page! Please checkout my art too, or find me on Instagram lorimcneeartist. ~Lori

PS. You might like to see this video I made in Yellowstone…from the safety of my truck!


  1. kellyann August 25, 2012 at 11:40 pm


    I have been following your tweets since last year, when twitter recognized you….Great work! Kellyann

    • Lori McNee August 28, 2012 at 10:42 am

      Hello Kellyann, how did Twitter ‘recognize’ me??? I am not aware and would like to know. Thanks for the nice feedback.

  2. JB March 3, 2013 at 6:35 pm

    The popup show phenomena is one of the best DIY strategies to show. The example you provided is even -more- elaborate than what happens in Los Angeles (for example).
    Clubs promoters who throw shows with bands/DJs invite artists to show and make live art right there. Sales can be made fairly easy (since you can take advantage of people who had too much to drink or are willing to spend “party money” on art). And it is one of the best atmosphere for networking since there is so much fun and energy. Popup shows in LA are decidedly left-of-center affairs (Street Art, Pop Surrealism, Outsider/Degenerate Art).
    The drawbacks are not being able to pitch your work over the noise, and you have to decide if the effort to do it is worth the drive, setup, teardown, gear, etc. There is a minimal threat of having work damaged or go missing but that is easy to address when you are deep in the event. Sometimes, you show at an event that goes over flat.
    The Pros definitely outweigh the Cons– the events are democratized, and all skill levels are invited to participate for the most part, as they are loosely “curated”. Almost always there is no hanging fee, and the ones that DO charge a fee are either chased outta town by angry artists, or the promoter will use your cash to invest in future shows that you can be a part of (caveat emptor, naturally).

    I’ve asked several out-of-towners if this sort of street-level popup phenomena happens in other cities and states, and they all claim that it only appears to happen commonly in NY and LA. Not to say it doesn’t happen elsewhere, but at least in LA and points south you can expect to show as long as you are willing to put in the sweat.

    If you can bring your own hanging rig, lights, and contact info, you can really take a much more active role in promoting yourself. Just never pay to hang your art unless you are investing in the promoter. Otherwise, there are plenty of chances just to show yourself without being someone’s doormat. I don’t like the idea that my art is simply decorating the club while patrons indulge and wave a backhand at you, but it’s better than making art with zero feedback in a vacuum, or waiting for some White Knight to pull you out of obscurity. I can name a couple LA artist who made good names for themselves just by being present and friendly at these events.

    • Lori McNee June 18, 2013 at 1:41 pm

      Jonathan, I really appreciate you sharing your DIY information here. Yes, that is quite a different culture than what we are able to do in the smaller resort towns. But, it sounds like it is paying off for you. I would welcome a guest post from you on this subject if you are interested. Let me know!

      I am behind on comments, and thank you for your patience. Cheers, Lori

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