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Personal thoughts on artist open calls.
Written by Lisa Price
If you are a creative practitioner you may have experienced this feeling before; the feeling of frustration and bewilderment at having to pay for yet another Artist Open Call. You’re probably already aware that there are infinite shows and exhibitions to apply for, and more and more of them are charging artists just to submit their work.
Not to be in a show, not to take a commission on a sale, but purely for the privilege of LOOKING at the artist’s work.
The question I keep asking myself is why?
Why are these galleries and curators charging?
Why are artists paying for them?
Why is no one speaking up about this?
Why has it become the norm?
Over the years I have seen an increasing amount of art exhibitions, competitions and open calls charge artists to apply to shows. It has left a lot of artists feeling like they have no other choice than to pay to be seen.
In what other profession do you have to pay to be seen? If you are an accountant, for example, do you pay for a company to read your CV? Will they say to that person, “If you don’t pay us first then we won’t have the funds to read your CV.” When an actor goes to an audition are they expected to pay for it? No. So why in the art world is this acceptable behaviour?
Sadly, it’s because they can. We can challenge this though, by choosing open calls that don’t charge.
I don’t think it’s morally right to charge an artist to submit their artwork to be looked at. I completely understand that once chosen there may be a fee and/or a commission, but it isn’t up to artists to fund someone else’s business. If galleries, exhibitions and curators need the artist to pay in order to be able to put on the show or to give a cash prize then they’re probably not looking to make good relationships with artists. Exhibitions should be supported by grants, sponsors or arts funding, not emerging artists and students who are already having to work more than one job to support their practice.
With all this in mind, many artists struggle to decide if they should pay for an open call, how much to pay, and if so, which ones are worth the money? The answer will be different for everyone but I have a few tips and tricks to stay on track.
PAYING TO BE SEEN?
Charging artists to enter open calls is easy money for a gallery.
There are a few open calls that I do not mind paying for. These are the big galleries with a lot of clout in the industry. The galleries that if they didn’t have an open call you would probably NEVER see your work exhibited in them. Places like the Royal Academy, for example. If you get into these sorts of open calls they will give the best audience, the largest footfall and seriously credible clients. Yes, your chances may be very low but it’s probably worth the punt.
The RA Summer Exhibition for example allows 16,000 entries, shortlists 4,000 and normally only shows around 1,000 of those shortlisted. The odds are low, but they are not impossible. Once you have exhibited in a place like the RA you will never begrudge paying for the entry fee again.
Equally, there are open calls that you need to have your business hat on for. Charging artists to enter open calls is easy money for a gallery. They know emerging artists want to have their work seen and they can take advantage of this.
If you do see a ‘fee on entry’ open call that you think fits your work, you like their aesthetics and you have done your research, then go for it. But don’t feel like that is your only choice. There are many great galleries and curators advocating on behalf of emerging artists with FREE open calls. Galleries such as Blue Shop Cottage and Delphian Gallery are two that I personally love. They are actively challenging the norm of charging artists to apply and trying to influence change.
Ocki Magill at Blue Shop Cottage took the time to talk to me about this, saying “It’s just not in our ethos to charge emerging artists for an open call”. Blue Shop Cottage’s mantra is to ‘Help Artists Grow’. They do this in many ways, but one of the ways is to allow artists to apply for their open call for free. One of their most recent open artist calls saw 10,000 submissions by artists all over the world.
One of the reasons they choose not to charge artists is because they believe that this way they also benefit. They get to see thousands of talented artists work, some of whom they will exhibit and build strong relationships with, relationships built on trust. Ocki hopes that others in the art world will follow her lead and make meaningful change, challenging the norm of open calls.
When you are applying for open calls, search out the galleries and curators that aren’t just in it for a quick buck. Find the people who are looking to build a solid relationship with their artists and who will help you grow and support you. Show your work to galleries and curators that care about what you are creating. That care about the art industry as a whole and who understand what it takes to create beautiful and successful exhibitions with carefully selected artists and artworks.
IT’S YOUR CHOICE
Don’t feel helpless.
Depending on where you are in your art career this may or may not be an issue for you. When it comes to artist open calls, it is important to remember that you do have a choice. Sometimes it may not feel like you do, but you do.
Remember, you are giving that gallery or curator content. You are providing them with an exhibition by allowing them to show your artwork in the first place. They need you as much as you need them. Don’t let them fool you into thinking that they hold all the cards. They do not. By taking some time to do your research and choose the shows you want to be in, you won’t end up feeling like you have thrown your money away, even if they do ask for an upfront fee to submit.
Like anything in life, you have to take a chance on things, but it doesn’t need to be a mindless, compulsive chance. It can be a carefully thought out, well-researched chance, where you have given yourself some control back and not left it in the lap of the Gods.
How to choose the right fit for you? I spend quite a bit of time researching not only the open call itself; when is the show, what types of work do they want to exhibit etc. I also research the gallery, the curator, their previous exhibitions and their reputation. Being knowledgeable on this will help you make the right choices for you.
Think about if your work fits the gallery’s or curator’s aesthetic. Do you even like the work they have shown in the past? Do you believe in their ethos and motives? These sorts of questions will help you weed out the exhibitions that aren’t right for you. Don’t apply to everything you see.
WHERE TO LOOK..
There are lots of websites that you can use to find open calls. Some will show you anything and everything but there are a few out there that I would recommend looking at.
This is not an exhaustive list but it will hopefully give you a good place to start.
I hope my opinions and insights on Artist Open Calls have been helpful to both artists and galleries. I am always interested in hearing other artists, galleries and curators’ opinions on this subject. Please feel free to contact me to have a chat about this further.
A special thanks to a few people who have taken the time to talk to me about Artist Open Calls. Curator, Ocki Magill at Blue Shop Cottage, fellow artist Russell Herron who always answers my incessant questions, Alice Black at ArtULTRA for sharing the results of their ‘Glam or Scam’ survey with me and Delphian Gallery for entertaining a very very early morning Instagram DM chat!
Finally, a very big thank you to Karolina at Estila for agreeing to this article and allowing me to voice my opinions freely!
Lisa-Marie Price (b. 1986 Milton Keynes) is a London based abstract painter who explores the connection between nature, people and place. Her methodical style is created using handmade watercolour sourced from natural pigment foraged from both urban and rural settings. Lisa never uses shop-bought paint and prides herself on the unique connection between the land and her paintings.
Lisa is represented by North London gallery Hampstead Garden Gallery. Her work has been shown at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, MK Gallery, D Contemporary Gallery, The Copeland Gallery and one of her paintings is currently on display at The Shard. Features and artist interviews include The Flux Review, Go With Yamo, The Guardian and MK Gallery. Her work has been included in many group shows across London as well as in private commissions in Germany, London, Wales, New Zealand and Canada.
Lisa will be exhibiting her work at The Old Truman Brewery, March 17-20 as part of The Other Art Fair on Stand 45.
Lisa studied at the University of East London, graduating in Fine Art in 2008.
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