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Saturday, January 7, 2017

Re-examining The RAW concept - Artists Advice for Self Promotion

What is RAW? For those unfamiliar with it, RAW is a monthly event held in many cities internationally where a group of emerging artists are showcased along with creatives in art, performance art, fashion, photography etc. 

Sounds like fun huh? Great deal for emerging artists who need a platform to be seen. I was a RAW artist once and I thought the same thing. Great way to get some local notice and an offer of some great press. A place to sell some work and gain the experience of a international organization in becoming a professional artist. 

Now I am not going to go back through my original experience with RAW, but I wrote a commentary afterwards which you can gladly go back and take a look at. 

More recently I was contacted by RAW's Artist Curation Specialist. After reading the short article linked above, he asked if I would attend one of their New Orleans shows, telling me that a lot had changed in recent years. I wholeheartedly agreed to attend with a promise to take a close look at their new format and to write about it once I attended. I cleared my mind of past experiences and looked forward to the event.

One of my artist interns and I made our way om the night of the show to take a look at what had changed. 

Now I am going to be brutally honest here because I think its important that emerging artists know what to look for in this newly rising concept of "Artist Exploitation". I am not doing so with malice against RAW. Point of fact is that RAW could be a pretty amazing concept with a few changes as to how they do business. With that said though, I won't lie about how disappointed I was with what I saw on my visit. 

If anything, the experience was worse than my own RAW show back in 2013. The venue was small and so packed that you were barely able to walk around and view the art. The music was so loud that you could hardly be heard at times. The lighting was poor. The artists were hard to even identify at times. There was no floor coordination and the artist I could identify seemed out of place. And the floor was sticky. So sticky that it made walking around almost a liability because you risked tripping when you stuck to the floor. 

I honestly felt like I was in the middle of a cattle call rather than a venue for emerging artists. 

Despite the obstacles I was determined to to give it a fair shake. I spoke with multiple artists both about their experience overall at the show and how their work was received and selling. 

Sales were to say the least pretty lousy. Why was this? For the same reason I stated in my previous article. The artists had sold the tickets to those attending. They were not art buyers. They were there to support their favorite artist and to drink. As a result the only work selling was below a $100 price tag and even those resulted in precious few sales. 

Of the artists I spoke with, they were all enthusiastic to be there but seemed confused and had that "deer in the headlights" look a lot of the time. Their work was outstanding and some were without a doubt of gallery quality. But that matters little when you can't see the art well and most attending had just enough in their pockets to tie one on and NOT to buy quality art. 

In the words of one artist I spoke with, and I quote, "I've learned more about the art world from our short conversation tonight than throughout this whole show". 

This about summed it up for me. After hearing that, we departed sadly from the venue to get some fresh air and consider the experience. 

So what did the participating artists get from the RAW experience? 

There is always something beneficial when we are meeting and interacting with other artists. The experiences that we get from looking at another artists work and hearing about their own techniques and journeys that can help us in our own artistic journeys. There is also something to be said for learning the basics of showing your art, including what to bring with you, things to consider ahead of time and ideas taken from seeing how others prepared. There was little enough advance coordination when I was a RAW artist and from what I'd heard even less now.

But for a new artist this kind of information can be invaluable. We must learn quickly how to promote ourselves and do so professionally. Its doubtful to me that any artist attending got this kind of experience except in hindsight. 

I admit that at no time does RAW tell the artist they will become famous and sell lots of work from participating. But there is a glitz and glamour that RAW representatives portray that makes you "think" that its a great opportunity. Emerging artists in their own naivety usually fall for this smoke and mirrors pitch. I am going to quote to you just a couple of the pitches for RAW I've received in various emailed, with names withheld for obvious reasons:

"My name is **** and I am a Junior Showcase Director with an international arts organization called RAW:natural born artists. I would like to feature your work in an upcoming show. Your art is imaginative, bold, and visually thrilling. I would love to give my audience the opportunity to experience your work in person and I'd be thrilled to see it myself. We average 800-1000 in attendance, so it could be a good opportunity to get fresh eyes on your work."

"Nice to "meet" you! My name is **** and I'm the New Orleans Showcase Director for RAW:natural born artists. I came across your work through ****  and had to reach out! You have an incredible talent when it comes to your paintings. The amount of creativity and technique that goes into your art is quite impressive."

Any artist would think "wow, they like me!" Its not until later that they tell you that you have to sell a minimum of 20 tickets to friends and colleagues in order to participate or else you must front the ticket fees yourself. 

Consider for one moment that if each ticket is between $20 and $25 each, that you are paying either from your own pocket or the pockets of your friends $200 - $250 to be a part of the show. So if you have 50 creatives participating RAW is making an average of $10,000 just on ticket sales alone. 

Sadly emerging artists are the ones that need that need instructive feedback the most in any events they participate in. They need to know that their work has meaning and that they are respected and liked and have great potential. But doing so in the form of a bait to get you to sell their tickets is just plain wrong. 

So has my opinion of RAW changed since I wrote my first article? If anything my opinion is worse. I still see nothing in their concept except the ability to take advantage of the emerging artist. 

As I said before, they could, with a few changes, turn it into an outstanding program. But I doubt they will make those changes or seek out those who could help them do so. 

In the end my recommendation to all artists is to steer clear of these kinds of gimmicks and do not let ANY organization that claims to be out there to support and promote you, charge you money for their services. In the end this is all RAW is doing. And they are not alone. There are other rising organizations competing against RAW doing the same. There are also galleries and agents that charge fees for their services. If your work is good enough, then any and all fees should be coming from the sales of your work. 

Last of all remember that your work is your strength. Anyone who offers to show your work should be doing so in a professional setting where your work is seen in the best light. To crowd you into a bar should be an instant warning signal that you are getting the RAW end of the deal.

Beware scam artists and don't get frustrated! You will get noticed with time and patience and a dedication to the work you create. 

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