Pressured to Submit?

Are we pushing people towards versions of success they don’t want? 

That’s what occurred to me when rereading the Jackie Battenfield book The Artist’s Guide: How to Make a Living Doing What You Love.

We spend a lot of our Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition (OVAC) energy promoting opportunities for artists—things artists can apply for like call to artists for exhibitions, grants, training and the like. We constantly encourage artists to “submit.”

Meanwhile, Battenfield emphasizes that artists should consider readiness, stating “understand where you are in your development rather than define your practice by where you think you should be” (emphasis mine).
Notes from Artist INC program about planning artists’ careers

By sharing and encouraging people to take advantage of opportunities, we aren’t suggesting that they are required or right for everyone, but it might seem that way (especially since we can be relentless about promoting upcoming deadlines).
However, I am tempted to add more caveats to our calls to artists to encourage artists to consider, reconsider and weigh the opportunity more. 
Oklahoma Artist INC facilitators & administrators at Kansas City training

Over the past few days, a strong crew of Oklahoma artists, Kelsey Karper (from OVAC), and I have been trained to facilitate the innovative Artist INC in Oklahoma Citythis fall (check it out!).

The program underscores deliberate planning to reach artistic success. To really find sustainable careers, artists have to set their goals and be aware of dreams.
So we will keep encouraging people to apply, hoping that artists have the capability to apply and hear about the opportunity, but at the same time know that they can choose not to apply for good reason sometimes…

Watch for all our call for entries here or sign up for our email list to get direct notifications about artist deadlines. 
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Spaces: Exploration of Art Venues, Notes 5: Non-profit Venues

On Saturday, March 9, the Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition offered the Artist Survival Kit workshop, “Spaces: An Exploration of Art Venues.” During this workshop, five speakers shared their experiences with different art venue types including retail, restaurants, commercial galleries, non-profit venues, and auctions/secondary markets. In this series of blog posts, we share notes from each speaker thanks to ASK Committee Co-chair Sarah Atlee.
Glenn Herbert Davis, Tulsa
Over, Mixed Media, 11′ x 13′ 5″ x 5′ 11″
Glenn Herbert Davis: Not-for-profit, university, and alternative spaces
These types of spaces will often be self-funded and are often funded through grants. Sales tend to be anomalous, rather than the rule.
When showing at this type of venue, an artist will need to transport and/or ship their work, may be giving public talks, and may spend some time in residence. There is often an educational programming component. A university, for example, usually covers at least part of these costs, and may offer the artist a stipend.
Glenn’s work is mostly site-specific installation, often with performative or time-based aspects. His work does not often lend itself to sales.
Advice for showing at a university:
Ask for what you need.
Don’t question policy. (Example – if you are required to install between the hours of 8 am and 5 pm, respect that.)
Respect the time of the people who are helping you.
Be as practical and forthcoming as possible. Keep lines of communication open.
Don’t expect venue organizers to drop everything for you. Be prepared to work within their limitations.
Be organized, and do the job you agreed to do.
Every exhibition involves a practical exchange of services and time (which may or may not include money). There are no gifts.
Glenn looks for interesting, ambitious, enjoyable, low-cost things to do. If he can get paid in the process, even better. By creating repeatable, packageable works, he opens up a wider range of potential venues. He makes sure to have detailed documentation and instructions for disassembly and reassembly.
Glenn uses Sketchup to create 3-d models of his work for proposals. He encourages physically visiting an exhibition space, not just relying on floor plans provided.
Not-for-profit spaces typically review submissions by committee, rather than a single person. The committee may be separate from the venue’s institution. There may be members who are brought in specifically to review your work. Keep in mind that when your submission is under review by a committee, they are on the lookout for reasons why you might be too much trouble to deal with.
Not-for-profit exhibition cycles tend to be shorter than commercial venues. Glenn will often have about five days to install, followed by the opening, then about three weeks of exhibition time before takedown.

Spaces: Exploration of Art Venues, Notes 4: Galleries/Secondary Markets

On Saturday, March 9, the Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition offered the Artist Survival Kit workshop, “Spaces: An Exploration of Art Venues.” During this workshop, five speakers shared their experiences with different art venue types including retail, restaurants, commercial galleries, non-profit venues, and auctions/secondary markets. In this series of blog posts, we share notes from each speaker thanks to ASK Committee Co-chair Sarah Atlee.
Painting by David Crismon
David Crismon: Galleries and secondary markets
After your work leaves the studio…
Price your work to cover your production costs. If you’re unsure about how to price your work, a gallery can offer guidance there. [Holly Wilson mentioned that it is very important to have your work priced the same at every venue, so as not to undercut anyone.]
50% commission is typical for commercial galleries. Keep in mind all that the gallery does to earn that portion: overheads, promotion, hanging and lighting, shipping, and more.
A gallery might be more interested in selling your work than in its content.
David recommends asking friends for gallery recommendations.
Auction houses mostly sell work by artists who are deceased, though occasionally work by living artists is sold at auction. An auction house will typically take a flat percentage from a sale below a certain dollar value, after which their commission will increase incrementally. Auction houses may inflate prices, in part because they invest a lot of money into potential sales by producing expensive catalogues and other advertising.
For living artists, auction prices will affect that artist’s retail prices.

Spaces: Exploration of Art Venues, Notes 3: Galleries & Art Fairs

On Saturday, March 9, the Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition offered the Artist Survival Kit workshop, “Spaces: An Exploration of Art Venues.” During this workshop, five speakers shared their experiences with different art venue types including retail, restaurants, commercial galleries, non-profit venues, and auctions/secondary markets. In this series of blog posts, we share notes from each speaker thanks to ASK Committee Co-chair Sarah Atlee.
Holly Wilson, With Her Birdens, Bronze and Silver, 8.5″ x 4″ x 4″

Holly Wilson: Commercial Galleries and art fairs
Holly emphasizes that the worst thing a potential gallery can tell you is “No.” That’s as bad as it gets. The important thing is to muscle past the fear, and just ask. You never know what will happen after you start the conversation.
They may tell you that they love your work, but that it’s not the right fit for their gallery. Be courteous, thank them for their time, and ask them to recommend other galleries that you might approach.
Holly also emphasizes visiting potential spaces in person. Know what the walls are made of, and if the gallery uses a special hanging system. This is especially true for wall sculpture.
Research, research, research! Holly goes to art fairs like SOFAand Art Chicago. She gets all the information she can about a fair ahead of time. She visits the website of every single gallery that will be there, and narrows down a list of those she wants to investigate further. She gets a floor plan of the fair exhibitors, and spends a whole day walking around and making further notations about what galleries may or may not be good for her work.
Holly may research specific artists she likes, to find out where they’ve shown, and cross-reference that information with her gallery research. She also asks other artists for gallery recommendations.
When approaching a gallerist, she makes sure to have an *excellent* image of her work on a postcard to leave behind.
Tip: dress like a buyer, not like an artist. Keep in mind that galleries spend $20,000 – $80,000 for a booth at the best trade fairs, not to mention all the advertising they do.
Questions HW asks about potential commercial galleries:
Do they have branches in other cities?
Do they go to art fairs?
Do they have good relationships with their buyers & collectors? Have they cultivated these relationships over time?
Do they work to have magazine articles published about their artists?
Are their websites good? Do they make good use of social media?
Is the gallery in an arts district? Is there a potential for foot traffic from nearby businesses?
Specific advice for artists who work with bronze or similar materials:
Research your foundry costs. Your casting cost per piece, multiplied by 3, is a good guideline for the piece’s retail price. A gallery that takes a 50% commission on sales of paintings should only take 30% on sales of bronze works.
Holly recently participated in the Heard Museum Guild IndianFair & Market for the first time. Rather than use the typical art fair exhibition booth setup, she built herself a tiny white-walls gallery, in order to better show off her work. She built three 4×8′ panels of cabinet-grade plywood, supported by custom-cut and threaded plumbing pipe (hidden by 1×2 strips). The setup is modular, transportable, and reusable. It was very eye-catching and made her work much more visible.
As an exhibitor, Holly chose to apply specifically to the Heard Museum and Santa Fe Indian Market art fairs in order to attract high-end galleries, curators, and collectors. She took out a $400, 1/6-page color ad in a Native American arts magazine with a very large circulation, specifically to bring people to her booth at the Heard fair – it worked, and also resulted in a significant increase in her website traffic.
Remember, an artist is a business, so conduct yourself accordingly. You’re responsible for promoting yourself. When you make sales, reinvest that money back into your business.
For print promotion, Holly makes sure to have excellent photos of her work. She carries a basic postcard and business cards that she gets from overnightprints.com to hand out. She also uses business cards from Moo, which are higher quality prints, for more special occasions. Holly has created a larger foldout brochure specifically to send to certain high end galleries.

Spaces: Exploration of Art Venues, Notes 2: Restaurants

On Saturday, March 9, the Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition offered the Artist Survival Kit workshop, “Spaces: An Exploration of Art Venues.” During this workshop, five speakers shared their experiences with different art venue types including retail, restaurants, commercial galleries, non-profit venues, and auctions/secondary markets. In this series of blog posts, we share notes from each speaker thanks to ASK Committee Co-chair Sarah Atlee.
Watercolor painting by Tommy Lee Ball
Tommy Ball: Artistic Restauraunteering
Know your venue – do your homework.
When approaching a potential restaurant, have your portfolio, business cards, and other print materials ready, so they can see your images immediately. Tommy leaves small digital prints on watercolor paper with the owners of potential venues. They are small gifts that are very memorable.
The best time to talk to a restaurant owner is on a weekday afternoon between 2 and 4 pm. Leave your contact info with them, and remember to follow up.
Questions to ask about potential restaurant venues:
Have they ever shown art before? Do they do so regularly?
How often do they rotate new art in?
What is their submission policy? Who handles art submissions?
Price points: is your work priced appropriately for the venue?
Is there a sales commission? How much? Restaurants often take no commission, but artists should be prepared to handle their own sales.
Is your work a good fit for this venue? Generally, grotesque subject matter, nudes, etc. should be avoided.
How are the walls? Do you have their permission to drill holes if that’s required for hanging your work?
How is the lighting? Tommy often hangs his own clip lights in restaurants. Sometimes this requires minor electrical work on his part. An example of this can be seen at the Forge co-working space in Tulsa.
Have they offered to hang your work for you? Make sure they know how to properly hang art, and make it easy for them by having your work be display-ready with proper wiring.
Be professional: be on time! Respect the fact that they are running a business, and you are not their top priority.
Be sure to get direct contact information for the restaurant owner. If there’s a problem, you want to be able to talk directly to them.
What if the restaurant closes, or moves, while your work is hanging there? What if you try to get your work back and it’s locked up somewhere? Have a contract with provisions for situations like this, and get actual legal help making it.
On price points: Tommy shows different work depending on the prices at a particular venue. He may show originals or prints. For restaurants where a customer would spend $50-$100 on a meal, he may show original paintings priced around $1,000. For restaurants that charge $10-$20 a plate, he’ll show prints priced around $200.
Make your own wall tags. Tommy includes his name, the medium and substrate, information about the frame, and his contact info. He does not display prices.
New restaurants are great, because an artist can help them out by making their interiors look better for their launch, attracting more customers.
To physically protect his work in restaurants, Tommy frames everything with glass and caulks the seam between the frame and the backing. This way, he can prevent food smells and moisture from creeping inside the frame and being absorbed by the paper.
While your work is up in a restaurant, be a patron. Bring people you know to eat there.
If your work is hanging for more than a month or two, check in with them once a month. Bring new work, or simply refresh your display by rearranging the existing work.
Know when the show will end. Contact the restaurant owner 2-4 weeks before your work comes down. Don’t leave them with bare walls! Remember, they are not gallerists, and may want more time to line up the next artist to show there. They’ll appreciate recommendations for other artists.
When you deinstall, leave their walls in better shape than you found them.
Thank the restaurant management and staff in a personal, special way.
Tommy doesn’t have to search for new venues these days – he’s spent enough time cultivating good relationships with restaurants that now they approach him.

Spaces: Exploration of Art Venues, Notes 1: Retail

On Saturday, March 9, the Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition offered the Artist Survival Kit workshop, “Spaces: An Exploration of Art Venues.” During this workshop, five speakers shared their experiences with different art venue types including retail, restaurants, commercial galleries, non-profit venues, and auctions/secondary markets. In this series of blog posts, we share notes from each speaker thanks to ASK Committee Co-chair Sarah Atlee.


Amanda Bradway: Art in a Retail Environment
Amanda Bradway runs DNA Galleries in OKC’s Plaza District, where she sells handmade goods (mostly by local artists) and contemporary art.
Amanda advises that artists shop around for the right venue for their work, one that reflects their aesthetic and style. Style is particularly important, so visit the spaces you want to show in.
Inside DNA Galleries in OKC’s Plaza District
Questions to ask about your potential retail venues:
Price points: Is your work over- or under-priced for the venue?
Is there adequate display space for your work?
Are the shelves stable and sturdy?
Are there locked display cases for smaller, more valuable pieces?
Layout: How are the walls? Is there enough wall space for your work? Would your work be hung too high for people to see it? How will it be displayed?
Be professional. Showing your work in a retail venue is not unlike showing it in a gallery. Make sure your work is display-ready, framed and wired for hanging. DNA had an experience where an artist installed a completely different body of work than what they had submitted, and it wasn’t as good!
Be excited about your work – retail owners don’t want to show your work if they think you just want to get rid of it.
Offer different price points for a range of potential buyers. People don’t often walk into retail stores expecting to walk out with original art. They may really enjoy your work but not be able to afford larger originals. However, they are likely to buy small prints, buttons, stickers, etc.
Turnaround: Retail goods need to move, and not stagnate in the store. If your work will be displayed there for more than a month or two, bring new things in periodically. Retail stores often change their merchandise to match the season. Artists should keep in mind that retail sales are what keep the business’ doors open, and fine art sales will likely be secondary to that.
Promotion: Tell everyone where they can find your work. Check in with your social media outlets, even just once a day. Retailers will appreciate the additional publicity.
Have an opening. It’s a great opportunity for store visitors to see and try new things. You’ll get a different audience than people who might ordinarily visit a gallery.
DNA Galleries fills a niche by selling handmade, artist-made products that are 98% from local artists. They now have an online submission form. They want to know what kind of products or art you’re offering, what your price points are, and whether artwork is ready to hang. They rotate products and art out consistently, and seasonally. Artists are encouraged to resubmit if they are initially rejected.
Retail customers like to see variety and selection within a consistent group of products, which is why DNA Galleries wants to see a minimum of 5 pieces in an artist’s submission. They ask that your work has not been shown in the Plaza District within the past year.
When contacting a potential venue, know exactly who you should talk to. Don’t assume the person behind the counter at a retail store is the right person to talk to about showing your art. Make an appointment, rather than just walking in with the things you want to sell.




Applying for Exhibitions & Grants

Hoping this will help other artists, I want to share my presentation from our Artist Survival Kit workshop last weekend. We focused on writing proposals for grants and exhibitions. 

Many of these cash awards and exhibitions have quick deadlines. But, I think the proposal tips should translate to other artist applications. 

This was the second proposal writing workshop we’ve offered, hoping to encourage more and even better artist applications to our opportunities.  Let us know if you have questions.