RAW Artist Showcase:Reflect
RAW Artists is an international arts non-profit organization that invites artists of many disciplines to exhibit in cities for a one night only event. The show takes no commission for work sold, the event is incredibly organized, well promoted and well attended. So what's the catch, too good to be true right? I thought so. I was skeptical.
Each artist is asked to sell 20 tickets to the event, if they don't sell those tickets then they are responsible for the difference. Ok, so maybe that is the catch? Its a pay to play game, twenty tickets at 22.50 would be tough for me to cover. Even if I did sell these tickets, what if no one that attends the show wants to buy anything because they have already spent money on the tickets, and at the bar, and what if I sell nothing. All of these questions made me spiral into panic and self doubt, what had I just committed to?
So naturally I Googled it. BIG MISTAKE. The first three hits were articles about the ‘Raw Artists Scam’ and get this, two of the three were written about a show that took place in CINCINNATI where I was set to exhibit. Commence full panic. As I read the articles, all dated 2014, common themes linked one to the next: ticket commitment, low sales and loud music. ‘why should I have to sell tickets, they should pay me to be there?’ and ‘I sold one piece and people didn't want to talk to me’ (these are not direct quotes, but my interpretation) I continued to worry for several days about my commitment.
But then I thought about how as artists and makers, we pay to play all the time. I shell out a lot of cash each year in application and booth fees. I pay for sponsored ads and marketing materials. If I sell a piece in a gallery they take a hefty commission. How else would galleries and festivals and fairs and pop ups fund the event?
Ticket sales are no guarantee, but if the artist sells tickets not only does that fund the event, it gets people in the doors. Now that I look back I think the ticket incentive is great, it forces artists, who can be known for their love of isolation, to interact with customers and encourages marketing and self-promotion. These are important skills needed to be a successful artist, and it brings a whole bunch of people from different walks of life together in one place filled with art and the artists that make it.
Now I sold my 20 tickets, I realize that I may feel differently had I not, but I was able to sell my tickets while living three hours away from the show, I have amazing supporters, but I also worked hard to balance the self promotion and ticket sale incentive in a way not to be off-putting or needy. On to the actual show…
I prepared as much small inventory as possible for the event, you can't sell what you don't have. I decided which larger pieces I would take and marked a 6x6 area in my studio to master the lay out. This would prepare me for a simple, smooth set up, if there were such a thing. I arrived right at 2pm for set up and stood in line with other eager artists waiting to be checked in. Once in and sent to my assigned spot, I discovered that my spot was where a stairwell was located and that the Raw Team didn't know (pre-show) that it existed. (They are based in LA and had not been to the venue) but the show director Zach was on it. We played with different arrangements with other artists, knowing I had large pieces and couldn't be confined to a stall-like set up in the new layout. My super kind neighbor a Jeweler gave me her Grid to use as a divider and I moved to the top of the chaos-causing stairwell. Now with a confirmed spot, I moved on to the task of carrying all of my stuff up 30 or so concrete stairs. My husband and I hauled totes, tables, plants, planters, and the settee up those steps like seasoned pros, we have done the set up a few times so the stairs were just a fun (exhausting) twist.
During set up the performing acts rehearsed, Zach continued to encourage everyone and move around the room to check in with artists. The venue staff were also incredible. After I finally finished set up, I quickly changed and got ready for my head shots they provide head shots! There was also a photographer moving through the room taking photos of the event and everyone's booth space.
Right before the event started and the doors opened, Zach called all of the artists, visual, performing, fashion and music to the stage together. He gave a killer pep talk, calmed nerves and encouraged us to engage with our fellow artists. I had already met some insanely inspiring women so I took the opportunity to check in with a few of the performers and the photographer across from my exhibit space.
7:00 pm. Doors open, and the party started!
So here is where the true test began, would I sell anything, would it be too loud, would carrying all seven million pounds of Little Bare loot up those stairs be worth it? Within moments of the doors opening I started selling my work, despite the performances. During the first act it was really loud. It was the type of music, not the venue or the show set up, and a lot of people enjoyed it. So we literally kicked the night off with a bang. I did have two customers say that they wanted to shop but the noise was too much so they took my card and left. This was a bummer, but it was not a pattern and that kind of scene is not for everyone. I made several sales during the first set and once things quieted down a bit I did not have a moment without people in my booth. Sales were great and that is obviously important but let's move onto why I chose to do the show.
I live in Bowling Green, Ohio. It's a small college town south of Toledo, Ann Arbor and Detroit. Four hours east of Chicago, and a few hours north of Columbus and Cincinnati. I am so close to so many areas but don’t exactly have my foot in the door of the art market anywhere farther than Toledo. I have been racking my brain for a way to get my name out in a bigger city in a way that wasn't a huge time commitment or cost. I someday plan to do the Ann Arbor art fair but its four days and a huge booth fee, not to mention lodging. The RAW Showcase was one night, no booth fee and the hotel just four blocks away was totally reasonable. It also fell during my kids’ spring break so they got to come and the hotel had a pool (not heated, so cold) so they obviously thought it was a grand vacation.
Anyway, networking is why I chose to do it. I went through over 300 business cards in four hours. I had awesome conversations with people about things I’ve made in the past. Things they want made, and things I dream to make. A whole new group of people got to hear me gush over my love of woodworking and my passion for sustainability. My planters are sitting in new homes and businesses in a new town meaning that if someone asks “Hey, where did you get that?” my brand gets another Cincinnati area bump. This means that each sale I made or card that was taken could lead to new customers, new commissions, and new clients. Networking.
These connections are important and lucrative, but the personal connections are what get me.
My favorite part of art shows is the people. I can easily sink into hermit mode, I love my home, my woodshop, my family and close friends. I love my tiny town. I find comfort in the familiar. But I am exhilarated by the opportunity to (briefly) bust out of my shell and tell my story, listen to others, admire other artists’ work and motives. I often find people with as much passion about what they make as I have. And mothers that are as driven to inspire and provide for their kids as I am.
These connections are so important. Artists supporting artists. Makers supporting makers. And mothers supporting mothers. I put my heart into everything I make and these connections feed my heart. They are so much more than faces and names. They are inspiration and support.
RAW Artists: Reflect was a total success for me. Definitely not worth the panic tears and google spiral. The RAW Artists team was efficient, attentive, and kind. The venue was fantastic. The night was a blast, good music, amazing performing acts, and seriously the most beautiful and diverse fashion shows and models. The visual artists were talented in the many fields represented. I made connections with other creatives, other strong inspiring women, new customers and potential clients. As I carried the (now five million pounds of) Little Bare loot down the 30 or so concrete steps, I was filled with pride for not only my success on that night, but for inclusion in a network of really talented artists and a really cool organization.
Do you want to learn more about RAW Artists? Apply for a show or check out the other awesome perks of being a RAW Artist. Click here.