Arts advocate and marketing expert Rickie Leiter shares recommendations on how artists can make the most of opportunities and publicity.
Rickie Leiter, founder of The Rickie Report, covers the South Florida visual art scene. She publishes feature stories, presents upcoming events and opportunities, and provides helpful tips for artists of all types to publicize their work and further their art careers. Rickie outlines proven ways for artists to assess and successfully apply to calls, and gain exposure when accepted.
First, to determine why you are applying to a specific Call for Artists, ask these questions:
- Do you have enough body of work to apply?
- Has this been a successful show for you in the past?
- If it’s a new venue, what are your goals?
- How will being in this exhibit help your business grow?
- Will it help you network with others to amplify your own work in the future?
Take moment to consider what being in an exhibit means for your business. While your goal is to sell and make a profit, you need to consider the exposure as part of your advertising and marketing budget. You have one, right?
Every successful business has a marketing plan, and it helps to create a two-year calendar for this purpose. The calendar will allow you to keep track of exhibits and shows you are in and those you are applying to and waiting to hear from.
Make an inventory list so you know which pieces may be committed to a certain exhibit or show. This prevents mistakes and avoids confusion.
Take note of exhibits and shows that have already occurred, but that you were interested in. Sign up for their mailing list to hear about future opportunities and place them on your calendar. Keep aspiring to reach new goals and grow your business—this means considering Calls to Artists that may be out of your current comfort zone.
The application process
Once you identify a Call you want to pursue, read every aspect of the application carefully. Many artists are not accepted because they miss small details in the application process. Make sure your jpegs are the correct resolution and are the best they can be. This is the first step of the jurying process that separates those accepted from those who are not.
Having juried online exhibits in the past, I can tell you that your images are your best shot (no pun intended) at presenting your work. If your artwork is textural, can the juror see the subtle changes in texture? If the object is 3D, can the juror see all of it? Simple things like making sure your reflection doesn’t show in a photo say a lot about your professionalism.
On your calendar, note the details of drop off, set up, take down, and pick up. Will you need to designate someone else to drop off or pick up your work if you’re not available on the listed dates? Think about all the contingencies and have a plan.
When you are accepted
Your work isn’t over once you get accepted. Now is the time to tell the world how excited you are to be participating! Ask the convener of the exhibit or show for a press release and press kit so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Don’t rely on the show producer, exhibit coordinator, or gallerist to do all of the publicity work. This is a collaborative effort; each party has responsibilities to make the event as successful as possible. Contact your media list, social media list and email list. Share your excitement about the acceptance. And add information about the event to your website immediately, keeping your list of shows and exhibits up to date.
If this is a new show for you, decide how you are going to orient yourself before you arrive. Do you have a checklist of what to bring? (business cards and signage are the major items artists forget when I meet them at shows). Do you know anyone in the area? Are you involved in an organization that has a local chapter and can make some introductions? If you have a specific theme, what local organizations might you partner with before you arrive? You may be an artist who works alone, but you need to enlist a team of supporters to be successful!
If you are not accepted
When you receive notice of non-acceptance, keep notes on any feedback that was provided by the juror. If none are offered, you can certainly ask! In my experience, sometimes an acceptance is merely a consideration of wall space. The juror liked your artwork and another person’s artwork. Their piece was a few inches smaller, so it was accepted and yours was not. Or theirs fit the theme of the exhibit better, once the jurying got underway. Learn from this experience. Otherwise, you will continue to throw your money out the window by applying for events with little understanding.
Use your involvement to promote events and go beyond
Rickie’s 2-foot rule: Share your passion with anyone who comes within two feet of you! This includes your social media and your friends’ and colleagues’ social media. Include your compelling news in an email to everyone on your list. This is not the time to be shy. You are not asking for anyone to buy. You are sharing your passion.
Practice will help you feel comfortable with your elevator speech. Make it your own. As a jewelry artist, polymer clay creator, and mosaicist, I have changed my own delivery a number of times. What has not changed is my inspiration to create.
If someone in the grocery store asks how my day is going, I tell them how excited I am that I just was accepted into a national art show with my artwork! First, they are usually surprised that anyone actually responds to the question. Second, I find that most people are excited for me. Third, when they see me again, they are invested emotionally in how my art business is progressing.
I know you’re reading this and rolling your eyes. Will that clerk buy a $250 necklace from me? I don’t know. I never assume what people spend their money on or how much money they have. (A good book about this is The Millionaire Next Door). If that clerk isn’t interested, he or she may know someone who is. That is why you share your passion.
Impress the press
If the event you are doing involves a non-profit, make sure they have your press release to send out to their clients, volunteers, and board members. (A written agreement should delineate what they are responsible for and what you are responsible for).
Don’t wait until the “end of the year letter” to connect with everyone. Do it now. Include local media, such as local newspapers, arts newspapers, PBS radio, and local television. Don’t assume they won’t be interested. You cannot know what story lines they are currently developing, and yours might be perfect!
Get in touch with your network of contacts and ask them to share your exciting news with their friends and family (you’d do that for them, right?)
My own publication, The Rickie Report, has a production calendar that is often booked by organizations 6-9 months in advance for articles. While I have openings, it is best to contact me 6-8 weeks in advance to book a publication spot. Please don’t wait until the week before the exhibit to ask for one. That said, there are sometimes cancellations, so it never hurts to contact media resources at the last minute just in case.
Send out your press release and then follow up. Emails can get lost or go to spam, and are often unopened. You work too hard to let this slip through the cracks. If you don’t feel comfortable calling to see if they received it, send a text and a jpeg as a reminder.
You can also make an impression by sending a snail mail invitation. If you’re presenting a lecture at a local restaurant, for instance, send an invitation with one tea bag (in sturdy packaging) and ask the person to join you. Even if they can’t attend, you have caught their attention with your creativity and by going an extra step!