HOW TO WIN ART OPPORTUNITIES
We cover some key tips to find, attract or create high quality opportunities and raise the chances of winning them, and maximising the benefits.
We describe opportunities as something that:
develops your artistic practice
builds your audience
adds to your CV
gets you commissions
In this article, we cover applying to:
Art Prizes, and other opportunities offered via written applications
Corporates and Individuals for funding, sponsorship or other
Grants/funding from charities and institutions
However: You need to judge each opportunities' value to you and how real they are.
It’s key to search for opportunities but also to attract them and go a bit further by creating your own. It can be tough and time consuming but if you persevere, and learn and improve, then you will find success.
Before we go into more detail, the below points will help you win opportunities by making you much more “discoverable”:
A good, simple website (focused on presenting your artworks). Make it easy to get in touch with you and to visit your social media profiles
Social media profiles with good, carefully structured content. Your efforts in growing your audience on these will bring you more and more attention, so aim to grow organically, it takes time but they will be more engaged (see our previous talk article here)
Regular newsletter (as art consultants, we constantly use this to keep in touch with our clients, reminding them of what we do for when they need us and educating our audience), check out Mailchimp (click here for more info) as a good and easy to use platform
With the above, you are already in a position to more effectively win art opportunities…
1.APPLYING FOR ART PRIZES
Entering art prizes can significantly add to your CV and provenance as an artist. Researching the correct prizes for you and the application process can be time consuming but the potential return is much greater. Benefits of entering prizes:
Exposure to a dedicated art audience – your work is guaranteed to be seen by the judges, even if not successful you may stay in their mind in the future increasing your chances of future opportunities
Building your network – engaging with the prize, other entrants and events that complement the prize will help boost your reach and exposure. We promote all entrants on our social media profiles and website, so that you have can share with your audience and us easily.
Build your CV – if you are shortlisted or do win then you can add this to your CV and build your profile. You’ll also get a great amount of exposure where you don’t have to do the work – the prize will do that for you which takes a lot of pressure off you keeping up the exposure.
THE FOUR STAGES TO CONSIDER IF OPTIMISING YOUR ENTRY
- Establish what your USPs (Unique Selling Points) are: recent graduate, under or over 40, a photographer or a painter or collage artist, perhaps from a certain part of the world – use this criteria to start building a list of what prizes will suit you.
- Look beyond just Google: what have artists who are further on in their careers got on their CV, You can often find their CV’s on their website or on the gallery’s site that represents them.
- Certain useful websites: www.isendyouthis.com, www.photocontestinsider.com, www.artcompetitions.co.uk, www.artshub.com, https://www.artrabbit.com, http://www.artquest.org.uk
- Document all of the prizes you find in a spreadsheet (if possible), track them for the current year and the next year.
Once you’ve selected your prizes:
- Look at the judging panel: what have they done, where they are from, what their career path has been and what they’ve done? But don’t be perturbed if your work doesn’t suit their focus. That doesn’t mean it’s not of interest! It will give you more confidence to know a little about them and have a face to a name – look at their social media presence, you can sometimes gage personality more through social media feeds…
- Look at past winners: go beyond just looking at their work. What point in their career are they at? How do they talk about their work? Again don’t be perturbed if someone with a similar style won the year before, etc. Looking at this research will help you gage the ‘personality’ of the prize.
- Edit your text: adjust your artwork info for each prize to optimise your entry. Highlight things that suit their prize.
- Check what size and quality JPEGs you need and how the prize wants them named, it will vary for each prize.
- Take good, well-lit photos of work, and note that texture in works needs good lighting! Check T&Cs for details, if you are unsure, submit JPEGSs, medium to low compression if possible, 2 – 5 MBs, use a decent camera and a tripod where possible. No phone cameras!!! Check colours on monitor vs real life but be aware if pieces are being initially judged on a screen the calibration may differ to yours so you can only do so much. There are professionals who can help you with this.
- Look at whether the prize wants a strong and stylised image selection or do they judge each piece individually. It should affect what you submit.
- Do you need supporting information? CV, biography, artwork background and technical information, artist statement? Check this – send what is needed, not extra. Be succinct and write well, get others to check your writing.
After submitting, what next?:
- Connect with the people behind the prize, stay in their mind - even if you don't win it may mean your work stays in their mind or you can connect with them again at a quieter time and see if they’d give feedback on your work.
- If you hear from them that you are successful or not: thank them for their reply - have the last email, be attentive.
- If you don't, don’t worry – it will be a busy time for them, perhaps email them at a quieter time in the prize schedule to connect instead.
- Get on their social network profiles and mailing lists, stay up to date, share, engage with the organiser, attend the events offered – meet people!
After the results are out:
- Win or lose. Keep building the relationship, promote the shortlist
- Attend their all events, talk to other artists, make a point of talking to the people you emailed if you see them at the events
2.APPLYING TO A GALLERY
Galleries don’t generally list whether they accept portfolios on their websites however some more emerging galleries will and even if they don’t it doesn’t mean you can’t connect with other galleries – networking is important!
Even when galleries websites say they will accept submissions they often come with:
- No deadline
- No guidelines
- No process
So, what to submit?
This should give an overview of your background, work, influcences and practice:
- Be clear and simple with this,
- No overly flamboyant words or descriptions
- Try to stick to no more than 500 words (the length should be adaptable to different things)
Images or a PDF portfolio:
- This should be a curated selection, don’t throw everything in! File name should include; title, size, medium, your name.
- Keep it simple, 6 – 8 images to start
- Another option is to put images in a PDF portfolio with the same details listed
Submitted then what?:
- If you don’t hear anything then follow up! Call them and check in – did they receive it? Would they like you to resend? Is there any feedback? Be aware it may not be a convenient time to call though so ask them how is best to get in touch if they seem busy and want to deflect you
If it’s a no:
- Try to get feedback on why, possibly ask if they know of other opportunities out there.
The extra mile: Connecting with a gallery that doesn’t openly accept submissions:
- Go to their events
- Connect – speak to them if you pop in to see a show – it’s not about you, about them!
- Don’t drop in unsolicited with a portfolio
- Avoid asking straight away about representation, see if they can feedback to you on work, build a rapport.
- Stay positive, keep trying.
- Prizes/open calls add weight to your CV - don't be selective based on prizes offered, cover every base!
- Put together a schedule - what opens/closes when. Stay on top of this – update monthly or quarterly.
- Plan your year roll out of prizes to enter where possible and budget for it
- Try and get feedback on any gallery submissions made – drop them a call and see if the feedback is helpful.
- Apply to a range of different prizes. Go for the big ones and the small. You never know what year your work will fit.
- Look wider afield to other strong art markets EXAMPLE: US; NYC, CALIFORNIA. ASIA; HONG KONG, JAPAN. EUROPE; PARIS, BERLIN. Of course – think about your budget and affording to ship piece if you are successful.
- Dedicate time in your schedule to these things, one afternoon a week or a couple of hours to build.
3.APPLYING TO CORPORATES AND INDIVIDUALS
Interestingly, corporates are not often any good at searching for artists or fulfilling projects. If you do things right, this area can be great for a wide range of opportunities.
Research these things for corporates:
- What can they offer? This determines how you might approach them. Sponsorship (send them proposal with budget), an exhibition space (send them a curated idea, make it very visual), commissions (draft ideas and your vision), access to their clients or audience (propose an event idea), buy for corporate collection (create an art catalogue with your CV)
- What are they interested in (themes)? For example, diversity & inclusion, restrictions on controversial themes, and be aware that the audience is less ‘academic’
- What are their Corporate Social Responsibility policies? Could your art get their message out there? For example, they support the disadvantaged and marginalised, promote the highest professional conduct, they commit to ethical and transparent transactions, they want reduced environmental impact
- Who should you contact? Typically the most receptive people are CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) managers and Human Resources managers within the company. It could be corporate art consultants like Oaktree & Tiger Art Advisory (http://www.oaktreeandtiger.com/corporate-art-advisory.html). The best way in is by researching your friends who might work for certain companies whatever their role, and encouraging them to assist you as they can easily find the right person to speak to, get answers to your questions and support a connection with that person. Also, always be ready for any chance encounters (see this article for help in these situations, http://www.artprize.co.uk/blog/how-to-promote-yourself-2). LinkedIn is a very useful tool too.
- It is likely that they are a less academic audience, tailor your application accordingly!
Research these things for investors:
Main idea/tip… Pre-sell artworks (and take full payment at start so you can use this money for your project and ask for permission to sell on in your project). The fact of having an exhibition coming up that will show these artworks will gain you more interest. Consider displaying the pre-sold artwork for sale at normal price on behalf of the ‘investor’ and share the profit with the investor.
Increase success by:
Have nicely curated exhibition proposal PDF, email and verbal pitches aimed at investors
Maybe detailed budget (venue hire, marketing, catalogue, PV event, etc.)
Promote investors support in catalogue and exhibition and to other potential investors
Best to approach close friends, family and current clients
With your exhibition, you can now focus on attracting opportunities and growing your audience, as well as sales and promotion
Using Crowdfunding (e.g. Kickstarter, https://www.kickstarter.com/ , and Crowdfunder, http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/ ) can be a great idea when done well:
Best tip is to use as a tool to “pre-sell” artworks, i.e. limited edition, signed prints as gifts for investment at a sensible discount to price of artwork at your exhibition
Unique exhibitions that are different in some way are better, hard to do but consider ‘experiential’ and ‘immersive’ ideas. Or do you have an idea that captures the current zeitgeist.
Must do video, and should be short and well made
Succinct text on your idea, sell yourself, your vision, your art and your exhibition
Show your budget, so investors feel more like they are involved in your project and know where their money is going to
Have a variety of “rewards” from cheap to high priced, to capture a wider audience (often people offer different levels of gifts/ rewards depending on what people invest. Invest £100 and be mentioned in the exhibition book, invest £500 receive limited edition work, etc., etc.)
Must promote it to your social media network as well as friends and family (listing it on a site gives it more credibility, but you still need to work hard to get it fully funded as majority of investors are well known to creators)
Aim for the least you need, underfunded campaigns do not go through but the sites will allow you to receive more than the requested amount
4.APPLYING TO GRANTS AND INSTITUTIONS
We cover this topic in an interview with Ashurst Emerging Artist Sculpture Prize 2016 winner Maureen Jordan and with top tips from Daisy McMullan, Independent Curator and Camberwell Space Manager.
Interview with Maureen Jordan
Maureen Jordan won the Ashurst Emerging Artist Prize for Sculptors 2016 and was formerly Director of the Arts Council England, an expert in arts administration and now a full time artist.
CC (Conrad Carvalho): Tell us a little about your career leading up to winning the Sculpture Prize.
MJ (Maureen Jordan): I have had a long career as an arts administrator, project manager and funder. In 2009 I took voluntary redundancy from the Arts Council. This was a happy decision as I left on a high note having just worked with the Culture Company on Liverpool’s year as European Capital of Culture and it gave me an opportunity to begin to develop a practice as a visual artist. Since 2009 I have been exhibiting, creating installations for outdoors and indoors and completing an MA at UCA in 2015. As well as applying for multiple ‘opportunities’.
CC: Tell us about your experience in applying for opportunities.
MJ: I counted my applications before coming here …there are approximately 45 since last September. I thought I knew my way around application proposals so I decided I would get them out faster than they could be rejected …not a great ‘strategy’ as that level of rejection wears you down eventually. The usual response that so many ‘high quality’ applications have been received is telling me that there are just too many of us chasing too few opportunities.
CC: What do you think benefactors like the Arts Council and corporates are looking for in fine artists?
MJ: I really can’t speak for corporates as I have little or no experience of them. When people learn that I have worked for the Arts Council and assessed 1000s of applications they ask me, “so how do you get money from the Arts Council England?”. There is an assumption that there’s a trick or that it’s about ticking the right boxes. As it isn’t an easy process to explain in a sentence….my short answer is “Have a great project that fits their criteria”. It’s that simple….and that difficult.
CC: How have you dealt with people who ask for you to work or give your art for free?
MJ: As I have spent my entire working life trying to ensure that artists get paid properly, I am allergic to requests to work for free, especially if I’m being told that it will be good for my CV….? After all, it’s never free, is it? There are materials to pay for, transport and hours of making. So I do not subscribe to the view that it will be beneficial for me…unless…..if I really want to make a piece of work so that I can test it out or make a small piece that can be scaled up or developed further ….then it just might be worth it….but it’s never free.
CC: What are your top 3-5 tips for submitting a decent application?
MJ: Here’s my list:
Have a great project.
Make sure you fully understand the criteria of the funder.
Look at case studies of similar projects that have been funded.
Use it as an exercise to develop a project plan you can use in another context or for another fund.
Get someone you trust to read a draft.
Be really well organised, keep a list, do several drafts, refine your artist’s statements, proposals, CV
CC: What have you started thinking about for your future in applying for opportunities, what would you like to focus on and what would you stop applying for?
MJ: Here’s my thoughts:
I am planning to be much more strategic.
I am trying to develop meaningful networks and prospective collaborations.
I will not apply to those who didn’t bother to even send a rejection or who clearly don’t treat artists well.
I will fundraise in advance of projects and not do them ‘on spec’.
I’ll think about the value of applying where there is an application fee.
Be true to yourself.
Top Tips from Daisy McMullen
Daisy McMullen is an Independent Curator and Arts Manager, she has experience in fundraising, project management and marketing. She is currently Manager of Camberwell Space, a public gallery at University of the Arts, Camberwell College. Her top tips are:
Keep an eye out for opportunities (good places to find these are Arts Council website, Art Quest, Art Rabbit, etc.), and keep a list of relevant ones and, importantly the deadlines. Put them in your diary or calendar, so they don't pass you by.
Read the requirements carefully make sure that you fit them in terms of age or residency restrictions, there's no point in applying if you're not eligible, you can use your time and effort better elsewhere.
Write down ideas for projects when they come to you that way, when an opportunity comes up you'll have ideas to pitch, rather than staring at a blank page and wondering what to do.
Keep your artist statements, CV, images up to date and easily accessible digitally. That way, you won't need to write from scratch each time, instead you can edit as required.
Make sure statements and CVs are well written and well edited (only include artistic achievements in your CV, and keep statements easy to understand and to the point).
Remember that the people reading your application have no idea who you are or what your work is about. You need to explain everything clearly, and without jargon. Try and do this in a logical way. Put your headline ideas e.g. the outcome/s and method first. Back this up with contextual information.
Make images count put only the best, and caption them properly with title, date, and where it was taken.
If you're asked to put in a budget, make sure it balances and includes a fee for your work.
If you need to talk about public impact of your work, or audience engagement, make sure you explain this clearly, with examples, of how this will happen. Perhaps plan a talk, workshop or other way of engaging the public.
Get help - ask a trusted friend or colleague to read over your application and give you feedback and criticism. Some people even go to an adviser or coach to help them it’s always good to get help and another point of view.
Remember to state the impact of the project in terms of its contribution whether to your own growth as an artist, or contributing to the artistic life of the organisation that is funding the opportunity. Read the requirements and double check you have addressed everything.
Treat it like a job application (you are asking for money for your time and labour, after all), and make sure you have addressed all the points in the call out, everything is clear, with correct spelling and grammar, images are organised, you send a short but polite covering letter or email, and get good references, if they are needed. A good reference can often be the deciding factor in a successful application.
Conrad Carvalho – Prize Director and Art Consultant, Oaktree & Tiger. Works with a wide range of carefully selected emerging artists for corporates, private clients and art projects. Specialising in art rental and art investment. Also does consulting for artists looking to take the next steps and grow their career effectively.
Caitlin Smyth – Marketing & PR Consultant and Artist Agent. Develops the profiles/careers of artists and galleries across online and offline channels, provides marketing support for ongoing and one-off arts projects.
Maureen Jordan – Sculptor. Current winner of the Sculpture Prize 2016, a full time artist following a long career in arts administration and funding.
Daisy McMullan – Independent Curator and Arts Manager. Experienced in fundraising, project management and marketing. She is currently Manager of Camberwell Space, a public gallery at University of the Arts, Camberwell College.
The Ashurst Emerging Artist Prize 2017 is now open for entries until 15 January 2017, with £6,500 of prizes and exhibitions for the shortlisted artists and the winners, in the Ashurst Emerging Artist Gallery space in London, UK. All entries are promoted and seen by the expert judging panel, and there are free informative talks for artists entering the competition.
Full details are on www.artprize.co.uk or you can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Oaktree & Tiger Team
Art experts giving advice to emerging artists to build their careers and find success. Organisers of the Ashurst Emerging Artist Prize 2020, artist agent and art consultants.