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I am a painter who recently graduated from art school but haven’t had much gallery experience and I was interested in submitting work to some juried shows as a way of gaining some experience and making some new connections. I was wondering if you could offer some advice on finding reputable juried shows to apply to. I have googled around but haven’t found much.
Juried shows can indeed be a great way to gain experience and build your resume, but “reputable” is a relative term. Here are a few questions to keep in mind as you go about sorting through the listings on websites such as College Art Association, Re-title and WOOLOO:
1.) Is there a fee? How much does it cost to apply? Most juried shows charge a fee to review your work and this often goes toward administrative costs such as paying the juror. It’s usually around $30 for 3 images, but you’ll find some that ask for excessive fees (I know of one that charges 65 euro!) and some that charge no fee at all (usually at community colleges or other small regional venues). Set a budget for this career expense and decide what your upper limit is. If you’re independently wealthy you can toss your money around with abandon, but if you are on a limited post-graduation budget you might want to target your applications very carefully.
Bear in mind that a high entry fee does not guarantee a high-quality exhibition. Follow the call-for-entry’s link back to the home website and take a look. Does it appear professional? If it’s an annual show, how was the work from previous years? Have prior exhibitions received attention from the press? The information on the website should help you decide if the institution provides quality programming. If there’s no website, don’t apply!
2.) Where is the exhibition? In other words, who will see the show? If it’s at a small town community college gallery, the audience might largely consist of the students and professors (and I’m not saying that’s a bad thing), whereas a commercial gallery in a medium-sized city might draw a more diverse group of art patrons. Think about what audience you’d like to have. Since you’re early in your career, getting work in front of audiences is the first priority. Sales are great, but exposure to an engaged audience is a critical investment in your future.
3.) Who will jury the show? Often times gallerists or curators from museums/other arts institutions will jury exhibitions outside of their normal habitat. If you see that a curator who has shown interest in the type of work you make is the guest juror for a show, by all means apply. You should always google the juror to see what comes up.
4.) Who pays for shipping and insurance? This goes hand in hand with our first question. As you apply to various opportunities, you’ll have to consider what it would mean for your bank account if you actually get in! Very few juried shows pay for the artists to ship their work, so make sure that you have the money to crate and ship a large canvas across the country. This is an important consideration, so factor it into your financial calculations.
5.) Will the show travel? Is there a catalog? If the exhibition is going to travel to several venues, you’ll get more bang for your almighty buck. Nothing builds a C.V. faster and easier than a travelling exhibition! Likewise, a catalog can be a helpful document to have as you begin your career. Publication of your work in catalogues lends credibility to your practice.
Above all, you should only apply to shows that actually fit your work. If you send images of painted landscapes to a themed show about Futurism, you won’t get in and you won’t get your money back. Take a cold-eyed look at what your work really is and then only apply to exhibitions that would be a good match.
Being organized with your applications right from the start will save you a lot of headaches in the long run. Even if you loathe the mundane realities of administrative work, take fifteen minutes to set up a basic spreadsheet so that you can track deadlines, completed entries, related expenses, etc. This document will serve you very well when you need to remember who has what artwork, and for how long. Don’t submit the same work to shows with overlapping exhibition dates. You don’t want to burn a bridge if you are accepted to both!
As hard as it may be, it’s also important to save rejection letters or emails—I don’t know how it works in other countries, but if you file taxes in the US and are audited, the rejection letters could help prove that you are working as a professional and actively pursuing an income.
While you are doing your research, keep an eye out for alternatives to juried shows: libraries, cafes, and other venues hang artwork but don’t often put out calls for entry. Ask around to see who might be interested in your work. Also, think about staging a show with some friends (see this old column, second Q&A). This has the triple advantage of giving you real experience on how to organize and hang a proper exhibition as well as getting your work out into the world. Good luck!