I do my best to apply to opportunities (grants, exhibits, residencies, awards) on a regular basis, maybe 5-6 per year. My goal is to get one. Because rejection can become discouraging, I always try to have a few applications out there, rather than applying to one thing and then waiting for the acceptance/rejection letter.
The main challenge to avoid unnecessary rejection is to carefully sift through the millions of things to apply for. Some rejections come because it was unlikely I wouldhave ever gotten it anyway. Other rejections come simply because I was unlucky. I try to weed out the ones that are unlikely, usually through research: reading all through the website, the application, the organization’s mission statement and researching past winners. I also try to keep a balance of applications/proposals out there, some that are prestigious and hard to get, and others that are more realistic.
One thing for sure is to focus on appropriateness. I make sure my medium (painting) is both accepted and preferred. Sometimes this is stated clearly and sometimes it might be revealed, for example, if you research the jurors’ interests. The Elizabeth Greenshield Foundation Grant, a grant for painters under 30, and a foundation based in Canada, states clearly that they do not accept abstract painting. And if you look at past winners, they are primarily figurative painters, not even just representational. Another example is the Miami Young Painter’s Award. Every year they switch from abstraction to representational realism. This is a dichotomy that is really confusing for my work, which tends to move between abstraction and representation. So, you can get a sense of what they might want from this kind of language.
I also decide on the following factors: cost and application procedures. I consider not only the cost of the application fee but also if I will be responsible for things like framing and shipping. I am very open to doing an exhibition if the money doesn’t come out of my pocket. If I have to pay to participate, I like to make sure it really compliments my work. I also consider the extent of the application procedures and how soon the deadline is. If I need to write a lengthy proposal and get letters of recommendation, I make sure it is a really good opportunity and that I have enough time to do it right. Although, its good to keep in mind that a lengthy application or an expensive entry fee might deter other artists as well, so sometimes if you “pay the price” you might have a better chance at the opportunity.
Another thing that helps me decide what to apply for is the projected value of the opportunity. Some juried exhibitions produce excellent catalogs and have a prestigious mailing list, some have renowned curators as jurors, and some have cash awards – an extra bonus! At first glance the Sioux City Art Center’s biennial seems unimportant – it’s in the middle of nowhere! But, they have a great catalog and mailing list. I learned about that exhibit when I was working at Monique Meloche gallery, because they sent us the catalog and an email making a pretty big deal about it. A year later I applied and was included in the exhibition. They sent out a giant email and luckily used one of my images. Two pretty awesome gallerists/curators emailed me a “congratulations” before I even knew I was in the show!
Sometimes, the hard part is finding out about the opportunities, not choosing them. I have a regular tendency to check the “calls for artists” on Chicago Artists Resource (CAR), the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), and the College Art Association (CAA). But, some of the best ones I just stumble upon, either from word of mouth, or from cruising other people’s resumes! Then, I use Google to do a background check before I apply.
How important are opportunities that come your way more informally?
Even though I apply for a good amount of things, just as many opportunities (if not more) come from my participation in things that are not as formalized. I believe it’s always a good idea to be proactive about participating in exhibitions and events. If somebody casually asks you to participate in a show – do it, even if it means making something within or week or making something outside your comfort zone. I believe its best to be enthusiastic, not picky. I have also realized that there is no real way to know who is going to be your best advocate, what venue is going to bring forth the curator that likes your work, or what residency you are going to get into. So, you should try to participate in as much as possible. I especially enjoy the exercise of participating in group shows that require making new work. I try not to see this as a disruption to my studio practice but an addition to it; a challenge of incorporating new media or content into my work.
A lot of opportunities have come from connections and relationships with other people. Creating a dialogue about art with someone or building a friendship with another artist/curator is fun and you can usually work together on proposing shows or organizing an event. If you are an artist who wants an opportunity, I’m sure there’s another artist in the same boat … join forces! The main thing about the “art world,” is that sometimes you just have to do it yourself. Borrow a space, put up your work and invite people over. Trade studio visits with artist friends. My advice, to myself, is to make work, make more work, and then show it to people.
Stacie Johnson is a Chicago painter, graduate of UIC, studio tenant of the Splat Flats, painting and drawing Professor at Illinois State University and CAR researcher. Her work has been shown around Chicago at venues including Old Gold, COMA, BSD (Butchershop/Dogmatic), Lisa Boyle Gallery and the Contemporary Art Workshop. She has also exhibited at the School of Art Gallery at Kent State University, Gallery 2 of the University Galleries at Illinois State University, the Sioux City Art Center, the Ulrich Museum of Art at Wichita State University, and the Jody Monroe Gallery in Milwaukee. She attended the Vermont Studio Center with a full fellowship in 2006 and recently did an online interview with her friend/curator Katie Geha at www.weirddeermedia.com