LACDA: It’s a toss-up

I assume you’re here because you’ve heard of LACDA, the LA Center for Digital Art. Perhaps you’ve seen one of their open calls. I’ve entered a few of their competitions myself and I too was curious about their reputation. There are articles out there claiming that LACDA is a scam. These are followed by comments claiming that it’s not. These are followed by more comments implying that all open calls are scams. What to believe? Well, I’m here to say that I don’t think LACDA is a scam. I don’t throw that word around lightly. I think LACDA is a gallery that’s taken advantage of the fact that their medium – digital – has global reach and is easily transmittable. That’s something that I’m sure a few sculpture galleries are envious of.

I’ve never seen the actual gallery, so I can’t comment on its location, popularity, etc. But I was part of their featured artist program. The one thing that irked me is that this program was promoted as having a number of benefits and the #1 selling point for me was that it would drive more visitors to my art website. A little while after being listed on their website, I noticed that Google was not picking up my listing on their website. I won’t get too technical here, but Google ranks websites higher if they’re linked on other websites. The link on LACDA’s website was generated with JavaScript. That means that Google couldn’t read it and therefore drive more traffic to my website. I kindly contacted the owner of LACDA, asking if he could make this fix to his website, since it was the top reason for me joining the program. He said he would. I asked again a month later when I saw that it hadn’t been done. He said he would. A month later, I asked again. No response. I don’t understand why a 5-minute change would elicit such a blow-off.

So that’s my take on LACDA. Maybe I got some exposure from it, maybe not. But my main reason for being a part of it – more traffic to my art website – has not panned out. All over something that would’ve taken 5 minutes to fix.

RAW Artists: Worth a shot but don’t expect much slack

I decided to check out an outfit called “RAW Artists”, a promotional organization for up-and-coming artists. They organize monthly art shows at chic venues like nightclubs for a group of 25-30 artists. Artists are required to sell tickets to the event and in return, get a show and a video interview. If the artist doesn’t sell the required 20 tickets, they must purchase the difference themselves.

First off, the coordinator told me 25-30 artists would be showing, but the final count was 41 because this was the one-year anniversary of RAW and they wanted to show off a lot of alumni. I was a little peeved about that because going from 25 to over 40 sort of turns it from a group show into an art fair. But whatever, that wasn’t a huge dealbreaker for me.

As for selling 20 tickets at $10 each, I found it tough. I think it’s a great deal (less than a movie ticket), but it’s hard to get people to fork over cash early and the timeline for ticket sales is totally in RAW’s favor. Basically, by a few days before the event, I had to have 20 tickets sold or buy the balance. That balance can be used for guest tickets. What that means is that on the day of, if a person comes to the door and says they know you, they write down their name as a guest and let them in for free, and then you are expected to hit them up for cash, spinning it as a deal for them since you just saved them $5 off the at-the-door price.

Another problem with the ticket sales timeline is that most people probably buy tickets last minute and if they buy between the ticket deadline and the event date, then it doesn’t count towards your quota because by that point you’ve already bought/sold your 20. So RAW gets those last-minute sales “for free”. I ended up writing an awkward email to all of my friends a few days before the event telling them to either NOT buy tickets online OR just show up at the door and MAYBE there’d be a guest ticket for them, otherwise it’d be $15. It’s all very awkward. Would be easier if they just collected the balance from you after the show, but I guess RAW has to cover their tail too.

A week before the show, you do a walkthrough. That’s when it hits you that this space is NOT set up for an art show. You’re not allowed to nail anything to a wall. There’s no lighting (you have to bring your own clip lights/extension cords). There isn’t even a wall! Take a look at this pic I took from the walkthrough:

The club is two floors with the second floor being a 360-degree balcony around the first floor. So when I asked the coordinator how we were expected to display framed art in this “space”, her answer was: “be creative!” – build a “fake” wall out of a garden trellis, wrap steel cable across the poles and hang your pieces from them. It all seemed very precarious and I hope a framed piece has never fallen on anyone on the first floor! But once you’re at the walkthrough stage, you’re committed, so I worked out a plan to string steel cable and lean pieces against it. Sure, I could’ve built a wall, but I don’t even know how that meshes with the evening’s schedule! You basically have to show up at 2pm that day, set up your work, you’re not allowed to leave (so you have to bring a change of clothes), be ready for your interview/photo-shoot, then the event starts at 7, ends at 10, and you have to break down the entire show in 10 MINUTES! for the afterparty. Oh, and did I mention that there’s no parking? So this all has to be done double-parked (parking at a downtown garage $$$ in between), with a small elevator that jams often (happened when we were all leaving the walkthrough).

So as you can see, lots and lots of challenges. I was mentally committed to doing this, but I realize now that the the parameters of the show are far from ideal. You must mentally prepare yourself for all the challenges that they don’t tell you upfront.

So how did the show go? I wouldn’t know. The morning of the show, my wife went into labor 3 weeks early and had to undergo an emergency c-section. I shot an email to the coordinator on the way to the hospital about these circumstances that were obviously beyond my control. My absence had little effect on a showcase of 40+ artists. I was disappointed in the response to my request for either a reimbursement of my payment or a placement in an upcoming showcase. I do not feel that “sometime in 2013” was a fair and honest answer, especially when I saw how few artists were being showcased the next month. I just felt like they were blowing me off and actually had to open a formal request through PayPal to have my payment reimbursed. (I compensated my friends who bought tickets but didn’t end up going on my own.) Some might say “tough cookies”, but this was not a “Sorry dude, my ride bailed!” type of excuse. We’re talking serious medical emergency here.

I heard from others that the show was well attended, but the general sense was that most of the attendees were just guests of the artists. That’s okay, 20 artists x 20 guests = lots of customers. A few sales were made. The setup and breakdown were painful, but overall it was a fun social event.

Bottom line: Give it a try, it might be fun. But be prepared for some pain (and not a whole lot of slack).

Gizmotrader: Their phones are not new

I’ve just learned that eBay is the worst place to buy a new phone, emphasis on the word “new”. Even if you choose the “new items” filter, there are so many phone (re)sellers that list their items as new, but add tiny tiny print in their descriptions that the items might not come in their original packaging but, “trust us”, have only been taken out for inspection and unlocking.

This was the claim of one seller, Gizmotrader. I bought a $350 Galaxy Nexus phone after specifically filtering on new items only. The phone arrived in a shiny “Samsung” branded box. But it wasn’t the original box. (I know that now because when I returned the phone and ordered a new one from, I saw what a real original box looks like.)

Inside was a phone that had been wiped down at best. It had a screen protector and all the accessories had been rebagged. But it wasn’t a new phone. Look at the pictures. There’s obviously wear and tear from regular use on this phone: paint chips, gunk in cracks, scratches on the backplate, chips around the headphone jack.

When I contacted them about this, they initially replied, “Keep the phone and we’ll give you $20!” What? There are tons of small-time sellers (a.k.a. individuals) selling similar phones for much less, AND they take the time to photograph and document all the dings on their phone. Why would I pay a new-phone price for a used phone?

I said no and returned the item. They were courteous enough to refund quickly, and after I insisted, they refunded me for the return shipping. But it all sounds like a nice little scheme: sell a used phone at a new-phone price. If someone notices, chip off $20. They’ll still be making out like bandits! As they say in Boston, wicked smaht!