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).

Leave a Reply