Friday, December 18, 2009

Come ride the exhibition submission roller coaster.

Does anybody else out there feel like the system used for exhibition consideration and calls for submissions needs a real overhaul in the courtesy department? Building an exhibition record is like riding a roller coaster. As artists, we chug our way up hill, working and working and working towards something exciting that lies ahead. Some days is seems as if we will never get another opportunity. Then suddenly, we crest the hill and things come rushing at us fast and furious. We scramble to stay on track, shipping out to shows, painting a last minute commission and sending out postcards, press releases and insurance papers. Before we know it, the ride is over. The show is down, the work back in storage and the press clippings filed away. The ride to the top begins all over again, chug, chug, chug…..

Each month, I dutifully look through the listings on my deadline service and select several to which I submit a complete packet of materials including a professional cover letter and the obligatory SASE for “exhibition consideration”. Then I wait, sometimes as long as 2 years for any kind of response, after which I consider the packet lost. I used to use a delivery confirmation to make sure the contents arrived. After 5 years with a 100% delivery rate, I decided to drop that practice since statistically I could count on my things arriving safely. Every 3 or 4 months, I send a follow-up email asking about the status of my materials. My response rate is about 1 in 10 that the gallery or venue will answer. Most places just ignore my question. About 50% of the time, I will get my materials back in the mail, sometimes with postage due since it has been so long and rates have since gone up. Last week, I got back a packet containing slides (slides!?) which I had sent out 8 years earlier. I liked reading the enclosed letter on that one….”sorry for the delay…” Sorry, apology not accepted.

Yes, the enclosed letter (if I am so lucky as to get one) often contain gushy accolades that may or may not be addressed to me. Usually it is a form letter that says "dear artist" but sometimes it has been auto filled and gives me somebody else’s name. I often wonder what poor “Diana” thinks when she reads her “Dear Judy” letter (can’t even spell it right….). As for the work itself, 25% of the time my CD has not been opened which I can tell by the sticker used to seal it closed.

So my issue here is that I try and be as professional as possible. I do all the things asked, send all the materials requested, and then get treated like junk mail. If a gallery is listing a call for submissions, then please have the decency to let us know you got the materials. Return them in a timely manner if an SASE is included, but only after you have actually looked at our work. Try to send a letter addressed to the correct applicant. I understand that America is getting more casual and people don't learn the basics of courtesy and manners much anymore (and artists tend to not be the best left brained business people), but if I am spending my time to answer your request, at least you can spend a few moments to answer mine. I know you are overwhelmed with the responses at times, and that is okay. Let us know our materials arrived and that it could be 6 months or more until you get to it, but that you will get to it. The excuse that you just got too many submissions is not really a good one since the deadline service reaches thousands upon thousands of artists, what did you expect? And finally, thank us for helping to keep you in business as we thank you for reviewing our work.

On the flip side, sometimes I get the nicest letters back. They recommend other galleries where I should apply as my work would fit well there. Some mention a specific piece that made the committee laugh out loud (but I still don’t fit the venue), and every now and then, I get a handwritten sticky note probably by some poor gallery intern that says “Sorry we cannot offer you a show at this time, but I really liked your stuff!” Apology accepted.

Time to get back on the roller coaster and start up another hill, that stomach dropping thrill of excitement which comes with each show is probably just around that next curve…..

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