By E. Marie Robertson
Juried calls for art seem to be everywhere these days, for everything from established galleries to “alternative spaces” like storefront windows and vacant buildings. Opinions about whether artists benefit from participating in such calls are equally diverse; Juried calls are characterized as everything from a great way for emerging artists to build up their exhibition records to activities unworthy of ‘serious’ artists or, at the far extreme, pure scams.
To be sure, there are calls for work out there that fit each of these descriptions. How can you tell the difference?
According to Benny Shaboy, editor and publisher of the curated call list Art Opportunities Monthly and a thoughtful student of juried calls for more than 18 years, your first step should be to check out the website of the call’s sponsor. Adverise-y language or hype is usually a tip-off, as are for-profit galleries that mention additional fees for “hanging” or “initiation.” For-profit sponsors that charge a submission fee but also offer framing, art consultation, or other paid services for artists or customers may at best be a private business running a competition to generate income. “It may not be bogus, but the odds are slim that your work will be seen by the sort of people you want it seen by, and the odds that it will sell are even slimmer,” he explains.
“Good” calls for work may or may not charge a submission fee. “In general, established calls that have been around for at least a few years are better because they have worked out the kinks,” Shaboy adds. "The prestige of the [sponsoring] organization and/or the juror(s) should also be considered.”
So is it worth your time and sometimes money to respond to a juried call? According to Shaboy, the answer is “it depends.”
“Entering a juried show on a whim is about as useful as buying a lottery ticket,” he asserts. “It should be done as part of a thoughtful plan.” Before pursuing participation in any juried show, consider where you are in your art career, what your goals are, and whether actually getting into that show will result in something that is specifically helpful to you, whether that’s cash, exposure, sales, a solo show, or getting your work in front of a particular juror.
If you’re considering submitting work to a juried show, Shaboy offers the following tips to help you select and, ideally, be selected by, the “right” kind of juried exhibition:
1. Pay close attention to the sponsoring organization’s website. Look at what they seem to feature or respond to, especially if they showcase the work of past winners. Make sure the work featured is a good fit with your own in terms of type and aesthetic outlook. If you find no website or a site with very little information, strike that “opportunity” off you list, Shaboy suggests.
2. Consider the artistic history and background of the juror(s). Google is your friend when seeking out this type of information.
3. Make sure you meet any specified criteria for the call, like medium, size, geographic location, etc. Various estimates suggest that 25% to 40% of all work submitted to juried calls never makes it to the jury because of immediate disqualification for not meeting one or more of the call’s stated requirements. “In this case, the artist gets nothing and the organization keeps the submission fee, “ Shaboy points out.
4. If you’re just starting out, focus on local calls at first. They’re not only less complicated to enter (avoiding fees for shipping work long distances), but you also have the opportunity to follow up by attending the show in person. This is vital, especially if you were not accepted into the show; by attending and looking at the work that WAS accepted, you learn what a particular juror or organization is responding to. This is useful information for the next time you submit.
5. Make note of patterns you see emerging and be ready to adjust your plan accordingly—and keep at it. If you feel juried shows are for you, don’t give up; consider every show regardless of outcome a good learning opportunity, Shaboy explains. “I have a good friend who started out entering the shows put on by her local photography club. After the first two, in which her submissions were rated last or next-to-last, she decided that the photo club was not for her ideal venue. She began entering other shows, making the kind of notes and observations I mentioned above, always looking for the type of jurors and shows and competitions that seemed to fit her work best. She continued this process for several years and as of today has had more than a dozen important shows around the world, including museum shows. Her work is in about 20 museum collections in the US, the UK, Europe and Asia.”
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