I had a creative colleague of mine ask about my RAW experience. In response to her, I told her mainly the pros and cons of being in a RAW show and how to best prepare if she decided to do one of their events. So, I wrote a blog article to help other new or prospect RAW artists prepare for the event.
This is a long post, so if you just want my perspective and recommendation, scroll to the bottom to read about my overall experience.
I have been in three RAW shows, I was in the 2013 RAWards, Envision Artopia, and Holiday RAWk! I’m a bit mixed in the RAW experience… and will tell you my pros and cons, and how to best prepare for the challenges.
Ticket Selling Scheme: When you are accepted into a RAW show you have to sell tickets…kind of like back in high school where you get X number of tickets that you are required to sell them. Essentially, you pay RAW to show your work.
If you don’t sell the tickets (which is very difficult especially if you do repeat RAW shows) you have to pay for the value of the unsold tickets. To help alleviate this ticket sales pressure, I recommend paying for all the tickets yourself and selling (or giving if you prefer) them to friends, family, and your other attendees. If you are showing them near the holidays, they can be a great gift. That way you are covered if you don’t sell them all. But this happens every time you do a RAW show.
Buying tickets online can be hard for your attendees to navigate as well because you must create a profile to purchase them. From my experience tickets cost $10 each, the RAWards were $15 each. I was required to sell 20 for each show.
Some of the venues don’t allow attendees to be under 21 or under 18 so it can be difficult if you want younger friends or family to attend. Check with the Director to see what the age limit is.
Venues and Exhibitions: The venues are not suited at all for exhibitions or artwork. I have worked in three different venues through my RAW experiences: two were night clubs and one was a hotel. I have suspended artwork on the fishing line from the ceiling at the first show on a second-story balcony, and in the second show, I invested in professional ProPanels and was exhibiting in a conference room (another added cost). In the third show, we were provided a chain-link fence to hang work from. Not the most beautiful space.
There is also no lighting…or great lighting for exhibiting artwork. Picture dim nightclub lighting and trying to exhibit your art. You have to have to do something on your part to light up your work to showcase it. So, exhibiting the work can get extremely expensive when you don’t have these tools to help install.
On the flip side…now that I spent the money on panels and lighting, the last RAW show was a piece of cake to execute because I was prepared for it and could work in the space. If you plan to just do one RAW event, borrow or rent materials. If panels, tools, lights, and other materials will be used in future exhibitions and opportunities, then invest in them. A quality display is important; it makes you look professional.
Question to ask the Director: Once you get accepted into a RAW show, there are a few questions you should ask the Director.
- What (if any) panels or display space you will be provided in the venue
- How much space are you given
- Ask about needing extension cords and power locations
- Figure out parking and unloading and deinstalling
You may also have to request a small table to have to set up your promo materials nearby your art. You will get one free person in the door to help you as an assistant too to help with set up, utilize this free person, you will need help installing, exhibiting, and deinstalling in one night.
There will be a walk-through to see the space a few weeks before the show, go to that to begin problem-solving the space and your exhibition needs.
If you know any additional RAW participants/artists. Ask them about their experience and if they have any suggestions for preparations.
Promotions: RAW pitches to their prospect artists by saying they provide promotions and give artists exposure. They do a short promo video and take pictures of the event. However, none of the promotional work really adds to increased exposure. Most of their promotions are limited to their scope and reach.
Do as much promo on your end that you can because RAW won’t launch your career. They are really good salesmen on how much promo they do but it’s nothing other than standard. Take initiative on your end. Bring business cards and things to pass out to attendees for marketing purposes.
They also have an online portfolio or profile for you. It suits the website and is fairly nice. Try considering updating it to keep it relevant, but don’t just rely on the profile. Use emails, Facebook pages, Twitter, newsletters, and postcards to reach your audience for marketing. Think outside the box too!
Show Day: On the day of the show you are allowed to set up a few hours before the show, ask when you can arrive to set up. Set up right away. Some people show up super late, like an hour before the event. Be prepared and coordinated. Show up early and set up so you can anticipate any problems and troubleshoot them ASAP. I had to walk large pro-panels down a block of downtown because there was no loading dock or area to park. Be prepared for unplanned logistics like this.
Overall Experience: RAW shows are a good experience and if you haven’t done one I would recommend doing at least once to see if you like it. However, after showing in a few RAW events and getting roped into multiple ticket sale schemes, and forking out lots of money, I would not continue with RAW shows in the future.
They are a lot of work though and don’t expect to make money or even break even! Note that you are also exhibiting next to make-up artists and jugglers, so the audience members who come to see one artist may not even be interested in your handmade soaps or your pottery that’s for sale. Don’t expect this to be a sell-out show or a great place to have a lot of merchandise turn out.
Typically, RAW targets emerging artists. This includes artists who have never done a pop-up show before or artists who are not great at running a small business or self-promotion. So, the level of professionalism and quality of work is all over the place.
There are many people who sign up and participate thinking that RAW will launch their career, which it will not, it’s just one opportunity of many in the art world. If you see this as an opportunity to practice networking, polishing up your elevator speech, passing out a few business cards, and learning how to do pop-up shows then this would be a great experience for you.
Once you do one RAW show, they will frequently get you to try to do a second. I was pulled into three events due to “awards and acknowledgments” and “special invitations” to the next successive events. You will also continue to get solicited in the future once you do one RAW show. Their lack of an organized database and coordination often leads to repeated asking from multiple RAW people.