|Raw Jersey City Presents: SPECTRUM - April 17, 2014. Artwork copyright © 2011-2014 Elton Leonard Jr. www.rawartists.org/eltonl|
I just had an art show with Raw: Natural born Artists last Thursday at Jersey City. It was entitled, SPECTRUM. The show was great, they had musicians performing, a lot of visual Artists showcasing and selling their work and had dance and fashion performances. It was at a decent looking nightclub in Jersey City, NJ. I have received a lot of wonderful remarks on my work and some good leads from people actually interested in contacting me for sales of my work. I appreciated my fellow art friends who came out to support me as well as my mother. The energy was great, they did video interviews on me and my work, took footage of my art as well as a few headshots. Some NJ press came out and they made documentations of my talent.
Sounds very awesome, right? ;)
Now, at the end of day, after all of the fame, exposure, positive reactions and admirations, I had an awesome good time at the event, yet came home very disappointed, feeling embarrassed and frustrated. Why?
1. I did not make any sales off of my work and a few other artists also showcasing did, and I came home empty-handed after all of the money and effort I have put into the show;
2. I was looking at what I could have done wrong market-wise as an artist selling work and
3. I began to feel like I was not promoted very well from the organization.
I wake up in the morning, I checked my facebook page, and see one of my fellow artists show love by posting comments on his support for me. However, another artist responded with some not too well and critical opinions on Raw: Natural Born Artists based on his personal experiences with them; and that was when it began to really hit me: all along, I truly thought that Raw was a wonderful venue for artists to make it big, and I have even supported a fellow artist at a Raw event as I was struggling to setup a show with them. I was hooked after I saw the show for myself and was attracted to having the same success and exposure for me showcasing my work. But, I had to wait to be contacted if they wanted my work displayed which was what their website said. So, it was about a month after going through submission issues and really pushing and doing my homework in trying to contact them heavily and I was finally given a call from them. However, when I signed up with them, I began to feel funny vibes that I unfortunately ignored and could not figure out after the first phone conversation.
According to the company, Raw: natural born artists is a so-called "non-profit" organization that throws parties and other social events at nightclubs in about 60 cities each year (across the United States, Australia, Canada and, now London), showcasing musicians, fashion designers, photographers, filmmakers and visual artists. A typical event features a fashion show, live music and a film screening; along with interesting displays of photos, jewelry, art pieces and wonderful crafts. The company’s mission is to provide independent artists within the first 10 years of their career with the tools, resources and exposure needed to inspire and cultivate creativity. Raw also gives out annual awards to artists and musicians towards the end of the year. Raw has been labeled as a “grassroots movement” for independent artists, designers and musicians to show their talent and receive positive feedback in the “indie art” industry.
Now, here is the catch.
It is completely not mentioned on their website or anywhere else that all of the artists, musicians and designers have to “pay to play.” Artists, musicians and fashion designers who are very interested to become featured in a Raw art showcase are obligated to sell 20 tickets at $15 apiece, which is what they explain to you in the first phone conversation. If not, they must make up the difference, which is $300 if they don't sell any tickets at all. If they sell all of the tickets, they get into the show for free. If they pay the whole $300, they can put 20 of their friends and family members on the guest list.
Now, I am going to be honest: I as an Artist, only like to concentrate on being a sales person of my own work, as well as (most of all) spend plenty of time creating art for sale. I, by any means, am not really good at selling tickets, especially if people are coming to see my art to buy. They give you a certain deadline for selling the tickets and if you don’t sell them all, you will have to pay the difference by the deadline, or else no show for you. They will give you an extension to pay the difference up until the show, however. When they have called me and told me they have chosen me to be in their event, They hitted me with the fast talk and mentioned a fee of $300 to participate in the show; and explained to me that I can make up the fee by selling 20 tickets. They even tried to provide me tips and advice in how to aggressively sell the 20 tickets (strictly using your personal Raw artist profile on their website, where your guests pay for the show and look at your bio and samples of your work online), and even mentioned to me that most artists usually pay the full $300 upfront, rather than be bothered in selling tickets (just to show how much they are helping you out ;). They also told informed me that after my first paid show with them, I can be provided with one free complimentary Raw art show anywhere within the 60 cities of U.S., Australia, Canada and the UK; but who is gonna pay for the hotel, airfare and car rental? Hmm?
Each participant receives an email explaining that he or she will be expected to sell tickets at a dated deadline, usually a week before the show. But if that is the case, why not mention this obligation on their Raw website? And where are the contracts for the Artists? None! Personally me I am not accustomed to selling tickets in an art show or gallery exhibit setting-you usually invite people to view and be interested in buying your art by marketing, word of mouth and (nowadays) social networking.
So, back to the show that I was just in, here is what's happening in front of my naked eyes; RAW has made their money not only off from the door, but also from the designers, musicians and the artists, and there is NO commission nor percentage gained from the tickets being sold by them! So now, 3 things are occurring on the down low: the musicians are not getting paid to perform, fashion models are not getting compensated and finally, the visual artists are depending on luck and chance in making a sale off of their work; which most are trying to makeup their $300 (or whatever difference) to be in the show for one night only AND have to pack-up everything after the show is over, while other artists who have sold their tickets yet pumped a lot of money for presentation, either made a few sales or came home with nothing to show for.
The Raw Artist staff appeared to be very helpful and friendly at first in providing information and the right space for me. They contacted me every week to see how things are going for me and how I was preparing for the show; they had a mandatory orientation walkthrough of the club space and was upfront on how the show was going down and gave you a great idea of what type of space you are working with. They told me a I had a 6ft x 6ft space to display my artwork on (however the space looked smaller than what they have explained, the displays to place your work on were like junkyard cages and most of the artists were cramping each others' spaces pretty tight), as well as tables and chairs (basically any objects you could use already there in the nightclub, but did not provide important equipment; such as: spotlights, hanging materials, etc.). The day of the setup was the day of the event! You was not able to setup any earlier days than that!
The RAW staff’s knowledge on art events appeared to be odd-as if they really didn't have any true knowledge of how art is presented in a gallery or an art market setting (or in this case, a club setting); I remember one of the Raw representatives who coordinated the show looked at my work at the day of the setup for the night, took a quick glance at my pieces (like it was her very first time seeing my art, I wondered has she really paid attention to my submitted work on my Raw profile), told me, "wow, your art looks very afrocentric," and kept it moving (WTF!!!!!). No true curating opinion, or whatsoever. I was really expecting some form of greater aesthetic sensibility, to be honest. When it came to the show, it felt as if no one was actually coordinating!
Any artist that aspires to be involved or work with a "curator" (this is what RAW is offering themselves as) should not pay (or pay so much) to be involved; especially with a weird mix of different paintings and photography from various artists that are forcing to blend pretty well together in a club-like environment. The show felt badly curated. This is not about giving encouragement to artists, its getting artists to do the work!
After all of this, I have decided to take a look at RAW's website (as I have done periodically, checking for ticket sales, etc.) and as of date, there is hardly any news articles, pictures, posts, comments or feedback from Thursday's past event; nor even on their facebook profile! What I did discover is that they are now immediately promoting a RAW SPECTRUM event in Kansas City next week, and another show called PANORAMA in Jersey City on June 19th and are looking for new artists and performers. I also discover that their website does not receive a lot of heavy traffic, nor have a decent number of likes on their facebook page (a total of only 456 likes to date, compared to 2,455 likes on my facebook Artist page! Talk about advertising!). I have even viewed their YouTube videos and discovered zero likes or comments, which seemed like a virtual ghost town.
And then you ask yourself: was it all worth it? Seems to me that the reality is this: you are not getting paid; you are actually paying Raw! Can you say: SCAM? I'm beginning to think so! And you may ask yourself: "what’s wrong with that? Artists pay to showcase in venues all of the time, it is what it is!" Of course, to survive in the art world takes patience, skill, development, research and most of all, sacrifice-and what I mean by sacrifice is taking risks and making huge financial investments into what you love to do-making a living off of your talent. However, I think it is time for us to take a more mature approach in this art industry. All of us so-called "starving artists" need to stop approaching our careers with heavy desperations; if we do not, it brings potential danger to ourselves and to our craft. We are all beautiful and talented artists that don't deserve to pay or sell tickets for people to look at our art that we are trying to make a living off of. I mean, does that make sense? It now makes more sense to me to promote your own independent art shows or work with a group of fellow Artists and/or curators to create a show together with a common goal or subject matter; yeah it takes money and hard work, but at least is not going into some stranger's or a random company's pocket.
I take this experience as a hard lesson in my long-time career as an Artist. After this unfortunate experience, I felt a strong sense of disappointment, humiliation and failure. However, as I have said before, this was a hard lesson. Yet most of all, it was a true blessing in disguise. This experience made me realize how serious I must be in making a living as an artist, and how valuable my art is to myself. There should be no room in settling for less or putting out more for less. Out of all of the fame that is gained, there is money for us to make out there. It is about time that we become consistent in honoring what we are are truly worth. We as artists are truly the ones that make this changing world beautiful. It is an expression of our valuable mind, heart and soul that should not be wasted nor taken advantage of. We should not stand for manipulation and exploitation! It is not fair to you and most of all not fair to your craft!
To all of my fellow artists out there, keep doing the great work that you are doing, get your respectable success and keep your heads high! NEVER GIVE UP!
Love you all! :)