A selection of artists and advisers identify the right questions to ask when sussing out the good opportunities from the mediocre and downright mendacious. Compiled by Susan Jones.
Artists are bombarded with hundreds of opportunities they might apply for. Opportunities are promoted not only through specialist websites like www.a-n.co.uk that promotes £millions worth annually – but also through the various emailings, E-groups, E-bulletins and regional and alumni printed newsletters.
Opportunities include everything from volunteering and internships in arts organisations, to internet galleries expecting you to send high-res images and sign-up fees, and public art commissions and residencies wanting written proposals in response to specific briefs. The onus, as ever, is on the individual artist to do the groundwork and sort the rip-off merchants from the genuine opportunities and future collaborators.
So how can artists identify which are the most appropriate opportunities to invest their time and money on following up? We asked a selection of artists and advisers – all well-versed in sussing the good opportunities from the mediocre and downright mendacious – for some hot tips.
Can you trust them?
Check the websites, Google the organisations, get the low-down. If theyre asking for money upfront from you to participate... treat with great caution! MG
Do they only want your money?
Opportunities should be about helping you to generate income, not to spend it. CB
Who are they?
If only an email address is given, its not at all unreasonable to send a quick email indicating your interest, requesting a telephone number (and address and website) so that you can speak them directly. Also ask for names of other artists they have worked with, or ask about how a project is funded to help you ascertain an organisations validity. CW
Are they professional?
If theres a really short period of time between the show and the deadline for proposals etc, think again. Is this a sign of bad organisation? Will this affect what youre able to produce? ET
If youve responded to an opportunity and been successful but find that there are issues you are uncomfortable with once contracts are presented, discuss this with the organisers and, particularly in the area of fees, indicate the going rate for the type of work on offer. You can cite other projects as examples, or use a-ns The artists fees toolkit on www.a-n.co.uk as evidence. CW
Does the contract or the Terms and Conditions offered address your needs and protect your rights and livelihood? Never click the confirmation box on a trading website without getting appropriate advice on exactly what youre letting yourself in for. For guidance, use a-ns The artists contracts toolkit on www.a-n.co.uk SJ
Are they interested in your kind of work?
Do your homework; always ask for and read the additional information, and check out websites to get an idea of past projects or exhibitions and an understanding of the kind of work they are interested in. CB
Are they operating legally?
Be aware that from 1 January 2007, limited companies and limited liability partnerships are legally required to state on websites and other communications their full contact details including registered office address, business registration number, country of registration and VAT number. NS
Whats the risk?
The value and risk involved can be judged on the amount of information an organiser provides. An opportunity that starts by telling you exactly when, how, who, why, what, where, how long and how much is probably low risk and well organised. The opportunity that starts with maybe, could be, possibly, might have, you will pay, is probably high risk and disorganised. Each experience has something to offer and it all depends on what you stand to gain or lose as an artist balanced against this information that decides your willingness to participate. MC
Do others rate them?
There is no substitute for word-of-mouth. Talk about particular opportunities amongst people you know who operate within the art world peers, curators, local arts officer, etc. to find out information about opportunities and experiences others have had of working with an organisation. CW
The main thing is to research and look at the history of the organisation that has advertised the opportunity, consult other people or even approach people on the website, or people that they have worked with in the past. I personally keep away from web gallery ads unless they have been strongly recommended by other individuals. E H-V
What exactly is the deal?
Find out stuff about transportation, insurance, fee (if any), accommodation, track record, networks, is there a contract? MG
Whats on offer? Are they paying you? Will there be support? Whos paying for transport, insurance, publicity? Find these things out first before you part with any work, money and time. ET
Is it right for you?
Spend time researching the origin of the opportunity be this a gallery, organisation, festival, public art body or other. You can then decide if your work is appropriate, if you are at the right stage in your career to make an application. If you feel unsure about aspects of an opportunity, research examples of other projects that are similar and make a comparison. This is particularly useful as regards assessing fees and payments. CW
Does it fit with your vision?
You should be fairly clear about who you are and what you can and would like to achieve in the long and short term. Then ask yourself: is accepting this opportunity going to help me to get what I eventually want. Make a check list of pros and cons such as: Will it improve my track record? Offer me a financial reward? Give me a promotional opportunity? Be enjoyable or fulfilling? Teach me new skills? Strengthen my network? Give me time/money to develop new work? If the opportunity you are offered is all give and no gain, you are probably wasting your time. MJ
Dont forget to ask yourself what it is that you want to get out of it... and remind yourself of this if you get the opportunity. ET
Catherine Bertola, artist, NAN Advisory Group
Michael Cousin, artist, a-n Opportunities Development Team
Manick Govinda, Head of Artists Advisory Service, Artsadmin
Mir Jansen, Programme Manager Professional Development, Yorkshire ArtSpace Society
Susan Jones, a-n Director of Programmes and artists adviser
Nicholas Sharp, consultant Swan Turton
Erika Tan, artist, AIR Artists Advisory Group
Elpida Hadzi Vasileva, artist, AIR Artists Advisory Group
Caroline Wright artist, AIR Artists Advisory Group
A former artist, Susan Jones is a published writer and researcher on the visual arts and Director and Publisher, a-n The Artists Information Company.
First published: a-n.co.uk March 2007
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