“Open submission exhibitions are a vital platform for new and emergent work” – Graham Crowley, painter

In recent years there have been a proliferation of Open competitions and so-called ‘exhibition opportunities’ for artists. This year, following the success of the original Core Gallery Open 2010 and 2011, I am managing The Zeitgeist Open 2012. I see it as an opportunity to look anew at the open submission experience, to consider how artists are treated, valued and supported during and after the event. I am doing this through a whole new artist-led organisation, Zeitgeist Arts Projects, and with a collaborator, Annabel Tilley.

Annabel and I have spent time analysing and debating the idea of an Open: the rules, fees, conditions of entry and, most importantly, the artist’s own expectations. Our conclusion was that a sense of transparency was key to the whole process. Our Judges Graham Crowley, Alistair Gentry and David Kefford have contributed to the ZAP Open Terms and Conditions. Gentry and Kefford are both members of Market Project, an organisation that has been critical of open submissions in the past. So this time, we know we are under the microscope.

Many other opens employ a pre-selection process, where a percentage of artists are rejected even before the official judging starts. Annabel was adamant that this was unfair and insincere, especially when artists were under the impression that their work would be seen by the named judges. We felt it was vital that in order for artists to feel valued, everyone who pays a fee should have their work seen by the full judging panel. And if this isn’t possible then it should be made clear at the beginning that there will be a pre-selection process. I am glad to say that this type of transparency is starting to filter through this year.

Annabel also suggested that we become even more stringent and remove any other sense of unfairness by making The Zeitgeist Open anonymous. This means that the judges will choose works based purely on the quality of what they are seeing, not an artist’s CV.

For me, it has always been important that the judges selecting the works should predominantly be artists. This is about the measured judgment of practising artists and curators who are aware of fine art practice, painterly conventions, precedence, history, innovation, context and criticality.

For both of us, there seemed little point in having a renowned curator or gallerist involved if there was no chance of them developing a relationship with the selected artists in the future. We realised that even after an artist is selected for an open they can often feel undervalued and underwhelmed by the lack of input and communication, by hidden costs etc and that ultimately no lasting relationships are being built between themselves and those on the panel.

The Zeitgeist Open is based on generosity. We work hard to support artists, this is key to everything we do at ZAP. We are constantly seeking to create opportunities for ambitious artists; creating new networks and bringing new audiences – curators, gallerists, collectors, the general public – to artists through exhibitions and our artists’ education programme, DIY Educate. An Open, for us, is an extension of those principles. It is about listening to what artists need, want and desire in opportunities. We also put our money where our mouth is – many artists selected for our highly successful launch exhibition Collectible came to us through the Core Gallery Opens. With nearly 700 visitors to Collectible in seven days, 25% of the work was sold.

As an arts organisation run by artists, we are constantly trying to set an example of how things could be, to level the playing field in an imbalanced art world and to create longer-term opportunities for the artists involved. As a result, at least 10 artists from The Zeitgeist Open will be selected for the next ZAP group exhibition: Discernible in Spring 2013.

Rosalind Davis & Annabel Tilley

Read our full curatorial statement at: www.zeitgeistartsprojects.com/open2012-statement.html