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Call for Proposals – What You Need to Know

Arts Access

You’re an artist. You’ve just seen an open call for proposals. What do you need to do?

Arts Advisor (and former curator) Jamie Hanton has some tips for emerging artists who may be unfamiliar with the process…

Jamie, what’s the first thing you should do when you see an open call?

I’d suggest that you read the call for proposals carefully and think about whether your own practice sits well with, or is appropriate for that particular opportunity, space or gallery. Each proposal is going to be different and require different things of an artist, so you shouldn’t automatically see an open call and assume your work will be appropriate.

Okay, so read the proposal carefully and then what?

Then you should acquaint yourself with that gallery or organisation’s work – make sure you go to the gallery if you haven’t been already, check out their website, and see what they’ve done in the past. It helps to be familiar with the space and understand the space and context. How big is the space? What do they show? And again, it’s good to look at what shows have been there previously – you don’t want to propose something that may have already been done recently.

Ok. So I believe I have work that will fit the brief – what else should I know?

It’s always a good idea to look at exactly what the brief is – Are they going to pay you to make new work or is it a presentation only opportunity?

Let’s say it’s just presentation.

In that case, the call should tell you what they want; how many pieces are they looking for? What kind of media? Whether or not you need to hang the work or set it up if you’re successful – so it’s really important to abide by what they are asking for and know that you can deliver.

What if you’ve never submitted a proposal before – should you go ahead and submit work even if you’re not sure it’s right?

I think it’s really important to understand that not every open call is going to be for you – understanding which ones are for you will make you a better artist.

What are galleries looking for?

It’s so specific to the gallery – some will be looking for emerging artists, some will be looking for established artists. If the proposal isn’t clear – get in touch with the gallery and ask them.

What about context – is it important to write up an introduction or explanation of your work along with the proposal?

It’s always good to contextualise your work, but be succinct and to the point. What you want to be writing about is the context of the work that you’re proposing to show, you want impress upon the reader how you got to this body of work within your practice. Explain why your work is important. It doesn’t need to be universally important – it can simply be why it’s important to you, the artist. And your proposal should also include an artist’s CV – where and when you’ve exhibited in the past.

Is your written submission as important as the work itself?

It really depends on the practice; you can over explain or under explain and neither are good! It can be difficult to gauge whether you’ve explained your practice well enough so I would suggest giving it to someone you trust to read through. Give it to someone who doesn’t know a lot about your work or practice and get that trusted second eye across it.

Any other advice?

There are so many variables to the proposal process and each one is going to be different – but it is important to make sure you meet the deadline and get it in on time. Try not to leave submissions to the last minute!


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