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Submitting to an Open Call? Here’s How to Stand Out

Considered a great equalizer in the art world, open calls are those incredibly rare opportunities that provide exhibition opportunities to artists demonstrating superior merit. Throughout the international art community, an artist’s contacts frequently act as the deciding factor determining where one exhibits. Open call submission reviews, on the other hand, rely upon the consensus of qualified individuals reviewing the proposals in order to award the project to a final contender. As a result, artists who have been selected to exhibit after submitting for an open call have the additional merit of recognition as being deemed the most qualified individuals for the project.

What secrets are there to sending in an application that will rise to the top of the pile for consideration in an open call? What proposal tricks of the trade lie waiting for discovery for artists set on submitting their proposals to an open call? What preparations can send your application above and beyond to catch the attention of those reviewing an artist’s portfolio and application statement? Below we review some wider categories that merit careful attention and take a peek at proven advice to make an outstanding open call submission.

open call
Applying to an open call? Staying organized and responding to the exhibition’s theme is a good place to start.

Organization is Key When Submitting to an Open Call

Once an artist has decided to apply to an open call, carefully preparing to apply can be beneficial. As a first step, copy the open call application requirements and paste into another document so that they stand alone. By isolating the elements that need to be included, one can proceed with the full knowledge of the time commitment required and begin compiling the necessary documents.

Creating a folder specific to the open call will prove handy as well for future reference. For example, artists selected for the second round by a jury of panelists will usually be called for an interview, and having this information at hand prior to discussing your work in the context of the open call is crucial. While being organized is not the first thing that comes to mind for artists planning to submit to an open call, it should be noted that panelists reviewing submissions do expect all documents to follow guidelines set out in the open call. Having this information at hand is beneficial farther along in the application process; If you present yourself as disorganized or are having issues locating information months after the submission was entered, an open call juror may wonder whether future deadlines related to the open call could be in jeopardy.

Secondly, a particularly useful element to organizing all this information is that these materials are at hand for future open call opportunities. When a bio is at hand and easy to locate in an open call folder or online open call tool, it will be easy to locate and update for the next opportunity. Viewing an open call as an opportunity to organize information on one’s current career highlights, past gains, and current studio practice can only result in a win moving forward with other projects. Taking the opportunity to tackle administrative tasks head-on for an open call guarantees a better pole position for upcoming projects.

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You’ll want to choose images that best exemplify your work when applying to an open call.

Demonstrate Originality

Curator and The Art of Spray Paint author Lori Zimmer has two factors in mind when serving on a jury for an open call. First, Zimmer considers the quality of the work on a visceral level, asking, “Does the work move me?” She goes on to evaluate the place of the work within contemporary art as a whole. She notes that she will often ask herself  “Is the work derivative? I try to look for the glimmer of originality and try to choose [an artist] who can give me  a new experience.”

Originality is a key element that should be demonstrated both in the artworks being presented and in the response to the theme of the open call. Don’t select an approach that appears obvious: instead, consider the threads connecting your own practice with the greater aims of the exhibition in the open call. How does the exhibition consider past and present histories? What about the artwork being presented resonates with the stated themes for the open call? Applications presenting original artwork of high quality and unique viewpoints will automatically stand apart from the pack.

Finally, what is a submission packet without images? An open call almost always requires artwork packets as part of the jury’s consideration process. As a result, images that are blurry, showcase older artwork, or do not clearly articulate the artwork being submitted will only serve to work against the artist. It will not demonstrate to the committee considering the proposal that the artist spent significant time preparing their submission.

Whether artists take the time to Photoshop artwork images themselves or pass the project along to a knowledgeable individual, investing in one’s images demonstrates an investment in future opportunities to develop and show one’s artworks. Not taking the artwork presented in a submission packet seriously is the first step to guaranteeing that those reviewing your open call submission packet will disregard the submission. Artist and open call jury panelist David Rios Ferreira points out that often times artists who submit poor quality photographs are automatically nixed from the running.  “One key factor is image quality of the file – when reviewing a lot of applications, poor quality work samples make it easier to cut the number of applications down…if the image is too small a file size or pixelated, then we [the jury] can’t evaluate the actual artwork,” he notes.

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Submit a proposal that demonstrates originality and your ability to translate the exhibition’s distinct concepts.

Demonstrate Proficiency

What in your artistic practice can set you ahead when applying to an open call? Answering the question, “Why do I belong here and what shows I deserve this opportunity?” is a great first step.

Demonstrating proficiency in your artistic practice and how you present yourself to the market makes you stand out among other open call candidates. Outlining career highlights, education and professional development goes a long way toward convincing reviewees that you’re a prime contender to surmount the obstacles and create a runaway success in the resulting exhibition. Additionally, your artist’s packet should demonstrate how you are a fit for this particular opportunity. By showing a common thread linking all of the submitted materials to the application’s focus, you can make a strong case for your selection.

As an example, if the open call is demonstrating a need for artists to be politically engaged and work in the vein of social justice, but the artist only sends in work demonstrating a Pop Art sensibility, then it can be difficult to see the artist as a good fit for the opportunity. Ferreira indicates the importance of this factor by noting that “the work samples should visually demonstrate how the artist intends to be included in the show, residency, etc — when speaking to the themes of the exhibition… the work samples should have some sense of consistency.” She additionally notes that “this can be challenging for multidisciplinary artists, but depending on what the application is for, it may be best to focus on a particular body of work.”

One final tip? Ferreira gives away one last nugget of wisdom: “Make sure the images tell a story in some way. Whether it is moving from one color scheme to another, from image details to installation shots, or from one type of medium to another. I also make sure to open and close with my strongest pieces.”

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An open call exhibition elevates your work to a new audience.

Be Confident, Stay Organized

Ultimately, you increase your chances of being accepted in an open call submission when you remember to be confident, stay on topic, be original and stay organized! It’s one thing to apply to an open call and another to be prepared to advance the project once the committee reviews all the submissions and responds.

Bringing a little something extra to the table while staying on top of the project’s requirements and budgeting time as needed to ensure the potential project’s success will result in dedicated proselytizers for future opportunities. Lastly, present a portfolio belonging to a consummate professional. No matter who is accepted as the final award recipient, The artists making a strong impression on panelists reviewing submissions will remain in their minds when they are conceiving of future exhibitions. Think about the larger picture and stay focused to ensure that open call submissions act as the foot in the door to larger opportunities to come.

What are your best tips for applying to an open call? Let us know in the comments!

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About the author

Audra Lambert

Audra Lambert is an independent curator and art critic based in New York, NY. The founder of Antecedent Projects (2014), a sustainable urban curatorial consultancy investigating site-specific heritage, and is Editor-in-Chief, ANTE. Mag. Lambert manages ART360 by Orangenius, an immersive, 3-D art viewing experience, and serves as Managing Editor, Artrepreneur.

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