Art Competition Odds

Twelve Months in Art Competitions, 2018-2019

Stats on my art competition applications from July 2018 through June 2019.*

Goals

My goals this past ‘goal-year’ included applying to:

  • Ten residency, studio programs or public projects to get support in NYC
  • Six exhibitions in NYC
  • Two grants ($3k minimum)

This adds up to 18 applications, which was too many. I’d set goals totaling 18 applications in prior years, and I need to be more strategic and deliberate moving forward.

Progress

I submitted 8 applications.

Some of these applications fulfilled multiple goals. For example, some residencies included exhibitions or stipends over $3k, so I counted those towards multiple goals.

Here’s how much progress I made towards my goals:

  • I submitted 7 out of 10 applications towards residency, studio programs or public projects in NYC:
    • residencies
    • studio programs
    • public projects
    • 1 purchase program (It was located outside of NYC, but funds could support my work in NYC, so I counted it towards this goal.)
  • I submitted 3 out of 6 applications for exhibitions in NYC.
  • I submitted 2 out of 2 applications for competitions that included over $3k of financial support, which I applied towards my grants goal.

There were two primary reasons for a low rate of applications. First, I was awarded a six-month residency, and I couldn’t apply to anything else that conflicted with those dates. Second, when application deadlines overlapped with the residency period, I chose to prioritize the residency. I just didn’t have the bandwidth to submit killer proposals. I chose quality over quantity.

Successes

I have received notifications for 6 of 8 applications submitted.

Of these six applications, I received residency and 1 studio program. My success rate was 2/6, or 33%, of the 6 entries that have responded to date.

If the remaining two applications are unsuccessful, my success rate would be 2/8 or 25%.


See my stats from 2017-20182015-2016, 2014, and 2013.

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Art Competition Odds

More Notes from a Juror

Over the past two weeks, I was a juror for an artist-in-residence program. I spent about 10.5 hours reviewing 30 applications. As I reviewed, I took notes on what I found myself responding positively and negatively to. These notes are summarized below. They reflect my own biases, the application’s structure, and the organization’s criteria.


The basis of good writing is clear thinking. The applications that rise to the top show deep praxis and high intelligence.

Say what, who, when, where, how, and why. Stating the parameters of your project clearly and simply helps jurors remember, sort, and rank your proposal. Timelines help convey a clear plan. Citing individuals or organizations shows that you’ve done some groundwork.

Specify outcomes when possible. At the same time, balance outcomes with open-ended-ness. Don’t be too predetermined; allow room for growth or discovery, and for dialogue and the dynamic qualities of the program to inform your work.

Use headers. They are helpful landmarks in narrative texts.

Hit the marks. If the criteria are outlined, address how your project, specifically, fulfills them. Avoid generalizations about how art fulfills the criteria (“Art is ___ because…” “Art functions in society to…” “Art has the power to…”). If your project relates to social or political contexts, summarize them. The bulk of a letter of intent should be a description of your proposed project; background info should make up a smaller proportion.

Demonstrate a track record. Your work samples should show that you have the experience and capacity to pull off your proposed project. If your proposal includes a new medium or format for you, describe how you will learn or overcome the technical challenges.

If you’re going to propose an expansion or re-staging of a current project, convince readers why it is dynamic, necessary, worthy, or new, rather than merely helpful for your career or exhibition history. Is there a strategy? Does this next phase help you reach a bigger, more ambitious goal? Do you have any concrete plans or partnerships towards that goal? Show how this specific opportunity is a good fit (as opposed to any other opportunity that provides funding or visibility). Bear in mind that other applicants will be proposing all new projects, which seem more ambitious, and conclude with a more satisfying sense of accomplishment, in comparison. If your proposal is for an interstitial phase of a longer project, the outcomes may seem modest or unexciting.

Review your submittal as a whole. The parts should interlock and strengthen each other. Accentuate strong connections (include work samples of past projects relevant to your proposal or artist’s statement). Eliminate weak connections (omit less-relevant text or art from your statement or work samples if they don’t support the proposed project). [In practice, this means drafting and editing your submittal first, rather than cutting, pasting, and writing directly in the application portal.]

Don’t be redundant. If you say something in your proposal, no need to repeat it in your artist’s statement or work samples, or vice versa.

Limit art-speak. On a mechanical level, each sentence should function to communicate an idea that is specific to your project or process. Avoid making up acronyms for elements of your art practice that you reference only once or twice.

Provide enough context for your work samples. This is especially true of performance and social practice projects.

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Art Worlds, Research

Watch: On Why Art Belongs in the World

A beautiful work of storytelling and advanced learnings about sharing art.

Kristy Edmunds’ keynote speech at United States Artists Assembly 2019 is stirring, smart, and compelling. I highly recommend it. Watch the video, which includes an intro by Ann Hamilton.

Person holding a bowl in one hand, standing at a podium.

Keynote speaker Kristy Edmunds. // Source: UnitedStatesArtists.org.

Edmund’s speech comes from her perspective as curator and artistic director, facilitating relationships between artists and institutions. She’s particularly pro-artist [which is something you might assume people working in the art world would be, but actually, some are anti-artist, H/T Shannon Stratton].

Edmund’s perspective was especially interesting to me as a social practitioner, in thinking about partnerships with organizations, institutions, and communities, and also as an artist who thinks about my work less in terms of objects to be owned, and more in terms of aesthetic experiences and engagements.

Below are a few highlights.

On partnerships between artists and institutions

The quality of invitations to artists and audiences matter.

Artists are not to be treated as vendors. A public is not to be treated as consumers. Do not transact poetics and people, ever.

She said that requiring measurable outcomes facilitates gatekeeping and hinders bridge-building.

On how art lives in the world

When introducing performances, Edmunds feels compelled to tell audiences:

We have a job together, which is to make a memory. We will be the living archive for this artist, in this moment, in this time. We going to become its permanent collection.

I love this idea. She explains:

Art belongs in the world. It is informed by the maker, its place, city, community, culture, conditions—everything through which it is made—but it isn’t owned by the organization that helped facilitate it. Nor, once it is given by the artist, is it exclusively owned by them. It become owned by a public, in the world, in a memory that we made…

Ownership as a fixed idea is transformed into something else. To me, that transformation is a participation in belonging to the work, to the experience of it, to the acknowledgment of its maker, to the cultural assets that stand with it, and also to us, fleeting or long.

The future completes our work—how it sustains or endures. What is forged in our cultural memory connects us uniquely.

For me, when an artwork exists that way—as a shared memory or an experience ingrained in the body—that’s whats most exciting about working in the realm of aesthetic experiences. That’s why I keep going back to making projects with people, inviting participation, gathering stories, and sharing emotions and experiences.

She also shared this tidbit:

…Art needs to belong in the world because it is how we practice, in the words of Deborah Hay, “the deep ethics of optimism.”

 


Tangent: On “The deep ethics of optimism”

*Since I’m obsessed with optimism I wanted to learn more about what this phrase meant. I found an interview with choreographer Deborah Hay. She said, “A friend of mine who is a poet talks about ‘the deep ethics of optimism.'”

Then I found an interview with writer Zara Houshmand:

Issues of social justice matter to me very much but over time I’ve been more inclined to look inward at deeper sources of change—the mechanisms of empathy, breaking down prejudice, embracing the other, fixing oneself at the root in ways that create a more viable relationship with the rest of the world. In other words, doing the spiritual work to make yourself available for the work of social justice. It goes beyond finding a balance of contemplative and active life, or marshaling limited resources to prevent burn-out. Rather, it’s about what it means to commit to impossible tasks wholeheartedly, the deep ethics of optimism.

This relates to ideas that I keep coming back to, as well as new ideas I am currently discovering:

  • What I’m trying to achieve in my art is space for connection, for people to be whole-hearted, vulnerable, and authentic. Through my work, I am trying to ask, “How do you keep your heart open?” I think this is connected to optimism and embracing the abundance of the world and human goodness, which informs your ethics and how you move through the world and relate to change.
  • What is the relationship between social change and personal growth? This came up a lot in my recent Belonging Project at the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society. I focused a lot about how belonging feels. Then we looked at how to relate this to how belonging (and othering) happens on institutional scales, on a societal level.
  • I’ve also been thinking more about what it means when “the personal is political.” When are acts of self-care or self-actualization empowering and radical? When are they self-indulgent and afforded by privileged? For whom? In what conditions?
    • Self-care can be radical for people subjected to systematic violence. I identify as a woman of color, and, I’m also East Asian, educated, with sources of income that allow me to pursue being an artist, cis, able-bodied, neurotypical, with birthright citizenship and fluent English.
    • I am encountering my own ageism, ableism, and fat-shaming and the loss of privilege afforded youth, ability, and control over my body. I want to challenge these biases to work towards social change and inclusion, AND to accept myself for improved mental health. I recognize that this latter reason is completely self-interested; that this is how privilege works (I didn’t have to think about this before, I could be un-empathetic and uninformed about those affected); and this is how bias works (I couldn’t ‘see’ it until it affected me directly).
  • I’m reading adrienne maree brown’s Emergent Strategy (AK Press [an anarchist worker-run coop🤘🏽], 2017) and “doing the spiritual work to make yourself available for the work of social justice” seems very related.

 

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belonging, Meta-Practice

Residency Wrap-Up: Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society Artist-in-Residence Program 2018–2019

The Who, What, When, Where, and How of my Haas residency

To help other artists interested in residencies, I usually write residency wrap-ups that give an inside look to my residency experience. I find that there is only so much information one can glean from the organization’s web site. The more you know about the residency, the easier it is to tell if the residency is for you and what to expect.

No two artists will have exactly the same residency experience. This is especially true when I’m writing about inaugural residencies, which may be seen as pilots by the organization. Regardless, I’ll share my experience for the sake of transparency.

Screenshot of Haas Institute's webpage announcing Artist in Residence 2018-2019

Who

Haas

The Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society is a research institute at UC Berkeley that explores many different areas related to inequity. One of those research areas is othering and belonging. You can learn more at Haas’ website, their section on othering and belonging, and on their YouTube channel with videos of past Othering & Belonging conferences.

AIR Coordinator

Evan Bissell is the Haas Institute’s Arts and Strategy Coordinator. He was my primary contact person at Haas. I met with him regularly and he conveyed Haas’ expectations to me. I think Evan is uniquely positioned to coordinate this residency program. He is a longtime community-oriented artist in the Bay Area who holds a Master’s in Public Health and City Planning and teaches on art and social change at UC Berkeley. I’m not an academic, and I was a little intimidated about partnering with a think tank. But Evan is fluent in art and research. His feedback on formal concerns and artistic process was helpful. And, his input on how the work fits or intersects with Haas’ work was reassuring and complementary. In many ways, he was like a “fixer,” who helped me figure out what kinds of support he or Haas could offer. In some aspects, such as in parts of the book, I thought of Evan more as a collaborator.

 

What

Haas invited artists essentially “to create original work… to illuminate and advance our understanding of belonging… [in projects] that explore practices of dialogue.”

The residency included:

  • a $10,000 honorarium
  • a platform at the Othering and Belonging conference (1,500 attendees)
  • amplification in the Haas Institute news magazine and digital media (here’s a link to an interview in their newsletter)
  • support from Haas staff

Additional funds for materials were considered. (I asked for about $6k to cover travel, materials, studio rental, printing, etc. Though I reside in NYC, I did not have to pay for accommodations since I could stay with family in the Bay Area.)

My Project

You can learn about the Belonging Project at Belonging.ChristineWongYap.com.

 

 

When

November 1, 2018 through May 1, 2019. (The webpage says it’s a year-long residency but it’s technically only six months—or only about five months leading up to the conference.) I was interviewed in early October and notified in mid-October.

The residency culminated with a display of the work at the Othering and Belonging Conference in early April.

My Time Line

I traveled to California three times for this project, for a combined total of about three months. I did two five-week stints. The first was for outreach; the second was for production. The third trip was to prep and attend the Othering and Belonging Conference.

The generous stipend allowed me to focus on this project for 30–50 hours per week from mid-November to late February.

The schedule was tight; I’ve encouraged Haas to allow future AIRs more time. It wasn’t just that six months is a short time. It was also the timing around the winter holidays. I found it challenging to schedule workshops and find volunteers since semesters and organizations’ programs were ending, and students were doing finals. I also happened to start my project right when the Bay Area was suffering extremely bad air quality days that disrupted school and work routines.

 

Where

Haas is located on the UC Berkeley campus. The program is actually more akin to fellowship in that you aren’t provided with a space. The Haas office is small, and not set up for an AIR. In fact, many Haas staff and researchers work remotely in far-flung locations.

Where I worked

For one month, I printed at Kala Art Institute. I was previously a Fellow at Kala, so I was familiar with Kala’s studio, staff, and rules. I asked them if they would barter studio fees for conference admission; they agreed. Going back to Kala was a great experience. The staff and community of artists wholeheartedly welcomed me. They handed over keys and letting me get to work right away. A sense of belonging and interdependence are tangible there. It feels like those values are in the DNA of the place. I spent many 10- to 12-hour days working there.

 

Aside from Kala, I worked at my family’s house and did offsite workshops and meetings all over the Bay Area, from Benicia to San José. Fortunately, I could borrow a family car. I transcribed, edited and designed in my apartment in NYC.

The conference

The conference was at the Oakland Convention Center in downtown Oakland. Haas gave me two columns which were 6 to 8’ wide each to display my project on. I created an interactive mapping activity, launched the book, displayed the bandannas, and showed a slide show of certificates on a video monitor they arranged for me.

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The columns inside the Oakland Convention Center where I presented my project during the Othering and Belonging Conference.

 

[Photos above: Courtesy of Lee Oscar Gomez.]

A bar chart titled "Which two qualities of belonging are salient to you and your place of belonging?" Responses from 104 attendees of the Othering and Belonging Conference 2019. Connectedness: 66. Authenticity: 23. Family: 22. Well-being: 22. Accepted: 19. Growth: 19. Familiarity: 13. Meaning: 12. Self-worth: 9. Agency 8. Safety: 8. Access: 7. Autonomy: 4. Confidence: 3. Continuity: 1.

In the mapping activity, I asked participants to pick two of the 15 qualities of belonging we identified in the book, 100 Stories of Belonging in the S.F. Bay Area. Participants selected connectedness almost 3x as often as the second-most selected quality, authenticity.

How

Application

Haas held an open call for applications for the AIR program. I can’t remember how I heard about it. The application was refreshingly streamlined. All you had to do was email a short letter of intent, a CV, and a link to a website (or 10 images, or 3 minutes of video). There was no fee to apply (hooray!)

From the pool of several dozen applicants, some were interviewed via video chat, and one was selected. I was honored to be selected, and doubly honored to learn that the jurors included Brett Cook (whose murals I’d admired for years) and Roberto Bedoya (who has written seminal essays on creative placemaking).

Process

First, I met with Evan and we started by self-organizing: I came up with a timeline, a budget, and a draft of outreach materials (I wrote my “dream” budget and a “get-by” budget, they opted for the “get-by” budget and I made it work). He gathered feedback from Haas staff, and I made amendments.

As anticipated, the outreach phase was the hardest part. Fortunately, I lived in the Bay Area for over 30 years, I worked with many organizations, and I knew a lot of artists and art professors. Evan helped by connecting me with groups, reaching out to his own networks, and hosting a dinner. Some groups reached out to me after seeing Haas’ announcements, or individuals submitted their story after seeing the call in Haas’ newsletter. Evan also helped out by having materials translated into Spanish.

All the submissions made a 170+ page Google doc. When I was working on compiling, reading, and editing the submissions, I got caught colds, twice in four weeks.

I was happy to be back at Kala and to enter the production stage. Printmaking is very humbling. You have to be methodical and plan thoroughly. I learned a lot.

Lessons and tips

The experience made me adopt some principles that systematically prioritize patience over productivity:

  • Never skip steps.
  • Don’t overbook your schedule.
  • Do one thing at a time.
  • Take breaks.

This makes for better results, a more sustainable pace, and a healthier and happier attitude.

From past residencies, I’ve learned:

  • Taper off production the last few days of a residency.
  • Leave a whole day to pack and ship projects and materials.

Administration

This is going to sound extremely boring and unsexy, but I think administration, communication, and organization were crucial to a successful partnership. This is an unusual residency in that Haas is most interested in belonging and dialogue; they leave you tons of leeway in how you structure and execute your project, who you choose to work with, what you ask for, where you work, and when you accomplish benchmarks. Being self-directed and having self-management skills are critical. Again, it sounds banal, but in my wrap-up phone call with Evan, we realized that since we’d kept each other informed along the way, there were no major surprises or changes we needed to debrief.

Getting reimbursed in the UC system involves a lot of paperwork. I recommend that future AIRs learn about the documentation requirements, be diligent about keeping receipts (especially anything related to travel), and expect that check turnarounds will be lengthy.

Afterword

This is a really amazing opportunity for any artist who wants to tackle a self-directed project around belonging in the context of researchers interested in city planning, public health and more. I’m so honored and grateful to have been the inaugural resident. It’s been a tremendous opportunity to realize this project, to partner with Haas, to collaborate with many supportive community organizations, and to be entrusted with so many contributors’ stories. I feel that the seeds of this project were planted in 2016, and the fruits of this labor can be nourishment for the future.

 


A Postscript

Years ago, I had the chance to be considered for a residency at a very large tech company in California. I declined because I knew I’d regret it (money comes, money goes, but regrets haunt me for years.) Later, when I learned that their residency came with a $10,000 stipend, I didn’t second-guess my convictions, but I couldn’t help but think about what I would do with that much money.

It just so happens that the Haas honorarium is the same amount as that tech company’s. I did this project for so many other reasons beside the money. But this coincidence reaffirms that I did the right thing saying no. I garnered the same amount of financial support without compromising my values. And I did it partnering with a deeply ethical organization that actively promotes values and social justice. This helps me feel a sense of self-congruence for me as an artist, the projects I make, and my greater purpose as a human. It gives me a sense of maturity and self-assurance about what I am doing, and that being true to my principles is always the right choice.

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Meta-Practice

An Eye-popping Application Fee

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a $50 application fee for an open call for a group exhibition until now.

I’ve encountered $45 to 65 application fees for residencies, and $35 fees for open calls for three slides and $5-10 extra for additional slides, which could add up to more than $50 if the artist chooses. In any case, paying $45 for any fee seems expensive to me.

In principle, I think it’s an organization’s job to review slides of artists who are being considered for their programs. Reviewing entries is part of the cost of running the program. For galleries, looking for artists and viewing their artworks is part of the work of curation.

I get that the amount of entries can be overwhelming, that a lot of labor goes in, that jurors should be compensated, and that organizations want to offset those costs. (I’ve been a juror and I have worked at a gallery organizing submissions.) I also get that NYC is an expensive city to live in, and that open calls are a way small organizations generate income.

But, I also know that jurors may spend only a few minutes reviewing each entry. It’s up to individual artists to decide if having their work reviewed by unnamed jurors for the chance to exhibit in a group show is worth it.

Criteria I consider:

  • Who is the gallery? Where is it located? What is its programming like? What is their track record or reputation? What is their level of professionalism?
    • Will they handle my work with care? Will they properly care for, install, invigilate, deinstall, and pack my work?
    • Is the website well-designed, well-organized, and up-to-date, with a useful archive of past shows? Do captions properly credit artists and link to their websites? Or is there only a Facebook album of snapshots from the opening, where the primary message is “Look how many guests attended” rather than “Here are the artworks that form the content of the exhibition”?
    • Are past shows well-conceived, consistently high in quality, well-staged, and well-lit? Is the gallery in good, well-maintained condition?
    • Does the gallery double as an events space, increasing the chance that the work will be damaged?
  • What is the potential benefit of participating? What is the gallery’s location? Who is its audience? What are their hours? In other words, who will see the show and will they be interested and likely to support my work? What else is included in the exhibition? Will the make a catalog, host an artist’s talk, etc.? What is the value of that amplification?
    • Who are the jurors? What is their track record? Are they ethical? How aligned are their interests with my work? What is their institutional affiliation (sorry to have the institution validate the individual; it’s one consideration), and how aligned is that institution with my exhibition goals?
  • What is the potential cost of participating? What is the fine print? Do I have to frame unframed artwork? Do I have to pay for outbound and return shipping? Will I have to travel to install the work, attend the opening, and pick up the work? Will they assume any liability for damaged artwork? What is the split in any sales?
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Art Competition Odds

Art Competition Odds: A Blade of Grass 2019 Fellowship

A Blade of Grass’ 2019 Fellowship for Socially Engaged Art received 571 applications for 8 fellowships.

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Selected artists comprise about 1:71, or 1.4% of applicants.

Source.

See all Art Competition Odds.

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Art Competition Odds

Art Competition Odds: Guttenberg Arts’ Winter 2019/Summer 2019 Space and Time Artist Residency

Guttenberg Arts’ Winter 2019/Summer 2019 Space and Time Artist Residency received 202 applications for 3 residents.

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Selected artists comprise about 1:67, or 1.4% of applicants.

See all Art Competition Odds.

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