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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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

Eleven Months in Art Competitions, 2017-2018

Stats on my art competition applications from August 2017 through June 2018.*

In the past, I have set a goal of applying to 18 competitions. Eleven months ago, I decided to set more quantifiable and focused goals, specifying how many art competitions I’d apply to across different categories. My goals this past ‘goal-year’ included applying to:

  1. Six residency or studio programs in NYC
  2. Three public art open calls/registries
  3. Six exhibitions in NYC
  4. Three grants ($3k minimum)

…for a total of 18 competitions.

I also wrote in a lower-priority option of applying to residencies elsewhere. I decided not to specifically pursue:

  • fellowships
  • professional development programs

In the past twelve months, I actually applied to:

  1. Two residencies + two studio programs 4/6
  2. Three public art open calls/registries = 3/3
  3. Four exhibitions + (one fellowship + one professional development program due to the solo show opportunities involved) = 6/6
  4. One grant = 1/3

I also applied to two residencies outside of NYC, bringing the total up to 16 out of 18 applications.

Applications submitted:
RRRR   SS   PPP   EEEE    F   D   G

Awards received (highlighted in color):
RRRR   S?   PP?   EEEE   F   D   G

I was a finalist, but not recipient, of one residency. One exhibition application is leading towards inclusion in a show. One public art registry has not responded, as is the nature of these things. One studio program is delaying their program and subsequent announcement of recipients.

Of the 16 total entries, my overall success rate was 1/16, or 6%. Of the 14 entries that have responded to date, my success rate was 1/14, or 7%.*

I paid $45 for two application fees ($10 and $35 respectively). The other 14 applications were free.

000$   00   000   0$00   0   0   0

See my stats from 2015-2016, 2014, and 2013.


*I can do what I want. 🙂 It was just a good time for me to revisit my goals today. I’m excited and energized to start fresh right now. Some resources that were helpful for me to review:

**These odds align with a 1:15 rule of thumb I learned in a Creative Capital professional development workshop. I’m pleasantly surprised, since I believe that focusing on NYC competitions means worse odds due to larger applicant pools. As I found in 2011, “seven of the nine New York programs ranked among the top 11 most competitive” in an analysis of 26 competitions on Temporary Art Review.

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Art Competition Odds

Twelve Months in Art Competitions, 2016-2017

Stats on my art competition applications from the ‘goal-year’ before last: August 2016 through July 2017.*

At the end of July in 2016, I set a goal of applying to 18 competitions. In a modest effort to be strategic, I decided to focus on:

  1. Three “major” grants
  2. Solo exhibition opportunities
  3. Fellowships or residencies in places I wanted to travel to
  4. Supportive studio programs with funding

I actually applied to:

  1. Two grants = 2/3
  2. One exhibition open call = 1/?
  3. Two fellowships and six residencies  = 8/?
  4. One studio programs = 1/?

For a total of 12 applications out of the goal of 18.

Applications submitted:
GG   E   FF    RRRRRR   S   

Awards received (highlighted in color):
GG   E   FF   RRRRRR   S

I was awarded two residencies.

Of the 12 entries, my overall success rate was 2/12, or 16%.

I paid $50 for two application fees ($15 and $35 respectively). The other 10 applications were free.

$0   0   $0   000000   0

See my stats from 2015-2016, 2014, and 2013.


*Better late than never. 😉

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Meta-Practice

Unsolicited Artists’ Advice: Updated Tips from a Juror

Suggestions for making art competition applications more competitive.

This past week, I served as one of three jurors for a residency program. Over the course of 7–8 hours, I reviewed 116 applications and selected my top five picks. The odds for being one of my picks were one in 23, or 4%, of applications. (The organization will consider all three jurors’ picks and make final selections.)

I am sharing my notes as a reminder to myself—I fall short, wait to the last minute, and submit underwhelming applications—as much as it is an attempt to offer transparency and feedback to fellow artists. It’s also a win-win: better applications helps artists put their best foot forward, and helps jurors be more focused and efficient. Obviously, this is highly subjective; different jurors and programs have different approaches.

I’m incorporating these notes into a similar article I wrote two years ago, when I was a juror for another residency program.

Context: Jurying’s a tough job!

It takes a lot of time and offers little to no pay. In 2015, I spent about 16 hours reviewing 65 submissions, and rating and submitting scores. I did not receive a stipend.

If jurors only get through, say, 12 or less submissions per hour, you can see how quickly they can get crabby and find minor inconveniences disproportionately annoying. In fact, this week, I noticed that being annoyed by bad applications made me happy to reward well-prepared applications. I tried to be objective, but the emotional relief of reviewing clear, organized, compelling applications may have swayed my favor.

The lists below include many prohibitions. Don’t be discouraged. Accept that before your application can be seen as competitive, it first has to be free of major flaws. Then get to work!

The best applications are well-oiled machines.

I was most excited to see a clear artistic voice: an intangible whole that is the sum of smaller parts working together:

  • Well-documented bodies of art that demonstrate consistency and an advanced practice.
  • An artist’s statement that jibes with the work samples and speaks to intellectual engagement (in other words, that you’ve been thinking clearly and rigorously about what you make for some time).
  • Work samples that show that you can pull off what you say you want to do in your proposal.
  • A proposal that is ambitious and considered, demonstrating an accurate grasp of your capacities, areas where you need support or are taking risks, and program offerings.

CRITERIA

In this week’s jury process, the organization sent a link to their Submittable account. They didn’t send any criteria, so I came up with my own based on my experiences as a past artist-in-residence there and former juror elsewhere:

  • Clarity and strength of proposal: up to 3 points
  • Ability to make the most of the opportunity: up to 3 points
  • Work samples: up to 10 points
  • “Diversity”: up to 1 point

I awarded one bonus “diversity” point for artists whose work, either in content or execution, provided a perspective that isn’t often seen in the art world. It was not awarded purely on demographics. In the end, though, that bonus point mattered little.

This Is a Competition: Be Competitive!

Generally I prefer cooperation over competition, but applicants should embrace a healthy sense of competition in order to make your application rise to the top.

With a total possible score of 17 points, only two applications received 15 points. Four received 14 or 14.5. Eleven received 12-13.5. Many pretty good applications plateau’ed at 10-11 points.

I’m including this chart to emphasize: This is a competition. 

The distribution of points, on a scale from 0 to 17 possible points, of 116 applications. The organization requested that I submit my top five picks.

The distribution of points, on a scale from 0 to 17 possible points, of 116 applications. The top five applications scored 14 to 15 points.

Most of the applications scoring 10 or 11 points didn’t achieve excellence across the three primary criteria. Their proposal, fit, and work samples were just all right, but nothing special. (A few were just uneven: one application disappointed when great work samples were paired with a very low-ambition proposal that didn’t warrant a six-week residency.)

Applications that scored 7 points or less generally were not competitive across the basics—work samples and an artistic voice and vision—to garner a merit-based award. Fortunately these are all improvable with effort and dedication.

Overlook the written portions at your peril. For efficiency, jurors may start looking for reasons to eliminate applications. When I started seeing the points distribution, I realized that my top five picks would score at least 13 or 14 points. That meant that applications that scored low in the first two criteria didn’t have a chance of catching up in the third criteria, work samples. In these cases, I viewed at least three work samples out of due diligence and principle. Applicants should be aware that jurors only have time to skim their applications, which may extend to their work samples.

Sometimes applications are exercises in getting better at applications (which is worthwhile). To improve one’s competitive edge, try matching or exceeding the time, effort, focus, rigor, and work that competitors are investing—in their applications and their practices.

WRITING

Write proposals that are specific.

When possible, propose specific projects, goals, outcomes, and benefits. Discuss materials, techniques, scales or area of inquiry that distinguish your practice. Why are you interested in this particular program? How will the experience benefit your practice, or advance your work? Try to show how your goals fit with the program’s unique qualities or equipment. This requires you to research and understand the program, and synthesize it in your proposal. Misalignments result in lower rankings.

Don’t rehash truisms about life for many artists, like:

  • Wanting more time or freedom from day jobs.
  • Wanting a change of scenery, or to travel or network in other cities.
  • Wanting a community of artists for feedback.
  • Passion from a young age.
  • The high cost of living in your city.
  • Not having space in your apartment to make larger work.

Plenty of deserving artists need support! General artists’ needs don’t speak to this specific program, and what you offer in return.

If your proposal includes an interactive or relational element, demonstrate a capacity for collaboration and some thoughtfulness about exchange. Why are you asking people to contribute to your project? Why should they?

Writing proposals is challenging. It’s one of my least favorite parts in the application process. It’s hard to tailor a project you’ll feel passionate about in 12-24 months that aligns with the organization’s goals and program. But proposals matter because they help jurors identify who will make the most of the opportunity. Many organization’s worst nightmare is to award an artist who squanders the program.

Convince jurors that you’re a fantastic fit. Make accepting you irresistible.

Craft a superb artist’s statement.

The best statements outline a unique, specific position, and coheres with the work samples submitted. If you tailor your work samples to a particular application, you may need to modify your statement, too. If you describe a certain media or theme, make sure it’s represented in the work samples. It feels schizophrenic to read about works we don’t see, and see works that don’t jibe with what’s stated.

Take the time to write and re-write. Do not simply list random thoughts about your practice in a paragraph form. If your conceptual intent involves word play, keep it short—don’t list noncritical allusions. Make it compelling. Help jurors understand your work, and get interested in you, your practice, and what you might do.

I often find myself asking one of two questions when reading statements, and neither is positive. The first is “How?” How does the art support or reflect the statement? When those two don’t mesh, it suggests that the artist is unclear about what he or she is doing. Luckily, what reads as a fairly major artistic problem can usually be resolved with the power of re-writing. Also, jurors may be practitioners in different artistic disciplines than your own. Help us understand how you do what you do.

The second question is “Why?” If you state that an idea or media is important to you, explain why. It’s fine to be arbitrary in your own creative process, but help other people care about your work by letting them know about what motivates you.

Be clear, concise, and coherent. 

Minimize jargon, personal asides, and creative brainstorming (save that for your sketchbook). Sometimes artists take slack, too-cool-for-school attitudes because of a philistine sentiment that “Good art can speak for itself.” I don’t believe that you can truly understand an artist’s practice by seeing 10 JPGs, even if their work is primarily visual. That’s why up to 37% of the possible points I awarded this week were based on ideas and intent.

If your writing could use improvement, ask friends or mentors, take a class, or get reference books. You’ll probably have to write for the rest of your professional life, so you might as well improve those skills—and your chances of making your applications more competitive—sooner rather than later.

Proof-read and edit.

Make every word work. If a word is not adding anything new, omit it. If you can shorten long sentences, do. Know that jurors are skimming. Make it easier by summarizing main points, preferably at the start of every paragraph.

WORK SAMPLES

Work samples should convey rigor in concept and craft.

There’s an art to making art, and then another art to presenting it. Get good at presenting your art—photographing, color correcting, selecting, sequencing, and contextualizing. Doing so conveys that you’re a professional, and furthermore, that you’re motivated, responsible, and committed—the qualities of someone who will make the most of an opportunity.

Reviewing images this past week, I enjoyed the inclusion of well-done exhibition photographs. They revealed scale, ambition, and a higher level of professionalism.

Follow directions.

Unfortunately, the obvious must be stated and repeated: never disregard work sample requirements.

Heed limits on work samples!

If you must link to long videos, indicate which segments jurors should watch. Segments should total less than the limit.

If you have the option to link to images, link to them, not to HTML pages with several images or projects on them.

Don’t underestimate how much bending the rules will hurt your application. Your submittal may be screened out in the first pass before jurors even see it. If it isn’t, your score may be diminished, because it’s disrespectful to jurors’ time and unfair to other applicants. It’s taxing for jurors to police when applicants over-submit materials. (See above for the number of hours I invested—and that is just to view the capped samples!)

Technical tips for linking to images and videos.

The more time people spend looking for your work samples, the less time and focus they will have for your actual work.

Don’t assume anyone will “tidy up” your submissions, such as download your large files, locate specific images in a link, or cue your videos and cut them off at the 10-minute mark. Jurors may have to navigate this themselves, and if it is an inconvenient process, they will be looking at your work samples in an agitated state. Here are some specific tips:

  • Avoid Flickr. It’s free because ads can appear between slides. Find a different service. If you don’t have a website, get one—it’s never been easier or cheaper—or get a Tumblr, blog, or Google Drive account.
  • If you use Vimeo or YouTube, post brief contextualizing information. Specify if it’s finished work or documentation. And make sure it’s not password-protected.
  • On your own website, if you want jurors to view specific images, link to them directly. Don’t send a link to a portfolio page and then instruct them to scroll to the Nth image. (Unless your site is flash-based, JPGs are assets with their own URLs—on Macs, control-click on an image and select “open image in new tab”. Right-click on PCs for similar options. If you can’t manage that, then try Google Drive.) Do not let your domain registration slip up. Make sure links aren’t broken—load the page in your browser, and then copy the URL from your address window.

Work samples weigh heavily in your scores. Not being able to access them will be a deal-breaker. It’s a waste of everyone’s time—artists’ included.

Use captions intelligently.

Contextualize your work concisely and consistently. This is the first time jurors are viewing your work, so give it a proper introduction.

Don’t assume we can tell what we’re looking at, whether details, installation views, process documentation, photo-documentation of artworks, or fine art photography. Spell it out. Help us construe your role within a collaborative project. Notions of authorship aside, jurors need to know what we are looking at, and what parts you did.

If you’re a visual artist using your work samples to submit a lengthy (100+ words) text or webpage, provide a brief summary (2-3 sentences) in the image caption.

Special notes for project-based, performance, or social practice artists. Be sure to give context and explain what’s going on. What is process? What is product? For social practitioners, articulate the relational aesthetics at work. Explain how these projects relate to any 2-D or 3-D work samples.

If this advice sounds persnickety, that’s because it is. Consider accomplished athletes: experts in the rules of their sport, they would never ask for exceptions like more time or another do-over. In practice, they tirelessly hone their abilities and tactics so that in competition, they can execute with precision to score and win. They get that the competitive edge is very thin.

Artists’ applications are our proxies for scrutiny. By attending to every detail, artists can advance further in competitions.

Resilient athletes also set a variety of goals to evaluate improvement. They do not look solely—as so many artists (myself included) do—to the crushing, all-or-nothing, external validation of winning or losing. Break down competition goals into smaller, more manageable parts, such as completing applications, finding appropriate competitions, and getting feedback to improve work sample sets and statements.

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Community

Artists, Apply!

If you’re like me and using the holiday downtime to catch up on applications, here are a few artists’ opportunities I’d like to share.

I had a great time when I did this residency in 2013. I recommended it; read my wrap-up.  The stipend is still one of the best I know of, and I’m sure this program has expanded since then. I’d especially encourage printmakers and artists whose work deals with water, tides, or natural light to look into this residency.

Tides Institute and Museum of Art StudioWorks Artist-in-Residence Program
Eastport, Maine
Four-to-eight-week residency in a private studio with access to a modest printshop, plus accommodations.
They pay you $2,000–4,000 as a stipend to cover all expenses including travel (Eastport is remote—the easternmost point of the United States, actually).
$25 application fee.
Deadline: February 1, 2018

I had little prior paper-making experience, but I had a great time learning from Pulp & Deckle boss-lady Jenn Woodward, and making paper when I was a c3:resident in 2015

c3: Papermaking Residency
Portland, Oregon
One-month paper-making residency, workshop, technical assistance, group exhibition.
They pay you $250 stipend, but accommodations or travel are not included.
Deadline: January 21, 2018

I did a residency at Woodstock Byrdcliffe in 2011, back when its residency fee was only $300 (and before they let go of a really great, long-time residency manager; a position that is currently vacant, if you’re job-hunting). See photos.

I think it’s cool that, this year, they are offering fellowships for artists affected by natural disasters, though the application fee seems steep to me. 

Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild Artist-in-Residency Program
Woodstock, New York
4-week residency: private studio or access to ceramics and weaving equipment, and accommodations.
Residency fee: $700. Fellowships and subsidies are available to “artists affected by natural disaster, including but not limited to the California wildfires, hurricanes in Puerto Rico, Florida and Texas, and the earthquakes in Mexico” as well as women and people of color.
Application Fee: $45–55 (early application discount)
Deadline: February 15, 2018

 

Spread the word to NYC Teens aged 13–19 about this opportunity.

Museum of Moving Image’s Teen Film Fest Call for Submissions
Deadline: January 19, 2018

 

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