Tips for artists #2: How to apply for an open call

Now that you know what an artist portfolio should contain, I’m gonna explain to you how to apply for open calls.

When I say open calls, I mean:
- Exhibitions (in festivals, fairs, galleries…). These open calls are more often for group exhibitions than solo ones.
- Screenings (mainly in festivals)
- Distinctions
- Artist residencies
- Public art commissions
- Grants…

The first piece of advice I want to give you may seem quite obvious, but I have to say it anyway: first of all, don’t let the negative responses get you down. If you keep on creating, working, and holding on, it will eventually pay off.

. Where can I find open calls?

Here are three websites where you can regularly find new open calls:

- Transartists,
- Art Rabbit,
- Art Jobs,
- CuratorSpace…

-> If you speak French, you can take a look at these websites:

- CNAP (Centre national des arts plastiques),
- Réseau Documents D’Artistes,
- Polka Magazine
- 50° Nord,
- Alternatif-Art,
- CIPAC (Fédération des professionnels de l’art contemporain),
- Profil Culture,

You may also find job offers on some of these websites.
And if you speak French, I highly recommend that you subscribe to the FRAAP newsletter. In this newsletter, you’ll regularly get open calls opportunities (for exhibitions, residencies, job offers, studio rentals, etc…).

We’re lucky to live in the internet age, so take advantage of it!
And don’t forget to look on social media too, you can easily find plenty of open calls on them!

. Irregularity

You’ll see that there are periods when there are very few calls. On the other hand, there are very busy periods during which you’ll have to apply for many open calls, so you’ll have to be very organized!

Pauline Le Pichon, 2021

. How to apply for open calls:

Well…it’s up to each artist. Some artists apply from time to time, while others are much more consistent. I belong to the latter category.
Every Monday, I look at every new open call.
I then select the ones that match my work.
I have three notebooks. One where I write down all the information about the open calls that match the themes I work on. One that serves as a general “to-do list” where I write down every task I have to complete, and my planner where I write down all the deadlines.
You’ll quickly discover what’s your method. In any case, you can try mine and see if it works or not!

. How to select the best open calls:

First of all, don’t submit your work to E-V-E-R-Y open call. It would be a huuuge waste of time for you and the people who’d receive your application since they’d realize that there’s no link between what they’re looking for and what you have submitted.

The first step is to select the open calls according to the link between the imposed theme and your work. You know what your work is about, and by reading the open calls, you’ll easily understand if they match or not your work.
You should also select the open calls according to your budget. You have to know that a lot of open calls ask you to pay a fee (the fee is usually between 10 and 50 €). In brief, if you want to apply for these calls, you have to pay. Well, guess what: don’t do that.
I made this mistake many times. I spent a lot of money because I wanted my work to be exhibited so badly. But I stopped because it’s not ok to pay just to apply for an open call. And you have to know that these organisers receive a loooot of applications so even if you pay, it doesn’t guarantee that your work will be selected.

But (and this is only my point of view) you shouldn’t be full of doom and gloom: some festivals/associations can’t pay the artists, but they can offer them a place to stay during the first days of the event. Some can pay for the artist’s travel and/or the production of the artwork(s). In this case, it’s up to you to see if you gain more than you lose.

The ideal situation would be to have nothing to pay, but unfortunately, it’s very rare.

The things to consider when reading an open call are:
- The theme (does it match your work? Does your work meet the criteria?) — You really have to ask yourself these questions!
- The modalities (some open calls may be reserved for a certain “type” of artists. For example, it may depend on their nationalities, ages…). Always read every open call carefully before you start gathering all the required elements. There may be conditions that will prevent you from applying.
- You should also consider whether you absolutely have to be available for the installation and opening. And if so, whether you’ll be paid, or at least accommodated.
- The required elements (portfolio)
- Whether the application should be sent by post or by digital means
- The deadline
- If you have to pay an application fee
- The amount of money you’ll have to spend if your work is selected

If you have doubts about an open call, if you think it’s “fishy”, if there’s very little information about it or if there’s a lot of negative feedback, don’t waste your time.

. Applying for an open call takes time

Contrary to what some people think, applying for an open call isn’t something you do quickly because every open call has its specificities. The requested elements aren’t always the same. Sometimes you also have to provide a limited file size and/or a limited number of pages and /or a limited number of photographs and/or photographs with very specific resolutions. They are so many elements that constantly differ from an open call to another one.
You should always send what people ask you to send. Otherwise, you run the risk of seeing your application eliminated automatically.

Sometimes you’ll be asked to explain precisely why you’d like to participate in a particular exhibition, so you’ll have to argue your case. Like a motivation letter.

Some open calls are very specific in what they expect (like the file names, for example).
Other open calls are vaguer so do something simple and understandable for the person who’ll look at your application.
When it’s not specified whether I have to separate every element and/or name them in a specific way, I include the different elements in a single PDF file and simply name it “Full Name-Application”.

. Don’t miss the deadline!

If you send your application after the deadline, the jury won’t consider it.

As applications are usually time-consuming, I highly recommend that you prepare them in advance.
In my case, if the deadline is the 31st of August, I’ll work on the application a month before, then take a few days to work on my other projects.
I’ll come back to my application two weeks before the deadline. At this step, I always check if I have all the required elements, if there are no mistakes and if everything is understandable. It’s good to spend a few days without working on your application then coming back to it because it allows you to clear your mind and ask yourself if everything is correct.
If you’ve read my first Tips for artists, you know what I think about portfolios.
They shouldn’t be neglected. That’s why you shouldn’t work on your application the day before the deadline. Mistakes, forgotten labels, badly printed documents, guidelines not followed…These are the things that could make you miss out on a really good opportunity, so take the time to work on your application in advance.

Then, when everything is correctly done, I send my application. I always send it one or two weeks before the deadline (to make sure that if there’s a problem with my application, I’ll be able to correct it).
Sending it via email or Wetransfer (Wetransfer isn’t always accepted) is quite fast. It only takes a few minutes.
Most of the time, you have to send your application via email, Wetransfer, or an online form. But sometimes you’re asked to send it by post. And, in this case, they’re various things that you need to take into account: the printing (how much it will cost and how long it will take), the price of the stamp (and don’t forget to track your shipment), and…the time it will take for your application to arrive at the address!
As you may have guessed, it will be slower than sending via email. So you’ll need to take that into account if you don’t want to miss the deadline!

If you’re asked to send your application by email, you should check if you have to write a particular email subject (e.g. Full Name + Art Festival 2021). This will let the recipient know what the email is about.
Concerning the email, write something simple, concise, and polite.
Don’t hesitate to tell the organizers they can contact you if they need further information. This shows that you’re motivated and available if they want to know more about you and your work.

. Bonus

For some exhibitions, you may be asked to provide a document that explains your exhibition project. Most of the time, this document should contain information about the scenography (which must be based on the available space, your ideas, and your works), information about your artworks (titles, years of creation, size, medium, prices, etc)…
Take the time to think about it and write down every possible detail that will be useful to the jury. This will show that you have thought about this project and that you’re truly motivated. Feel free to include photographs of your artworks (such as framed photographs if you’re a photographer) so that the viewer can imagine the exhibition even better.

You may be allowed to submit works that aren’t finished yet. This means that you can include sketches, photographs, and even previously created artworks that are similar to the ones you’re creating. But be aware that this isn’t always allowed, so you definitely have to check that with the jury before sending your application.

Applying for an open call isn’t something particularly difficult. It just requires a lot of concentration and organization. I know it can be scary, especially at the beginning of your career, because you’ll probably be afraid of showing your work. But you have to tell yourself that your work has qualities and that it mustn’t be locked in your home. And if you get a negative response, nothing prevents you from sending a (polite!) email to get more explanation about this answer.
Some people will answer you while some won’t because many receive hundreds or even thousands of applications, then they can’t reply to everyone.
I want you to understand that getting a negative answer doesn’t mean that your art sucks. It really doesn’t mean that. But, imagine that these people receive a huge amount of applications, and they have to select only a few artists. So sometimes your work is selected, and sometimes it’s not.
You have to get used to the idea that the life of an artist is full of uncertainties. No two years are the same.
For example, in December 2019, my work was selected for an exhibition in a museum in South Korea…and 6 months earlier, I was offered an exhibition in a supermarket. Do you see the difference between the two?
Get used to the idea that there are bad times where you get a lot of negative answers, but you have to hold on. The good news can always be behind the bad one.

The next “Tips for artists” article will normally be published in January 2022, and will deal with the different ways to exhibit one’s work.

PS: This article is based only on my opinion and my experience. But being an artist for over seven years, I don’t think I’m wrong, am I?
PS-2: Don’t hesitate to leave me a comment if you have any questions or remarks about this topic.

French visual artist