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

Pauline Le Pichon
8 min readNov 1, 2021

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

When I say open calls, I‘m talking about:
- Exhibitions
- Screenings
- Awards
- Artist residencies
- Art commissions
- Grants…

The first piece of advice I want to give you may seem obvious, but I have to say it anyway: don’t let the negative responses get you down. If you keep creating, and working, 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 can also find job offers on some of these websites.
And if you speak French, I strongly recommend that you subscribe to the FRAAP newsletter. In this newsletter, you’ll regularly get open call 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 a look at the social networks, you will easily find many calls for applications!

Irregularity

You will find that there are times when there are very few calls. On the other hand, there are very busy periods when you will have to apply to many open calls, so you will need to be very organised!

Pauline Le Pichon, 2021

How to apply to open calls:

Well…it’s up to each artist. Some artists apply from time to time, while others are much more regular. I belong to the latter category.
Every Monday, I look at all the new open calls.
Then I select the ones that match my work.
I have three notebooks. One where I write down all the informationon open calls that correspond to the themes I work on. Another is a general to-do list where I write down all the tasks I have to do, and my diary where I write down all the deadlines.
You will soon find out which method you use. Anyway, 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 huge waste of time for you and the people who wouldd receive your application, as they would realise that there is 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 set theme and your work. You know what your work is about, and by reading the open calls, you’ll easily understand whether or not they are relevant to your work.
You should also select the open calls according to your budget. You should know that many open calls ask artists to pay a fee. In brief, if you want to apply, 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 right to pay just to apply to an open call. And you have to know that these organisers receive a lot of applications so, even if you pay, it doesn’t guarantee that your work will be selected.

But you shouldn’t be full of doom and gloom: some festivals/associations can’t pay the artists, but they can offer themaccommodation during the first days of the event. Some may pay for the artist’s travel and/or the production of the artwork(s).

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 need 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 must be available for the installation and opening. And if so, whether you’ll be paid, or at least accommodated.
- The required elements
- Whether the application should be sent by post or digitally
- The deadline
- If you have to pay a fee
- How much you will have to pay if your work is selected.

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

Applying to an open call takes time

Contrary to what some people think, applying to an open call isn’t a quick process because quickly because each open call has its specificities. The requested elements aren’t always the same. Sometimes you 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 one open call to another.
You should always send what people ask you to send. Otherwise, you run the risk of being automatically eliminated.

Sometimes you’ll be asked to explain precisely why you’d like to participate, so you’ll have to do so. Like a cover letter.

Some open calls are very specific in what they expect (like the file names, for example).
Other open calls are vaguer so make it simple and understandable to the person reviewing your application.
Where it is not specified whether I need to separate each element and/or name them in a specific way, I include the different elements in one 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 usually take a long time, I strongly recommend that you prepare them in advance.
In my case, if the deadline is 31 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 stage, 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 and then coming back to it, as 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 how I feel 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 work on your application in advance.

Then, when everything is done correctly, 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 can to correct it). Sending by email or Wetransfer (Wetransfer isn’t always accepted) is quite fast. It only takes a few minutes.
Sometimes you’re asked to send your application by post. And, in this case, there are several things to consider: 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, sending by post will be slower than sending by 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 need to write a specific email subject (e.g. Full Name + Art Festival 2021). This will let the recipient know what the email is about.
For the email, write something simple, concise and polite.
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 should 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 photos of your artworks (e.g. framed photos if you are 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 submitting your application.

Applying to 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 to show your work. But you have to tell yourself that your work has qualities and that it doesn’t have to stay at home. And if you get a negative response, there is nothing to stop you sending a polite email to get more explanation of the response.
Some people will answer you, 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 receiving a negative response 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 only select a few artists. So sometimes your work is selected, and sometimes it’s not.
You have to get used to the fact that the life of an artist is full of uncertainties. No two years are alike.
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. Can you see the difference between the two?
Get used to the idea that there are bad times when 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 focus on how to talk about your work.

PS: This article is only based on my opinion and my experience.
Don’t hesitate to leave me a comment if you have any questions or remarks on this topic.

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Pauline Le Pichon

I’m a French visuel artist, freelance photographer, instructor and writer.