Participating in events is new territory to many. It can be scary but very rewarding at the same time. After all, we have to do things that make us uncomfortable in order elevate to the next level. Whether you’re scouted by a curator or submitting to open calls, here are 7 steps to take when deciding to participate in an event.

1. Research Organization & Past Events

Find out the purpose of both the organization and event. Determine if this aligns with your brand and types of art that you have or wish to create.  Also research past events to grasp their marketing efforts and stake in the community. Look at the type of following, audience, and visibility they have cultivated in the past. If you find someone that has participated in the event or with the organization in the past, don’t be afraid to ask about his or her experience. If it’s a new event, this information might not be easily accessible. So your decision will be based on the organization’s background information and mission. Is this an organization you want to be involved with? Can this organization potentially help or hurt your brand? Do you both hold the same standards and ideals?

2. If The Event Isn’t Local, Attend First (if possible)

If it’s a large event like a festival or popular exhibit, try to attend it first. This will give you first hand experience in what to look for to determine if it’s actually worth it. Participating without experiencing an event first can take away from your overall experience, as you can miss what else the event or area has to offer. Traveling for events are great experiences but have a lot of associated costs (ie. shipping, transportation, exhibitor/vendor fees, hotel, gas, food, etc.) if they aren’t covered by the event. The travel will be more business than leisure if anything.

3. If You Feel Pressured To Participate, Don’t

Most events give submission deadlines for artists to submit their work. A feasible deadline is important to ensure everyone’s time and schedule should be respected. However, some organizations will use tactics to garner fast responses and participations. Be weary if they give you an unreasonably short timeframe to agree, a limited number of openings to fill, or use the name of a popular place or event as a way to get you to agree to an event. Yes, time is of the essence but you will want to take time to think and fully balance out your options. You don’t want to be part of an event that is not well planned or organized. It can be a forewarning of the level of experience when organizers rush you into your decision.

4. Gauge Professional Communication & Follow-Up

Communication is key. You should have questions about each event in terms of general logistics, especially, if it’s not initially given. Keep in mind that communication is a direct reflection of the level of organization for most events. You should expect a fair turn around in email/call responses – at least 24 to 72 hours. Don’t be afraid to ask questions because if you’re inquiring, 9/10 someone else is and will need this information too. Always ask for the who, what, where, when, and how. Maybe ask about the floor plan, space given, what you’d need to bring, etc. Be mindful of the questions you have to ask and take note at the fact that they weren’t given initially.  Know what you’re getting yourself into before you agree to anything as much as possible.

5. Know Your Audience

This one is tricky. It takes time and thought in figuring out who your audience is. Your audience is the people who purchase your art. These are your collectors and clients. Think about where you ideally see your art placed and who patrons those spaces. Your supporters are those who do just that, support your art endeavors. They may be your family and friends who always attend your events, those who share and help promote your work, etc. Your supporters are more likely to attend your events than purchase your art. The sooner you’re able to distinguish your audience from your supporters, although they may overlap, the more you will know how to market yourself and choose your events wisely. Know that both are extremely important but serve their own purpose. Some opportunities cater more towards your supporters not your intended audience.

6. Make Sure It’s A Mutual Gain

Remember, you are offering a service and ultimately your time. Your art compliments the event and not vice versa. They inquired about you and/or accepted your submission for a reason. Make sure you are truly gaining something for your participation, whether it’s compensation or exposure. Many organizations will offer “exposure” instead of compensation but know that there’s a time and place for everything. You have to think about your brand, your audience, and the expected crowd and determine if they align with eachother. Yes, exposure can lead to potential clients and collectors, especially if you are just starting your art ventures. As you get more versed into your craft and business, you will see that exposure does not necessarily pay your bills. You will have to appropriately set your standards (ie. your rate, bottom line, will and won’ts, etc.), stick to them, and don’t sell yourself short. Both parities should benefit 50/50.

7. Don’t Be Afraid To Say ‘No’

Not every event is an opportunity for you or your art. Follow your intuition! If it feels wrong, it probably is wrong. You have to stay true to yourself and your brand at the end of the day.

Essentially, participating in events is a “learn as you go” process - whether it’s exhibits or vendor opportunities. No two events are the same. The more events you do, the more comfortable you will get in different environments and the more people you will meet. These tips will soon become second-hand nature and help you weed out the events that aren't for you. But in all, remember to be yourself and most importantly, enjoy yourself! Don’t get discouraged if things don’t go as planned or how you imaged. Unforeseen circumstances do happen. Take each experience as a lesson learned, as there is always a positive in every situation if you choose to see it.

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