First of all, I want to give a HUGE shoutout to everyone who helped me get to Nashville for the RAW Artist Showcase! I had an overall very positive experience, and I'm honored that so many people in my network purchased tickets and reached out to their friends and connections on my behalf to share my jewelry offer.
In the process of committing to the showcase and getting ready to attend, I discovered that there is a fairly vocal contingent of anti-RAW folks out there calling the organization a scam. In fact, someone in my network warned me of this very thing after I announced my involvement, so I wanted to write a post specifically for any other creatives who might be wondering whether or not they should align their name with this showcase.
To be completely fair, I can only speak to my experience with the RAW Nashville venue at City Winery. Additionally, I don't want to link to any of the negative posts I found lest I feed that fire, but Google it if you're interested to learn what other folks have to say. I found that the debate is not extremely nuanced and seems to be focused on whether or not artists should have to "pay to play" with a booth fee vs. show their work in a gallery for a commission.
If you have been approached by RAW, then you probably know a little about their business model. They require participating artists to sell 20 tickets for $22.50 each (plus $3.95 handling). Any unsold tickets become the artist's booth fee. (Although a hack I learned is that if the artist is able to purchase all of tickets in advance, they won't be charged a handling fee and can pass on the savings to their network. I would not have been able to do that, but I'm happy to share that info to anyone who is.) Beyond the first 20 tickets, RAW pays artists $10 for every ticket sold. Additionally, artists get into another RAW event in a different city for free as well as professional headshots.
Having attended a fair number of craft shows, I am familiar with booth fees, and the more reputable and bigger the event, the higher the fee. Additionally, many art showcases are juried so that the selection of vendors remains up to their high standards, and a juried event can charge $200 + for entry.
What I suppose is irritating to some people is that RAW seems to be an event production company that is focused on artist development and less of a juried art festival. In other words, there are many different levels of talent present.
I mean, it's called RAW for a reason, right? Maybe some people's work is rougher around the edges, but I say if they are willing to get themselves out in the community and showase their talent, what's not to love about that? A lot of people have great talent but are hiding under a rock, and what good is that? I believe art is meant to be shared. Some people will sell more than others, but if you look at it as an opportunity to grow your network and get feedback to help you develop your talent, then that's a win-win. Even if you just break even with one show, you will still get into another for free.
In terms of publicity, I don't see selling tickets as giving RAW "free" publicity as some people have claimed, but rather helping to bring awareness to the event, which helps everyone including the artist. The more people who attend, the better for all, and the Nashville showcase was absolutely packed.
In fact, I would say that these days, the ability to cross-market is essential for any independent artist who wants to be seen. It is 2019, after all, and ambition and ability to network and get yourself out in front of people with a website and social media presence is a valid part of many people's artistic journeys. Fine artists might take the gallery and high-end festival route, and that is wonderful too.
Personally, as someone who lives in a rural area, having the chance to showcase in a large city at an event that can bring in more than 1,000 people for a night of creativity was completely worth the risk of asking my network to help me attend.
Sure, at the beginning of my commitment, I had to overcome feeling every part the scared Girl Scout standing on a stranger's stoop asking for a cookie sale, but then I realized that this opportunity could actually be framed as a call for me to step up.
Showing that I'm not afraid to put myself out there and ask for help created space for my community of friends and family to show up for me, and it felt great to be supported. I sold 19 out of the 20 tickets through two emails to my newsletter list, one email to my larger friend network, one Instagram post and two Facebook posts.
Leading up to the event, RAW offered tons of support and resources for getting ticket sales, designing a booth, and even topics like self-care for makers. Each show has a production coordinator, and the person I worked with was encouraging and upbeat every step along the way. I never felt alone in the process.
The night itself showed how much coordination and attention to detail the RAW staff put into it, and they made sure it was a welcoming, high energy event. To top it off, a week after the event I got professional photos to use for my website and marketing, which is also a great perk. Overall, I got to network with plenty of other fun creatives and make wonderful new relationships with customers, so, all in all, it was a worthwhile experience for me.
If you are on the fence about it, what's holding you back? If it's your own fear about selling tickets, I would encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and trust the process. You might find that people in your networks would actually love to support you in your creativity!
P.S. A fellow artist friend asked me how sales were, so here's an update. My sales were on par with my holiday sales, which start to increase in November and pick up right until Christmas. Even when I can make it to shows over the summer, I don't tend to do as well then, so I was very pleased that I did so well.
Photos by Kat Villacorta.