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I'd Make a Great Cop: Or How to Submit Applications for Exhibitions, Part 1   08.03.09

We receive a lot of exhibition inquiries and submissions to exhibit at SPACES. Many artists employ many different tactics to get an exhibition with us. Because this is the case, I have to be a stickler for rules to make sure that your time and our time are used effectively—I am the Application Police. Allow me to make our process more transparent in hopes that this can help you not only glide through the application process here, but elsewhere as well.

We select exhibitions from two main sources: 1) a panel reviews applications culled from an open call-for-entries; and 2) the panel also brings the names of cultural producers to the table who they think would be great SPACES artists. These materials are all considered equally and side-by-side to create a list that is ranked according to the panel's votes. This list is then contacted to find out if selected artists or curators are interested in exhibiting and when during the coming season they would like to execute their projects. The selection panel consists of 7-10 community staff members, artists, curators and/or other arts professionals and rotates annually.

To further demystify the process, I want to point out both effective and the less-effective practices when applying to exhibit at a non-profit art venue like SPACES. Part 1 of this post will address the effective methods.

Effective Practices


  • Check the Website First: Don't call, don't email the director, don't send us a message on Facebook, don't "just drop by" until you've checked the website for application details. At SPACES, we took the time to let you know how to best approach us. By taking the time to do your research, you are showing us that you are both responsible and able to operate a computer—two key traits in navigating the modern world. Read through the application guidelines thoroughly, including the FAQ before you approach us with any questions regarding the process.
  • Look At the Type of Work That We Show/Read the Mission: You can refer to our website, press or catalogs to get a sense of what we're about and the type of work we exhibit. Our mission statement also clarifies that we are looking for experimental and challenging work. There is nothing wrong with working in a more traditional vein, but if you work that way, you won't be shown at SPACES. We can't be all things to all people. We are dedicated to providing a venue for artists who are trying new things and questioning norms. Straight documentary photographs of native Amazonian tribes, although striking and well-crafted, will not win us over.
  • Follow Instructions: If you assume we receive around 200 applications in a year (most accumulating on the day of the deadline), and assuming that processing each application takes approximately 5-10 minutes (if the applicant has done their job properly), that means that our staff and volunteers spend at least 24 cumulative hours opening envelopes, sorting materials, copying images to a computer and other miscellaneous tasks just to get applications ordered for a panel review. When an application strays from our guidelines, we do our best to accommodate and correct, but each correction takes additional time. Doing an end-run around our easy-to-follow procedures does help us to remember your name, but not in a good way. As a matter of fact, you would make everyone else look even better and smarter—not a good move on your part.

    If we ask that all file names "should be lowercase with no spaces" we mean it. To streamline our process, each batch of images is uploaded to a server so our panel can review all applications online before convening. If files are not formatted as asked, they won't show up on the website for review, so we have to reformat them for you. If we're in a bad mood, your application gets tossed into a bin, never to have eyes laid on it. So, if we say that text documents should be in PDF format, don't send us Microsoft Word files. If we ask for JPGs, send us JPGs and not GIFs, TIFFs, JPEGs, or PSDs.If we ask for a CV, give us a CV, not a narrative life story.

    We ask for "10-15 digital images" "submitted in JPG format, 72 dpi, no larger than 1MB each." I can't tell you how many 3+ MB files we received in our last batch of applications. Since our panel is reviewing materials online, a file < 1MB takes 1-2 seconds to load. A 3+ MB image can take 10-20 seconds to load. You want the panel to be spending their time experiencing your work, not a loading screen.

    Don't send us a URL of your portfolio site or your Flickr page. We didn't ask for that.

    If we didn't ask for it, don't send it. Less is definitely more in this scenario.

    We don't ask that your applications be sent in a fancy folder or binder, because we then have to remove your materials from said folder or binder to place in our big, ugly manila folders to be filed with all the rest of the applicants. Your pretty binder will end up in the trash.
  • Test All Digital Materials Before Submitting: Don't just try to view your images/videos or listen to your MP3s on your computer, try out the material on a friend's computer as well or a few different types of DVD players (if applicable). Try the material on a Mac and a PC, if possible. We received a few applications where most of the images would not open on any of our computers. We asked the artists to send the images again. Rather than testing the images on their end before sending the second time, the artists would just send the same files to us once again. It isn't surprising that they didn't work that time either. Anyone who works in video realizes that often, video burned to DVD from a computer has the potential to not play on a myriad of other equipment. Test everything first.
  • Have Realistic Expectations: We have only four slots annually in our main exhibitions. We receive around 200 applications to fill those four slots. You can figure out the odds. If you do exhibit at SPACES, chances are you won't be "discovered" at SPACES. Your show will likely not sell-out on opening night. Our emphasis is not on selling work, that is the realm of commercial galleries. Although we do sell work occasionally, we are not constantly pushing your work to a steady base of collectors who we have been cultivating for years.

    We provide a safe space for experimentation, feedback and presentation of work to a varied public audience. We are more of a spring-board than a final resting place.


Read Part 2: Less-Effective Practices: http://www.spacesgallery.org/blog/i039d-make-a-great-cop-or-how-to-submit-applications-for-exhibitions-part-2-08-04-2009

Posted by Christopher Lynn, Executive Director

Keywords: professional practices, r&d, spacelab
Author: Christopher Lynn, Executive Director
Category: General

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