My Experience as a RAW Artist


NOTE: I wrote this article based on my experience with the RAW Artists Austin and Denver organizations, having done 3 RAW shows in Austin and 1 in Denver. RAW directors, teams, venues, and artist arrangements vary by city. Your experience may be different than mine. The following thoughts and observations are my own and do not have to be yours. I am not telling anyone what to think or do, only what I have experienced.

First, the very short backstory: In 2012, I had attended one RAW show to support a friend, then pretty much forgot about it. Later, when I got to the point in creating my own art that was I finally interested in showing, another friend mentioned to me that she had attended a RAW show as well and that I should submit my work. I made some photos of my paintings, submitted them and two days later I was a RAW Artist. It was quite remarkably easy.

That last part is telling because you can see that I did very little research on RAW; what it is, what’s required of me, etc. Someone called me up and said, “I like your art. You’re good. These are dope.” <–(actual quote!) What more did my artist ego need to know?

As it turns out, not much more, but more on that in a bit. Meghan, the (former) coordinator for RAW Artists Austin did a great job of telling me just about everything I needed to know on the first phone call. Everything was spelled out up front and it all seemed very reasonable to me. It was only a week or so later when Insecurity made one of his daily visits to Ego and said, “Hey, what if this RAW thing isn’t what you think it is?” that I started to panic. Gulp.

A quick Google search for “my experience as a RAW artist” was not encouraging. I found several forums and blogs where the complaining artist(s) levels a whole bunch of claims at RAW as an organization, but I disagree with all of them. I will let you search and read for yourself all the claims that RAW is a scam – don’t forget to read the dozens of commenters who agree with the original poster – but I want to use my own space here to assure you that RAW is NOT a scam.

PAY TO PLAY
Perhaps the chief complaint about RAW is that it is a “pay to play” gig. That is, you have to sell 20 tickets to the show, or pay $300 to show your work. If you sell some but not all of the tickets, you pay whatever remains after sales. So yes, it has the potential to be a pay to play gig. Even still, this is the 21st century. Independent artists are in the business of hustle. It’s ALL about social media, blogging, connecting with your audience and finding a niche for your name and your work. If you can’t put in the effort to sell 20 tickets to your friends, family, Twitter followers, etc., to support you and your art, that’s your hangup. It doesn’t make RAW a scam.

AESTHETICALLY DISPLEASING
Another accusation of the RAW shows is that they are too unfocused and aesthetically messy. Too many wildly different types of art of vastly different quality and skill level all in one place makes for a low-brow art show that poorly serves both the artists and the art scene. I think this too, is a poor critique. RAW never claims to be a high-brow wine and cheese art event that panders to big egos and pseudo-celebrity personalities. RAW is as advertised: it is an opportunity for local, unknown and emerging artists to show work in a well staged event attended by a lot of people. The wide range of art and artist skill is perhaps not career rocketing, but the smart artist will learn much from having his or her work shown in such diversity. It can teach you if your work is up to par with other artists in your city, or if your work has already surpassed the level of this type of show. On the other hand, displaying your work in a situation like RAW, where you might be the hottest thing of the night, you can actually gain a lot of attention. Furthermore, it’s a great way to meet a lot of other great artists. It’s true, RAW is not a prestigious, fastidiously curated gallery show, but it doesn’t claim to be. Comparing it to a gallery show is a misunderstanding of what RAW is, not a misrepresentation.

WHAT TANGLED WEB TRAFFIC WE WEAVE
Still another complaint about RAW is that it promises web traffic and site features but perhaps doesn’t deliver. Each RAW artist gets a free individual artist page on the RAW Artist website to use for their bio, artist statement and examples of their work including embedded video. Some artists get featured on the local homepage, some don’t. It was never clear to me that a homepage feature was promised, but it’s also something I never expected. At the same time, just two days after first RAW show I participated in, a local business owner who had not attended the show found my RAW artist page from a simple search for “local Austin artists.” My work is now hanging up for sale in his place of business. I had not even gotten a contact like that from my own website, which doesn’t have nearly the name recognition, SEO or site traffic of rawartists.org. That one contact alone and the potential for more are worth the RAW experience. They give you a lot to work with to promote your art. It’s up to the artists to maximize the use of what they give you. Also on the strength of that one RAW show in 2013, I was chosen as Director’s Highlight for the entire 2013 season of RAW. Maybe it’s not a hugely prestigious title, but it means something to me. I still get a decent amount of referral traffic to my website from my RAW Artists page, so it’s worth it to me.

I don’t need to say anything more about the scam claims or the artist(s) who make them. It’s likely that they have an entirely different work ethic and set of career goals. Nothing wrong with that. But to call it a scam and warn away other artists based on sour grapes is silly. Maybe these artists’ experiences were due to a lackluster event coordinator; my experience with the RAW Austin and Denver coordinators has been nothing but good. They have always told me everything I needed to know up front, were available by phone, email and social media for further questions and they know what they are doing to make this a great event for the artists. If you are an artist who isn’t afraid to mix with other artists, can put forth a little hustle to promote yourself and would like another avenue to get your name and work noticed, then RAW is for you. Do it. You’ll have a good time if you put into it what you want to get out of it. It’s that simple.

2016 update

It’s been over a year since I’ve done a RAW Artists show. What I learned in doing three shows and attending quite a few others is that the RAW audience is potentially not the best audience for my work. I watched many artists sell a lot of work while I sold nothing. My work was too large, too expensive, and perhaps too far over on the fine art end of the scale. Artists whose work is more in the folk art, street art and pop art categories seem to do better in the two markets I did shows in. Smaller work that can easily be carried, put in a purse or worn also seems to sell better Keep in mind the art interest in your area and how your work fits in – or doesn’t – when setting your expectations. I’d like to do another RAW show for the fun environment and community building aspect, but for selling art, I’m not sure it’s the right venue for my work.

I still highly recommend it, and I hope all of this information is helpful to anyone considering participating in a RAW Artists show.

Comments 12

  1. Please refer to a couple of links that talk a bit more about pay to play organizations (especially those that deal with visual artists). Artists should never pay to play – when paying an artist organization $200 up front before the event, the organization then has no incentive to promote you or help you sell work. This is why respectable and upstanding art galleries operate the way they do. And they retain their good reputation. They do not require you to pay – instead they do their JOB (sell your work) and then, and only then, do they receive any payment based on a commission split. It’s a really simple concept. RED FLAG PAY TO PLAY.

    http://www.merylpataky.com/my-raw-artists-experience.html

    http://www.artbusiness.com/osoqutscawas.html

  2. Thank you for your post! I was just contacted and a little concerned after reading the online reviews. They seem legit and they say up front that they are an indie organization (so clearly it will have a grunge/underground feel). I don’t produce gallery art and this seemed like a good opportunity and a cool event to put on my CV. I will now go forward with Raw and enjoy the experience 🙂

  3. I have been looking for information on RAW myself, having some familiarity with it after attending a number of events yet not participating myself. Meryl Pataky and the others who are bashing RAW share a common issue- not understanding how business work. Meryl talks about how much money RAW rakes in based on ticket sales, but doesn’t mention that there are staffs in every city that have to get paid in order for the events to take place at all, plus venue fees and whatever other overhead they have.

    Meryl’s stance could be just a case of not understanding what goes into events, or it could just be another bitter person speaking out against something that they don’t really know much about. Unfortunately, in Meryl’s case I think it’s the latter. I say this because I don’t see why Anonymous would take a stance against an art group that doesn’t make big claims, doesn’t treat people poorly and seems to operate within normal business practices without unruly levels of profits, not to mention being an organization that has not fully matured and thus still ironing out problems. I mean, come on- a company that operates with a staff in 60 cities and only grosses $1.5 million isn’t exactly a financial juggernaut.
    I looked for any information I could find regarding Anonymous making any mention of RAW, but there is none. Therefore, I sincerely doubt the validity of anything Meryl claims now and feel rather angry that she or he may be fabricating information against RAW. If an organization is THAT bad, one should not have to lie to expose its faults.
    If any of you find anything published by a verifiable source that Anonymous has taken a stance against RAW, I would love to see it and would retract my above statement about Meryl’s mistruths.

    Until then, all of this just makes me feel more and more like the origins of the scam rumors are just from bitter turds who don’t know what they are talking about or gallery owners who feel that shows like this are competition.

    1. Hello – please re-visit my post about RAW. I was recently contacted by an internal RAW source claiming that they want to expose the company for taking advantage of artists and not fostering their community. I most certainly understand how business works. I run my own neon business doing dozens of commissions for individuals and companies valued at thousands of dollars a piece. My clients include Speakeasy, Perrier, AMC, BBDO Advertising and many more, believe me. I understand overhead etc. My source has told me that their overhead is next to nothing compared to the amount of revenue they make off of artists. Raw keeps the door sales, online and artist ticket revenue. Their expenses are barely 5k and their revenue is an average of 20k per showcase (based on internal showcase revenue reports I’ve received from my source and shared on my website.)

      With all of this aside, which isn’t even my first complaint about RAW, there is the community aspect. Yes, every company needs to make revenue in order to keep doing what they are doing. I don’t think that RAW should be any different HOWEVER – taking employee retreats to Mexico and Costa Rica with HQ paying for lodging and recreations, spending useless employee time trying to wipe out my blog from the internet, even employing SEO specialists to hide my blog off the search results page instead of spending time and resources promoting artists and giving back to the communities is not a good business model and I think most people would agree. Directors from the community have either been let go or have quit and RAW employs LA party planners to run the events. All the revenue from showcases gets funneled back into LA and does not stay within the community. RAW doesn’t sign contracts with artists when it seems their artists are their biggest investors. They don’t insure artists work during showcases. They don’t give artists grants. Of course, there are plenty of other ways aside they could give back to their communities rather than financially. Host free art events (no booze, no party) in the cities in order to foster a network within the community. Instead of spending time trying to wipe my blog out, they could be outreaching and forming relationships with gallerists and collectors in the community. They could spend time promoting the youtube videos of their artists (most of which only have a couple hundred hits at most).

      Here you go: http://www.merylpataky.com/my-raw-artists-experience.html…you should re-read. Trust me, gallery owners don’t feel threatened by RAW. I don’t feel threatened by RAW. I do very well for myself in the art community and I am just trying to provide people with advice from someone who has a good amount of experience in the contemporary art community. I feel that people should be able to make a well-rounded decision and this means that there should be some resources that provide an opinion from the other side. After all, it’s artists’ instincts that are causing them to search in the first place. If it was all kosher and not at all shady, there wouldn’t be so much controversy. It’s a red flag to pay to play in order to exhibit. I would rather a gallery take a commission from my sales and work for that commission by promoting my work. When you pay for someone to show you, they really don’t have any incentive after that point to promote you or your sales. I have shown with many galleries – I know how it works, thanks. It sounds like maybe you work for RAW? Perhaps this is a tactic under “Operation Dumbo Drop”. (This also can be referenced from my page).

      1. Meryl, I met several artists who had great experiences with RAW
        I read your experiences, and very few artists have the luck of having the prior success success that you had. I got represented by a gallery that charged me 10 times the amount it costs to be in RAW, to have a Solo show, and they barely promoted it, and no sales were made.
        There were 150 people the opening night, yet 800+ people at raw.
        You need to respect that most emerging artists need opportunities to be seen.
        Being published and selling dozens of works is a luxury that you’re lucky enough to have, but for those of us who are lucky enough to sell 3-4 works per year, the opportunity to showcase in front of 800 people is worth the 20 tickets we have to sell.

        But your review can turn away artists that are not as fortunate as you have been. Emerging means just starting off. It seems to me that you are established, and not just emerging.

  4. P.S. this coming from the founder of the organization says it all:

    (from my page)
    When I attempted to address these issues, my contact replied in an aggressive and ALL CAPS email stating, “It is not about an investment or a return thereof.” REALLY? For artists, it’s ALL about investment! We “pay our dues” to make our work, travel for show, websites, business cards etc – don’t we deserve more than a sloppy negotiation and no contract? Or at the very least, answers to our questions? Any organization that would say that to an artist, especially when they work with artists, clearly does not know their client or their audience. They behave like no upstanding gallery would.

  5. it’s not a scam, but it’s not legit, either.

    for one, you’re showcasing to a crowd of, not curators and art appreciators, but any and everybody who people were able to buy a ticket to this hodge/podge of a show: their family members, old college roommates, etc., so real exposure isn’t had.

    second: if this is your first time showing, the expense outweighs the limited exposure. from lighting, to mounting, you aren’t even guaranteed a greet space to “show” your work, unable to view until your walk through a week before your show. at this time, if you pull out, you owe them the balance of ticket sale, even if you are unsatisfied, even though no contract is made.

    in the real art world…clear cut contracts are always drawn up.

    third: they do not put the money back into the artist community as they proclaim. they take it, they go on retreats, and they take your 15 minutes of ego driven fame and frolic away with your misguided happiness tucked in the folds on their passports.

    the idea of RAW is appealing, like the guy/gal at the end of the bar who winks at you. but up close and personal, they smell bad, their teeth are stained and you’re wondering if someone has spiked your drink for even considering this nonsense.

  6. I just wanted to address Meryl’s above comment about RAW events being “pay-to-play.” I agree that pay-to-play shows are a scam, but I have to disagree that RAW shows fall under that category. If the artist sells 20 tickets, then it’s the audience paying, not the artist. It’s the same as asking the audience to purchase tickets to see a ballet or theater production, or listen to an opera or symphony.

    Furthermore, having artists sell tickets increases the number of people who will see the show, as well as increasing the potential for art sales. Artists at RAW shows keep 100% of their profits from sales. They could therefore have the opportunity to exhibit and sell their work for free.

    I exhibited at a RAW event in Cincinnati last year, and never once felt like it was a scam.

  7. Brian – think about the people who are coming to see this work. It’s the artists’ friends and family who they turned to to buy the tickets. They aren’t going to buy tickets and then buy art. Its not an environment conducive to art sales in the first place. RAW HQ does no promotion to gallerists, curators, collectors or other people in that showcase’s city. No research done on that market in order to try and further the exposure, networking opportunities and sales for “their” artists. The artists do all the work and RAW slaps their name on it. They sit behind their desks and negotiate huge sponsorship deals while artists hustle for ticket sales to be involved and do the work of getting people to the party.

  8. My experience with Raw this far has been great, I had my first show in april of this year in Brisbane, Australia. I had loads of enthusiasm towards my work from people at the event and it gave me an ego boost to keep creating. They also helped me get in contact with The London Raw co ordinator and I’m set to have a showcase there in september. I was lucky enough to sell all my tickets and large amount of my work (of which they took 0% commission).
    My Thoughts are you only get what you put in, but if you have a good attitude and aren’t afraid to ask questions you’ll have a great time, highly recommend signing up if you want to showcase your work and get some exposer. I’ve met people who expected more for the event and I felt that there comments were very (Tom) petty. On that note even if you are friendless and have no support from your family, I think $300 would be an acceptable price for what you get out of it.
    Calling it a scam is just pure fucking retardation. I’ve also displayed my paintings in galleries before and ridiculous commissions aside, some of my works i never saw money for, they just sold my paintings and kept all the proceeds, which feels about as great as a kick in the chin. The art industry can be a fickle mistress and you need all the help you can get at times. Raw is legit!!!

    *** Service disabled. Check account status. Antispam service cleantalk.org. ***

    1. Somehow it doesn’t surprise me that you are the same person who doesn’t get your moneyfromsold works at galleries and who praises Raw. Excuse me but that seems really irresponsible and amateur on your part not to get a contract from the gallery to get paid. That’s your bad because you could sue for your percentage in proceeds…don’t use that as a motivator for people to ditch aspirations of gallery exhibitions and just stick with organizations like RAW. You’ve shown in galleries that don’t pay you and with organizations tat make you pay to show and really don’t do anything for you. And activeley waste employees hours trying to hide any feedback that sheds a negative light, obtaining 100k sponsorships from big brands yet claim that they need money to rent the venue for you. I think you need to make better decisions for yourself as an artist. Always sign a contract…with Raw, with galleries, with clients….ALWAYS. Ad as far as “ridiculous commissions” go…at least the gallery has that motivator to push and promote you, your work, the press, etc. you are paying that commission to tap into a huge list of contacts in the media and collectors. The only thing raw is promoting is the,selves and you are paying them to be the entertainment.

  9. I’m glad you made this post, as there is a lot of negativity out there. I have signed up for a raw event in NYC.
    I design accessories and often participate in events where I vend my pieces. These events CHARGE MONEY to exhibit and sell your merchandise so how is that so different from the raw event? A certain person here is bashing but not everyone is a fine artist selling their work in a gallery, so they should chill the f*ck out.
    I also do partnerships with stores where they take a cut of the profit of my sales. Nothing is free, its about hustle and exposure any way you can get it.
    Regardless of all the negativity about raw, it is exposure and gives you the opportunity to connect with other artists and meet potential customers.
    The selling of tickets to me is raising support for yourself. Apparently raw is taking all the money and going on extravagant vacations and whatnot but yet they are the ones offering the venue and putting on these events so I think you can’t believe everything you read from people who have too much time on their hands and want to hate, bash and create negativity. People are also complaining that friends and family of artists are the ones who attend because those I guess are the only people you can sell tickets to, but ANYONE is a potential customer so again, just irritating crap that people want to b*tch about. I don’t usually post but I felt really annoyed by the petty complaints.

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