Application Sunday, Part XIII: Applying to artist calls: Speeding up the process

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Every Sunday I share the weekly open call I submit my work to and the lessons I learned from a year of following a relentless application regimen!

This week’s open call: This week I applied for a residency  in Studio Prám in Prague, Czech Republic.

What I learned from a year of artist call submissions, Part XIII: Applying to artist calls: Speeding up the process

If one is set on submitting work to artist calls consistently, a practice I have come to fully recommend, they are soon bound to come to the realization that this process can be particularly time consuming. This post is about speeding things up by adding a particular kind of automation in the mix.

The time consuming nature of the application process can be especially frustrating for artists with plenty of personal engagements. Combined with the time they need to spend in the workshop there aren’t too many hours left to spare for what is often considered to be a secondary activity: Applying to artist calls. Inevitably, this can end up being regarded as a luxury. It shouldn’t though, as applying to artist calls is an essential step in getting our work out there, and doesn’t have to be.

After a year of submitting to artist calls consistently I was in desperate need to speed things up and make applying faster and more painless. This was not even a fully conscious resolution. Instinctively, after some time and experience applying I resorted to a personal method that would save me some time every time I submitted my work to be considered for an exhibition, feature, residency, etc. This was deemed necessary if I was to achieve in making this process a permanent ingredient of my professional practice. It has been nearly two years now since I embarked on this journey and I am convinced that, as simple and intuitive as it may be, this method played its part in me managing to make this process a task I tend to regularly and with increasing success.

Crafting an application database

As I mentioned the method I came up with is simple and intuitive, and by now it is so integrated into my application process, that it feels like it is invisible. And even though I have to assume that plenty of artists have come up with a method similar to mine in trying to make applying to artist calls more effortless and effective, I am also convinced that there are just as many struggling with the time consuming nature of the process that at times can bring one at the brink of throwing in the towel: Try this method first before you call it quits.

My method was based of this observation: However rare it may be for two sets of application material requested in an artist call to be identical, there is a particular set of items requested by virtually every single call. And then, there is another set that one can expect to bump onto regularly as well, but that one not so often.

Items like our CV and artist statement come first on the most wanted requested material list. These are the ones required by virtually any artist call we may wish to submit work to. Samples of work, or portfolio, is something almost always requested as well, but the content of this item may vary according to the nature of the artist call and of the project proposal. The latter is usually requested by artist residency calls and refers to the proposed plan of work we wish to take up during the time of the residency. Then there are the references, or letters of recommendation, usually require when applying for a grant or a particular kind of artist residency.

This repeating pattern of a set of items being requested time and time again led me to come up with this very simple solution that cumulatively saved me a significant amount of time: I created a particular location in my hard drive, a folder I called “Essential package” where I placed them. Each time one or more of these items, deemed “essential” because of their recurring presence in the application process, was requested all I had to do is retrieve them from that particular location. This, as different as one artist call and the set of items it requests may be, took part of the load off this process off my back, all with the magic a little bit of organizing can do!

Here is the list of items/folders located in my Essential package folder:

  • Artist statements. Here I place my artist statements in individual word documents. I include the date each artist statement was written in the document’s title. This also serves as a record of the evolution of my practice and my understanding of it.

  • CV and Bio. Documents of my curriculum vitae and my bio. Every time I renew my CV significantly or alter my bio I include new documents with these latest versions, adding the date in the title. I do not erase the older versions, as they may be contain phrases that I may want to rework and use in the future. I prefer to have my CV in all three forms: Word document, Indesign, pdf. This way I can accommodate the different requirements of every artist call easily. I keep bios of different lengths in this folder, as the word count requested for this text may vary. The same goes for my CV: There are calls that specifically ask for it to be no longer than 2 pages, but also calls that set no such limit. I keep versions for both these cases.

  • Descriptions. In this folder I include word documents with descriptions of works I include often in my submissions. For each work I include a longer along with a shorter description in the same document, as often there is a tight word count for descriptions, especially ins the case of application forms.

  • Exhibition material. Material related to past exhibitions, like invitations or catalogs.

  • Feature screenshots. Screenshots of online publications, blogs, etc. that have featured my work.

  • Portfolios. Portfolios of works that I have previously prepared and submitted for a certain call. Sometimes the same portfolio can be submitted to a different call, with minor changes. In order to be able to make these changes easily, I keep the open Indesign document I have formatted the portfolio as well as the pdf.

  • Portraits. For the artist calls that require an artist photograph, I keep a set of different portraits/photographs, each one in two versions, large and small, in order to facilitate retrieving the best fir every time.

  • References. Every time I receive a letter of recommendation I include it in this folder. I also include a word document with my references since there are organizers that only require the names and contact information of 2-3 individuals familiar with my work.

  • Reviews-texts. Here I include any texts relevant to my work, like past interviews.

How to make the best of the Essential package

If you are now ready and willing to create your own Essential package folder, allow me to leave you with two things I regularly do in order to keep mine up to date and functional:

  1. Renew. Working on your applications, advancing in your practice as an artist, you will see that these items sooner or later become obsolete: New material needs to be added to your CV, your artist statement may need some refreshing in order to follow new concepts emerging in your work, new descriptions need to be crafted as new work is created that you may want to include in your submissions, etc. The advancements and changes occuring in your practice need to be reflected in the contents of the Essential package. This is the only way this tool can remain functional and serve its purpose to the maximum.

  2. Review. As you advance on your application practice you may see new patterns emerging. I myself did not come up with this set of items all at once., but rather added new items gradually as I realized that they were recurring in my application process and so including them in this database and make them more accessible would make my life easier.

Do you have any methods-tools of your own to combat the time consuming nature of the application process? Would your Essential package include any other elements you don’t see in mine? As always, I hope this article serves as a starting point for a valuable exchange of experience.

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