Application Sunday, part X: Artist registries: 8 reasons to join and a list to get you started

artist registries

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 submitted work in order to be considered for inclusion in the White Columns registry

What I learned from a year of artist call submissions, Part XArtist registries: 8 reasons to join and a list to get you started

Getting your work out there, either in the framework of an exhibition (a physical or virtual one), or in that of a publication, is hard work. Anyone who has ever crossed the threshold of bringing their work to a broader audience or has attempted to, is familiar with this fact, as well as with the challenges and risks it presents for the artist. What if there was a way to enjoy many of the good things in getting one’s work exhibited or published without having to deal with most of the risks these opportunities entail?

The usual challenges

In my article To apply or not to apply? 7 indicators of the wrong kind of artist call I caution about the army of “art professionals” that have made it their business to mislead artists into pursuing “exhibition opportunities” that do them more harm than good. These “opportunities”, usually organized by the so called “vanity galleries”, are more than anything else an opportunity for the organizers to make an extra (or more) buck off the artist’s back, providing him/her with not much more in return, other than a discredited gallery name to include in their CV (and a hole in their pockets).

On the art publications’ front the stakes are usually not as high, still there are quite a lot to lose if you fail to read the signs. In my previous article Publish my work? Thanks, but no thanks: A vanity publication cautionary tale I zoom into a breed I call “incognito vanity publications”. In this article I share my experience with such a publication and also 6 indicators I use to identify a vanity publication behind a traditional, and free, publishing opportunity. Failure to identify what kind of publication is worth spending our time and effort on and awarding the wrong kind with the privilege to handle our work, not to mention our name and reputation, can result in a series of negative outcomes, from being featured in an unfavorable light, as part of an overcrowded or distasteful publication, to being subjected to copyright infringement (something I believe I came very close to experiencing in above mentioned story).

So getting exhibited is hard, getting published is also an adventure, but faced with the risks of having your work violated and your name tarnished, what the whole venture of getting your work out there eventually boils down to, apart from managing to be consistent with your efforts, is cultivating this one skill: Being able to identify what are actually the best and most reliable platforms you should be devoting your energy to and trusting your work with. What is also at the core of this article series, along with the notion that artists can indeed do something themselves to get their work out there and push their careers forward: Actively pursue goals worth pursuing while being able to steer themselves in the river of opportunities undeterred by those whose sole raison d’être is serving their own narrow interests.

Artist Registries: A ray of hope

In this minefield called “artist opportunities” thankfully there is a ray of hope: A kind of platform that, even though is not totally devoid of the usual dangers (is anything not entirely under our control devoid of risk?), is nevertheless a generally safe place for artists to turn to in order to communicate their work and also get in the radar of art professionals that may be interested in it. And this platform is called artist registries.

Artist registries, or directories, are now mostly digital databases with their content posted online. Think of them as searchable online databases/archives where among the searched terms used to access information is the artist’s name. This name corresponds to an entry that consists of digital material aiming to give a more or less accurate idea about the artist’s practice, namely images of works and accompanying text. Often, a CV or bio and an artist statement are included in the entry.

8 reasons why you should be getting your work in artist registries

If you are a practicing artist, producing work consistently, then you are most likely concerned with how to show it as well and are preoccupied with how your work can stand out and be noticed by your potential audience and also by people in key positions in the art world whose attention could play a part in your career moving forward. Artist registries provide the artist with an opportunity to reach both these audiences.

Here are the arguments I would use to persuade an artist friend to get his/her work into artist registries:

  1. Artist registries are archives, but not the usual kind. These are active archives that art professionals (curators, art historians, theoreticians, etc.) use as a tool in their practice to discover work that might be of interest to them. an artist registry is operating as it should, and is known as a quality resource, then it serves as a “pool” for professionals within the art world to identify artists, as well as patterns of expression within the contemporary artistic landscape, that relate to their own concerns and field of research. What this means in terms of the artist is that they can be “discovered” and have their work highlighted by a researcher and/or organizer in the arts such as a curator or an art historian. Therefore the mere presence of the artist’s work in an artist registry that serves as a point of reference for entire categories of art professions, can spur new features, collaborations, networks, etc., propelling the artist’s career forward.
  2. When your work is part of a popular and active artist registry it is in a way in a state of permanent (virtual) exhibition, the closest to that being the work you have up on your artist portfolio/website. The more online locations your work is posted in, not to overlook the importance of quality, the more the opportunities for your audience to find you, and for you to be found and reach a greater audience.
  3. In almost any kind of exhibition or feature (there are exceptions) the artist has a certain, often limited, say on how his/her work is presented: In many ways often the final quality of the presentation is out of the artist’s hands, sometimes resulting in bad surprises. In the case of artist registries the outcome of the presentation can be both foreseen and controlled by the artist: Before joining a registry an artist can browse through it and decide whether he/she agrees with the mode of presentation and the aesthetic qualities of the platform. Once an artist joins the registry, it will be up to him/her to determine the particular works that will be posted on their page/entry and the accompanying text. All content of the entry that corresponds to the artist’s name in this digital archive is decided, prepared and uploaded by the artist him/herself, offering an unprecedented, compared to the other kinds of presentations, degree of control to the artist over how his/her work is presented. This makes artist registries the single kind of platform not belonging to the artist that where he/she can have nearly complete control over the way his/her work is presented. The “nearly” here referring to content that could be considered as violating a given registry’s policy concerning what they allowed to be displayed in their database. But apart from extreme cases where the content is barred from being included, the possibilities provided to an artist in making use of their registry space are considerable.
  4. There are many registries when one can be part of through a simple one step online process from the registry’s site. In contrast to most of the other “artist opportunities”, here there are essentially no “gatekeepers” to worry about: You identify the registry that you wish to be part of, register, upload your work, and soon, after maybe a short waiting period for the registry’s moderation purposes, you are part of a database whose reach suddenly becomes yours and whose visitors become your own potential interlocutors. There are exceptions, and these are the curated registries. We will get to that further down.
  5. Most registries are free to join, and that is the case for even some of the most prominent ones. Because of the actual role they play within the art world, providing a broad spectrum of professionals with a valuable resource that helps them navigate into the contemporary creative stream, registries seem to be actually managed as existing for the “greater good” of the art community. It seems like the artist’s act of joining the database is seen as a contribution that would rather be encouraged and appreciated than regulated and filtered through attaching a price tag to it: The artist is benefited, yes, but there seems to be a common understanding here that the art world is nurtured as well from each new entry in one of these databases.
  6. One can log in the registry and modify their entry, by means of replacing the artworks shown or alternating the text included, at any time, therefore maintaining a “current” and relevant profile. This is a permanent exhibition, but, because of the importance of it being relevant and not containing material that can be considered as obsolete (for example when it no longer represents an artist’s practice), renewal of the material is encouraged and made easy by most platforms. So not only your works are on permanent display on someone’s walls, you get to swap them with your latest ones when you choose to. Quite a good deal wouldn’t you say?
  7. Some registries are more than what the word implies. They are actively facilitating the creation of networks: Connecting artists with other kinds of opportunities, functioning as a link and facilitator for the artist to exhibit their work in a gallery or a curated online exhibition, or be selected for an artist residency. So even though all registries by definition are making the process of getting your work out there easier by the mere fact of including you in an active archive, some of them take it a step further by actively engaging art professionals and organizations with their “artist pool”.
  8. It seems that one of the most important factors for Google when ranking websites is the number and quality of sites a website contains links to and also the number of links leading back to that site from good quality sources. Getting your work into several good quality registries and including a link on your site to your pages on these databases seems to be getting you one more, secondary, but not negligible, benefit. And let’s not forget that there is a link from the registry pointing back to our website as well.

A list of registries

Here is a list of registries I consider to be worthwhile, along with some I have an experience of and offer my insight about:

  • White Columns registry: This is considered to be one of the most important and reputable registries worldwide. It is also one of the few that is curated, which means that the work you upload after you register is essentially a submission: If you are accepted as part of the registry your material becomes live at their site. There are no fees for the members of the registry. Submitting for the White Columns registry was my weekly “open call” I shared on my Sunday posts series on my blog, The artist’s predicament. Why not consider going ahead with it yourself?
  • NurtureArt registry: This is a free to join, non curated artist registry, part of an art organization located in Brooklyn, NY. It is easy to join and upload your works and the organization it is part of is quite active, organizing exhibitions and events on a regular basis, which means that their registry must be active as well. In their own words, with their online registry that launched in 2011 they “aim to create a unique online resource of both emerging and underrepresented artists and emerging and independent curators, which will directly feed the exhibition program in our gallery.” My NurtureArt profile
  • platform. This is a free to join, non curated artist registry and network. In their words it is “an artist driven platform. Show your art, document your career, and get connected”. Which from my experience, I find to be a quite accurate description. This platform apart form being a database that makes it easy for you to upload your works, CV and resume and thus build your own presence in the form of a complete portfolio, it actively connects you with arts professionals and also makes it easy for you to apply to artist opportunities by just submitting your already uploaded portfolio to the open calls posted on their site. I joined the platform in November 2014 and since then I was featured in two instances by the site: The most significant for my work was its inclusion in an online exhibition organized by one of the curators collaborating with the platform: launches online exhibitions/features/interviews with artists, organized by a curator, featuring the work of selected artists from the platform’s database. For me, being selected as one of the 4 artists featured in Architecture (re)presented was quite significant: I had my work be part of an insightful presentation by a competent arts professional and was given the chance to talk about my work and its conceptual background over an extensive interview. also has a paid option that allows you to include more works in the registry. Nevertheless I myself find the free version to be adequate and didn’t feel the need to upgrade. My portfolio
  • Local Artists – Irving Sandler Artists File: I joined this NY based artist registry in January 2015 because I read that it was a popular and reliable resource for art professionals. Also, the information they give on their site was quite impressive: “Operating for almost 40 years, with over 5,000 current users, the Irving Sandler Artists File is not only the largest but also the earliest established artist registry in the world.“. Nevertheless, over time I resolved that it must probably be inactive. It’s homepage, featuring the registry’s “monthly selections” form their artist database has the same feature since I joined and in general, nothing seems to be “moving” on their site. Nevertheless, their database of artists seems to be growing bigger and bigger by the minute. I still haven’t made up my mind about it, whether it is being used by arts professionals. If you have any useful information about what is going on with this registry please share it on the comments section. My Local Artists profile
  • directory: This is a curated registry with a yearly fee. One submits a portfolio of works along with a CV and an artist statement and if accepted they pay a fee is US$34 | Euros 24 per year in order to be included in the directory. I decided to join this registry on January 2015 because it seems to be a site with great visibility, nevertheless, I don’t know if I will renew my registration next year: The interface one uses to upload images and text on one’s portfolio is quite dysfunctional and time consuming to use and I haven’t seen any benefits from being a member of the registry. I now believe that maybe it is a good idea for a gallery or an arts organization to join the re-title network, since joining also offers the possibility to post new events and artist calls, but maybe it does not offer any value to an artist. Again, this is a registry I am ambivalent about, so share your experiences/views on the matter if you have any in the comments section. My profile

Practical aspects of handling your registry entries

You have set up your page/profile on an artist registry/directory and it is live on their site: Congratulations!

Here are a few things to be taking care regularly in order for your presence there to have any effect:

  • Visit your page regularly, at least every two months, may be even more often depending on your productivity, and renew the material you have posted. Try to keep everything there as current as possible because you never know when a curator looking for artists to feature in their next project may land on your page: You want the information up there to apply to what you are interested and working on right now, and offer your current projects a chance to shine. Don’t neglect the text accompanying your work either. Renew the information on your CV and restructure your artist statement when it is time to do so.
  • Re-evaluate what you are getting from your presence in an artist registry. If the registry fails to meet your expectations, in terms of activity, aesthetics, maintenance, technical support, functionality, be ready to abandon it, especially if it is a paid service.
  • Visit the registry frequently, just to check on possible opportunities posted for the artists included in the registry. This is especially important for registries that also function as an active arts network. In general, keep an eye on what is going on on the registry website; You wouldn’t want to miss out on an opportunity addressed to its members.

Lastly, always keep an eye for new registries that might pop out. It is my belief that there will be more initiatives following the model, making use of the ease with which an artist can share his/her portfolio online these days, in the direction of linking arts organizations and curators with artists.

What is your opinion on artist registries? Do you had a positive, or even negative, experience to share? Would you recommend or advice against a registry that mentioned in this article? Do you have any other registry you would like to recommend not included in my list? 

Feature image: Untitled, pigment on unprimed canvas, 20 x 20 cm, 2011, Penelope Vlassopoulou