The RAW Artists Experience: Pre-Production

I'd never heard of RAW Artists prior to an email I received from a scout. None of my artist friends - no one I knew at MassArt - had been part of RAW (and if they had, it clearly wasn't widely advertised)! I asked friends about RAW before joining the showcase, and they told me how much of a 'scheme' it is, and they'd heard it was very unprofessional.

I tried it for myself, blew my time, energy and money on what should have been a very fun and happy experience, handled by professionals so I didn't have to help produce the show, myself.

Geena Matuson’s booth at RAW Artists ‘Revolution’ event, May 2014.

Last spring I was a showcasing filmmaker at the Raw Artists ‘REVOLUTION’ event at club Rumor in Boston. I screened my films, sold my art print work, and was asked to be part of several future shows and productions. I met some great artists, and made back all of the money I put into the show due to ticket sales. I also managed to get a clip light, so I’d call it a win-win!

Or, so I told myself at the time.

RAW: Natural Born Artists is a company that holds art shows throughout the United States and abroad. They offer artists a free artist interview uploaded to the RAW Youtube channel, promotional headshots taken the night of the event, and artists can sell their work at the showcase. You have to apply to be a showcasing artist with RAW, and if they accept you - great! You have to pay $300.

Why would anyone apply to be part of an art show in which the artist pays $300? Well it's certainly not an uncommon practice, at all - many galleries and exhibitions require the artist to pay their own way in ticket sales, presentation, and space in their show. Art magazines send out emails with promises of great press and a spread in their magazine - just apply - and if chosen, pay $2,000! Art contests do it, too - you pay to send your art for review, and you pay to ship your art, and so on.

However, RAW obfuscates this point, targeting new and, often, business-naive artists by telling them that they have to sell $300 worth of tickets to the show at $15 each. And, if the artist fails to do so, the artist pays the difference. Some more popular artists can easily join RAW because they already have a following, and ticket sales will not be an issue for them. I, myself, paid about $100 in the end (including the cost of two tickets I purchased for friends who 'would pay me back,' then failed to do so).

On the one hand it makes sense - a company is supporting you by showing your art, so the least you can do is support the gallery by promoting the show, yourself. And if the showcase was run with any degree of professionalism, I wouldn't have anything further to say.

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Prior to the event, a meeting was held at the venue with all of the showcasing artists. Among several issues, the Boston producer at the time stated that all showcasing artists had to arrive at 10 am the day of the show - which would start at 8pm. She added that you cannot leave the venue at any point once you arrive - and the event runs until 11pm.

I asked, "Will lunch be provided? That's about a 12-hour window where we're expected not to leave the venue."

I expected the answer to be an obvious 'yes,' but I was instead met with, "Oh you can go out like if you need to take a smoke break, or walk across the street to grab some food."

So you're not only expected to sell - or pay for - $300 in tickets, but after investing your time and money in RAW, you're expected to buy your own food the day of the show. This is a grossly unprofessional move on the part of the RAW production: you always provide your talent with, at the least, snacks and water.

The producer also got everyone pumped by telling them all of the 'freebies' they would be getting for their $300 investment into the show. This also includes the ability to showcase at any other RAW show in the U.S. for free after your first ticket-sale-required show. However, you still have to figure out how to get yourself and your work to that other venue - so if travel is required, you might just be spending another $300, anyway.

I mulled it over the next day, then received an email sent to all showcasing artists: information about the floor plan, ticket sales, and a list of showcasing artist names. Not only was my name misspelled yet again, but the ticket sales information listed completely incorrect dates.

So, I emailed the show producer:

'Thanks for the minutes email! I have a few questions/comments:

- There is a blank space in your email that says 'HERE ARE SOME LIGHTING AND DISPLAYING IDEAS:' - but no ideas or info. follows. Are you sending another email about this?

- There is what looks like either a massive typo in the meeting follow-up email, or a huge miscommunication in every other email thus far; the email says 20 ticket sales per artist are due three days before the event on May 11th at 5pm. The event is on May 18th, not May 11...are artist ticket reimbursements due three days prior to May 11, or May 18th? This is incredibly confusing and seems like a typo, as in all other media (and our meeting) it was stated that artists must pay for tickets after 5pm on May 11, and not three days prior to that.

- I left another note with (I believe Julie?) about my name being misspelled more times than it is spelled correctly. Please correct my name to 'Geena' on all outgoing media, even if it's behind-the-scenes stuff only sent to artists.'

The Boston producer went back-and-forth with me throughout the day - and this is because each email she sent was a several-word response that only addressed one of the issues I'd mentioned. As you can see, this exchange was needlessly long.

During this exchange, I called and emailed the Director of U.S. Events with RAW, Molly Waseka. I let her know that the lack of food and refreshments for paying artists was a major oversight - a major problem. Additionally, I noted that the information about ticket sales was inaccurate - or, at the least, poorly written, which caused my misunderstandings. I also noted the additional, assorted issues.

Molly was great, and quite understanding. She explained that the Boston producer was just given this show to run because she had been doing such a great job running the New York show. "But this might be too much for her," it was noted. I agreed. Molly also acknowledged that there should always be money in the budget to offer food and beverage to artists, and she would work with the Boston producer to fix this oversight. 

I was relieved, but the problems persisted. Promotional materials were released with my name again misspelled, and after two more calls to Molly, my calls were being forwarded to the RAW Artists Relations Director, Kimberly Powell. I received an introduction to Kimberly through a false introduction from RAW's founder, Heidi Luerra. Heidi noted that she had relayed all previous information to Kimberly - but really hadn't, making Kimberly's job harder. I only later learned that the Boston show producer had as much event production experience as I had at that point - 4 years. Dismayed by the Boston show producer, I was glad Molly and Kimberly could assist the production, in a way, from their end.

Several months later, an announcement email was sent to RAW email recipients - the Boston show producer would no longer be producing shows in Boston, and was producing a farewell show.

This was only half the energy and trouble I put into this showcase - you can read more about the night of the show's production here, and can also read about the 'artist promotional videos' and the trouble I dealt with on that end, too.


You can read other people's RAW Artist experience by simply Googling this phrase, or checking out these links, below:

Ashley Berger-Rivera Photography's 'My RAW Artist Showcase Experience!!'
CityBeat Cincinnati's 'Controversial Los Angeles-based organization RAW:NATURAL BORN ARTISTS relaunches a dubious pay-to-play operation in Cincinnati'
Depth of Field's 'My First Raw Event - aka...'
Isthmus' 'For and Against RAW: Natural Born Artists' - are the group's loud, colorful art parties a way to exploit young creatives?
Kirk Stewart's 'My Experience as a RAW Artist'
L.A. Weekly's 'Controversial Promoters RAW Put Bands In Front of Audiences - For A Fee'
Meryl Pataky's 'My RAW Artist Experience'

While I would not recommend RAW Artists, I hope that the organization has since improved on all fronts and is doing more for the artists, and that its hired professionals all act as such.

Please feel free to share your personal experience with RAW and additional links to others' experiences with the organization!

www.MeetingInTheMedia.com via www.geenamatuson.com/blog