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I’ve Got a Proposition For Ya

A couple of years back I was working on a series of large oil paintings in my studio, the paintings were good but no one ever saw them. After I finished a painting I would put it in storage, which just so happened to be where the kitty litter was kept. Months went by and my paintings started to smell like cat crap. It never even crossed my mind that I should write a proposal and try to get the work shown. I just thought that someone would swoop in and give me a great gallery show. Moral of the story, writing proposals is part of your job as an artist, if you don’t write proposals most often your work will start to stink. Writing proposals for art exhibitions, grants or other art opportunities is a necessary part of being an artist, and it is important to follow through with showing the work in public.

At Xpace Cultural Centre we currently have three opportunities to submit your work, two with deadlines of December 15th fast approaching. These include the FADO Emerging artist series, which focuses on duration performance pieces, as well as the Transcending Binaries exhibition, which is co-presented with the Images Festival. Also on January 6th is the final day to submit for the latest edition of “FEAST” which is a micro-funding dinner where “artists, designers and groups are invited to present proposals for art- or design-based projects. Everyone attending the dinner votes on which project they would like to fund, and the project with the most votes is given a grant from the money raised from the ticket sales.”

Finding calls for submissions, or knowing when an artist run center’s annual deadline is can all be easily found online. Good websites include Akimbo, which often posts great calls for submissions along with job opportunities, and events. It truly is a great resource, however the downside is that people have to pay Akimbo to be included on their website, so for obvious reasons the call for submissions forums do not include an extensive list. The free email list Instant Coffee is a great resource both for finding calls for submission but also listing your upcoming exhibition, which you can do for free by emailing the contact person ( The list is city specific and contains great information, on a weekly basis. Also check this Xpace Blog, since I personally look for hours for great opportunities that are a bit off the beaten path, updated every Wednesday. Most artist run centers have a yearly call for submissions, with open calls for programming, usually planned a year or two in advance. Taking a calendar and going through the list of artist run centers in Canada and marking down their deadline date helps to keep you from missing out and having to wait another year to submit.

Here are a few tips for writing a great proposal.
1. Be clear and succinct and accessible with your writing.
2. Have several people to look over your proposal, including people that are outside the arts
3. Take your time, plan in advance
4. Ask your friends for copies of their successful proposals in order to understand style
5. Take notes in the studio about your work in progress, it will help you later when writing about it in your proposal.

This is perhaps all common knowledge but a well-written submission gives people on the jury a better understanding of your work, and can make or break your application. Take the photo documentation of your work very seriously, by using a tripod and a SLR digital camera. A neutral environment makes a big difference and makes it easier for the jury to envision the work on their walls.

The biggest deterrent from writing submissions is the rejection that might come along with it. More than likely you will be rejected. I think it is important to get used to it, and use it as an opportunity to seek feedback. Some organizations will not give you a reason why you were rejected but others do, so send a quick email and learn from your mistakes. It is also important to realize that perhaps that space or exhibition was not a right fit for your work, or time in your career. Before starting a submission visit the space and familiarize yourself with their programming, read their mandate and ask questions if you are unclear. Since writing a proposal can be a time investment, seek out opportunities, which seem accomplishable. In order to understand this I look at the CV’s of artists I admire and I check back a couple of years in the past and see what shows they got, and use that as a measuring stick. Rejection letters are not always completely negative, since your work has been seen and discussed by several people who may not have been familiar with your work otherwise. Perhaps there is someone in the room that really enjoys your work that will contact you at a later point.

I believe proposals can be seen as a tool of introduction, or getting the organization to familiarize themselves with your work. So propose, and propose often, it will strengthen your writing and the theoretical framework surrounding your work.

By Humboldt Magnussen