My Experience with RAW: Natural Born Artists

First off, before I delve into my experience with RAW I want to verify I am being 100% transparent. I am not being paid to endorse the organization, these are my own thoughts and feelings after going through my first event with them. There are good things, there are bad. I was originally going to vlog the day of the show, and I did part way, but there was so much going on I hardly filmed at all. So, as back up, I'm going to write this overview of the experience. I try my best to be on the ball with facts, but please understand that I sometimes make mistakes.

Now what is RAW? Well Let me drop this message from their website:

Our Mission

To serve independent artists with tools, resources, education and exposure needed to thrive and succeed in their creative careers.

What We Do

RAW spotlights independent talent in visual art, film, fashion & accessories design, music, performance art, beauty, crafts, tech, and photography.

RAW is a fun and alternative way for creatives to showcase both to their local community and the world at large. We are not your average art show. We are loud, colorful, creative, and all about our artists. We are RAW.

So in less dramatic terms, RAW is an independent organization that puts on art shows involving many mediums in 60 cities across the globe. And by globe it's really 50 cities in the USA and 10 other cities in Canada, Mexico, and Australia. I assume they will be trying to branch out to other countries as well. Their first show was in LA in 2009, so this isn't an extremely new organization either.

How did I come across RAW? Quick answer: I didn't. While I don't have thousands of followers online, I am pretty active and have that I live in Cleveland out there in the open. I was contacted through email by a RAW representative, here is a quick copy and paste of that email minus the representative's name:

Hello Max,

My name is [Representative's Name], I work on the curation team for an arts organization called RAW artists. 

I found your work while seeking Cleveland based artists and was so delighted by your artwork! I would be happy to invite you to exhibit at our upcoming showcase on September 11th at the Cleveland House of Blues(18+)!

RAW events welcome around 1400 visitors and bring together at least 60 artists of all different crafts including hair, makeup, fashion, fine art, performance and more. 

If you're interested to find out more, let me know the best number and time to reach you for a call to share more details. We schedule calls a few days in advance Monday - Friday from 12:30 PM to 7:30 PM!

As you can see, it's a pretty copy and paste email, but I wouldn't consider it spam as they were aware of the area I was living, so they had to at least spend some time looking through my social media. Now I was interested, I had been wanting to branch out a apply to shows and get myself out there so I scheduled a call to learn more.

Now for those of you who don't know much about artist tables at shows, they're pricey. Depending on the event I've seen table/booth costs range anywhere from $300-500+. This is where RAW is a bit different: instead of charging you out right for a space, they ask you sell a certain number of tickets to the event. This gives you both advantages and disadvantages.

I'm going to start off with the advantages, as there are some big ones. First off, this is cheaper for the artist. For this show they asked for me to sell 20 tickets, $25 each which amounts to $500 in ticket sales. If you don't sell that many tickets they ask you to purchase the difference, which is up to you what you do with those tickets. They suggest raffling them off, selling them for reduced prices, they're yours to do with what you want. Again this is beneficial to the artist as it lowers the overall cost of the show, and it guarantees a large turnout to the event. I was told at the Cleveland event that they have never clocked in less than 900 attendees in past years.

Now what happens if you manage to sell more than 20 tickets? Well there's an immediate reward: you get $10 per each extra ticket you sell after 20. So if you're good at your advertising and have a strong local following, you have a chance to make money even before the actual event. I only ended up selling tickets to family and friends, luckily for me I have a large and supportive family, the majority of which live in the Cleveland area, or just outside it.

I will say that I got several people who after hearing me explain how the ticket sales worked they immediately labeled the show as a scam, which I thought was unfounded. Events like these cost A LOT of money to put on, this event in particular was held at The House of Blues, which is not a cheap place to hold an event. Using this system it helps both the organization and the artists participating in the show.

One artist in particular who had immediately wrote it off as a scam said it didn't feel right to ask friends and family to buy tickets to support him, he'd rather just buy a table. He was a bit uppity about the whole thing to be quite frank. Well guess what! You don't have to sell tickets, you can just purchase them yourself, thereby paying for your table and you can give those tickets away! But to be quite honest, if your not prepared to whore yourself out as an artist, then you likely aren't cut out to be a professional. Being a professional artist is all about being able to sell yourself without shame. But, that's just my two cents.

Another big perk with doing the show, is after participating in a show you get the chance to be in a second show without the requirement of selling tickets AND any tickets you do sell you start getting the $10 per ticket starting with the first one. The only requirements for your second "free" show is that it's in a different city than the one you participated in and it's within 365 days of your first show. You can pick ANY of the other 60 cities they have shows in, even in other countries. In my opinion, that's pretty flexible.

And with the space provided by the event you're allowed to do live art, sell, anything you can do within the confined 6'x6' space. A lot of us visual artists set up booths to sell prints, paintings, crafts, etc. RAW takes absolutely NO money from any sales you make, 100% of your sales go into your pocket, they do not touch a dime. Personally I made $100 during the 3 hour event, which isn't too bad. Below is a photo of my booth set up, they provided the lamp, metal grid behind me, and the chair, everything else was brought by myself.

Now what happens if you're signed up and suddenly there's and issue and you can no longer do the show? Well good news! You can pull out of the show at anytime and there will be no penalties, at least that's what I was told. The representative I spoke to made it very clear that RAW understands shit happens and sometimes things don't go as planned. If you can't participate you can easily just withdraw from the show.

A small little perk as well is that they offer free professional head shots. I haven't received my copies yet, but remember the show was less than a week ago and I'm sure the photographer has a TON of film to go through from that night. I personally hope I didn't look too much like a goblin that night.

Now on to some of the disadvantages of the show, I would say there is less disadvantages than advantages. Earlier I mentioned how with the ticket sales requirement of the artist guarantees large attendance. Now the issue this does create is most of the attendees are here to support a singular artist or group and show less interest in the other artists being showcased. Not to say they won't enjoy the show and ignore the other artists, but they're less likely to interact with the artists they aren't acquainted with. I can't tell you how many people just stood around the same table or just wandered aimlessly through the event just glancing at the set ups with hardly a friendly greeting to the other artists. BUT! Big but, I did have many wonderful interactions with attendees who were more interested in the showcase as a whole and not to simply support friends or family.

The show, as advertised is VERY loud, most of the time you did have to yell in order to communicate with others. My poor grandfather showed up to come see the show and was completely overwhelmed by the crowds and noise and had to leave shortly after arriving, gods bless his soul. I would not recommend those who you know to have issues with noise and crowds to come to the show. I would also say if you as an artist have issues with that kind of setting I would not recommend this as a show for you.

Besides those two factors I wouldn't say there are many other negative factors to the show. The staff is amazingly helpful and thorough with explaining every little detail of how the specific show you're in runs. They give out many resources to help you, from live chats to go over all the information and ask questions, which they record and upload for those who can't attend to watch, to diagrams and basic checklists for the show. I felt fully prepared when the show rolled around.

Overall my personal experience was a positive one, I managed to make a hundred bucks and get more comfortable with the set up of shows. I'd label this event a success for what I had wanted to get out of it. I even made a few good connections with other local artists I would have otherwise not have met. One of the most important part of being a professional artist is creating a network with others in the arts community. I can't fully express how friendly and helpful everyone was. During set up my table happened to collapse, sending everything to the floor. Before I could even say anything people were rushing to help me out without being asked.

TL;DR - I had an amazing time and I would recommend doing a show with RAW if the experience they provide is something that hits your fancy, but it is not perfect and I suggest doing more research until you feel comfortable making a complete decision. But I suggest paying attention to the experiences of artists that have gone through the show themselves and not those who are just throwing out baseless accusations.

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