From a Meeting Convened to Discuss the Feasibility of Cooperative Art Fair Applications and the Use of the Internet to Introduce Jurying Efficiencies
Prepared by WESTAF (Western States Arts Federation)
1543 Champa Street, Suite 220
Denver, Colorado 80202
These notes are neither minutes nor a transcription of the meeting. Rather, they are a reporting of the major points of discussion. Because the group was largely in consensus on the items discussed, the names of the individuals making various points are for the most part not reported.
In Attendance Larry Oliverson, Executive Director, NAIA; Shary Brown, Director Ann Arbor Street Art Fair; and Stephen King, Director of the MAIN ST. Fort Worth Arts Festival. Matthew Saunders, WESTAF Director of Technology and Anthony Radich, WESTAF Executive Director. Absent but participating in the organization of the meeting and in a review of the meeting's discussion points was Bruce Storey, former Director of Denver's Cherry Creek Arts Festival.
Radich opened the meeting and noted that the gathering was designed to be a communication and brainstorming session, not a decision-making session. He remarked that the meeting's outcome was far from pre-ordained and suggested that the recommendations that might emerge from the meeting would need to be considered by many other parties. In addition, he stated that any action that might evolve from the meeting would need to meet the test of providing a visible benefit to art fair management, artists, and WESTAF. He stated that WESTAF had an interest in the project because the organization was broadly committed to increasing audiences for the arts. He stated that the WESTAF staff viewed art fairs as an excellent means by which to accomplish this in the area of the visual arts.
Oliverson commented on the interest of artists in developing a more efficient application process. He noted that many artists were expending considerable time completing multiple application forms to art fairs when a universal form, especially one that could be accessed online, would be far more efficient. He called the group's attention to the elements of a cooperative form the NAIA had prepared.
Brown noted that there were two distinct projects on the table. She identified one as the development of a universal application form and the other as the development of an online jurying process. She noted that the universal application form project was closer to realization than was the online jurying function. Regarding the universal application form, she reported that there was considerable field-wide agreement regarding its format and content. She advised the group to consider the online jurying project to be a related but separate matter.
Brown and King noted that both fair managers and artists had many questions regarding the efficacy of an online jurying system. They stated that such a system could only be introduced after many of the issues surrounding its construction and use were resolved. The group agreed that the overlap or nexus between the two projects should not be lost sight of but that the projects should be considered separately. The group concurred that online jurying was ultimately likely to become standard practice. They advised that the field should work toward such an eventuality and be prepared to knowledgeably adopt such services once they become generally accepted.
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The Technological Capacity of Organizations and Artists
The group voiced concern that many art fair offices operate with outdated and/or inadequate hardware and software. They stated that many art fair sponsors had a limited financial ability to acquire improved hardware and that the provision of adequate training to operate more sophisticated software would be needed. The point was made that the implementation of any online universal application and/or jurying system would need to occur with the understanding that the field has many different levels of knowledge in the area of technology and a panoply of hardware and software systems.
In order to speed adoption of a cooperative application, the group suggested that consistent terms and working definitions be set down to ensure that those advising on the development of the cooperative form and/or jurying process are speaking the same language.
Artists were also identified as a group that has highly varying degrees of technological sophistication and very diverse hardware. The issue was raised that not every artist has ready access to the Internet. A discussion ensued regarding what the base line expectation regarding access should be for artists. The group consensus was that parallel paper and Internet systems might need to be operated simultaneously for a period of time until access to the Internet becomes more universal. Many believed that rapid adoption of Internet technology would eliminate this potential barrier in a very short period of time.
King reported that last year, the Fort Worth Arts Festival provided the option of an online application and that 8-9% had applied through that means. He noted that additional online applicants were expected in the coming year. King warned, however, that the debugging and perfection of an online system in its first years of operation generally eliminate any cost savings in those years and may actually introduce additional costs. Regarding the need to merge slides with online applications, he noted that this system's potential for error was large and the risk grew larger as the number of applications increased. He stated that sufficient staff resources must be allocated to such a project.
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Demonstration of ArtistsRegister.com
Saunders presented a demonstration of WESTAF's ArtistsRegister.com project. He noted that, because WESTAF had already invested in the software and personnel costs for the project, the related universal art fair application and jurying projects could be designed and delivered for substantially less than a project started from scratch. The group discussed ways the functionality of the ArtistsRegister.com site could be adapted to accommodate the needs of art fairs.
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Presentation of Key Factors in a Uniform Application
The group discussed a PowerPoint presentation made by WESTAF that outlined the possible key elements of a universal art fair application. The presentation was developed from two principal sources: a) the draft uniform application prepared by the NAIA, and b) a review of the applications of ten major art fairs.
Prior to the presentation, the following points were made:
All artists would have the option of receiving a CD tutorial detailing ways to effectively use the site. Participating shows may be asked to mail these out to all applicants.
The application program would be designed in a manner that would allow for one section to gather the majority of the information needed and the construction of separate "popup" segments that would allow some shows to acquire single show-specific information.
General information about the shows the artist is applying to would be provided and links to show sites would be provided. The purpose of these informational efforts is to help the shows maintain their identities and to provide artists with the information they need to make decisions about making application to various shows.
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The application elements presented for discussion are listed below.
Elements Common to All Applications
Check this box if this is a new address
Phone (day) (evening)
E-Mail (This will be used to notify artists of the receipt of their application
Artist's Web site and space for a second web site
Would you send promotional post cards? If so, in what quantity?
Would you affix promotion stickers to your own promotional material? If so, in what quantity?
Slide Information Statement
20 words or less with instructions suggesting the focus of the statement be on a description (materials, technique, etc.) of what the jurors are looking at and not on the artist's overall artistic philosophy/inspiration
The participants noted that a provision needs to be made to allow artists to provide up to seven slides of their work and have the option of supplying a booth slide. This would accommodate the fact that some shows require fewer than seven slides and not all show require a booth slide. In addition, provision should be made for the possibility that some shows may eventually request more than seven slides
Is there a way to limit the verbiage to which the signatures are affixed? If not, then a system can be designed to accommodate multiple statements. Applicant signature alone or applicant and partner/collaborator?
Use a universal statement of originality and authenticity and customized statements for other features.
The signature should indicate that the artist has read and agrees to the rules appropriate to the show being applied for and that electronically signing the form represents a binding agreement to abide by those rules.
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The group made the following comments about the draft form:
~The order in which items appear on an application can be an important factor when the applications are integrated into the various record keeping systems fairs now have in operation. Changing the order of some items could impose a major burden on many systems and their administration.
~Saunders replied that the system would be built in MySQL software. He explained that such software was quite powerful and allowed the operator to pull information out in a variety of forms and sequences. He further noted that the system was compatible with most existing software data systems. Saunders also explained that MySQL was more robust than Access software in that it could service more simultaneous users without crashing. He further noted that it was a Linux based rather than a Microsoft based system, which was an advantage because the Microsoft product had a reputation for being far more "buggy" than Linux. Saunders then reinforced the fact that the art fair offices would not need to purchase a Linux system as it had the capacity to convert data to other forms.
~Saunders explained the mailing list maintenance capability of any system that would be put into place. He reported that the WESTAF ArtistsRegister.com system provided up-to-date artist mailing lists on demand and had the capacity to identify complex subgroups from the universe represented in the system.
~The group advised that a code field and/or customer number field is needed. Saunders stated that the code could be hidden in a way that only fair administrators had access to it.
~The point was made that none of the fairs would want to lose their individual identities and that precautions needed to be taken to ensure that each fair had an opportunity to maintain and extend its identify. Several noted that the quality image of many shows was critical to their ability to attract quality artists. The group concluded that, because the topic was of central importance, there was a need for a position paper on the subject.
~The point was made that a universal application could detract from the identity of each show. The group discussed the use of popup boxes in the application as a means to differentiate the events. The suggestion was made that such boxes could help the shows maintain their individuality. In spite of this belief, the consensus was that every effort would be made to limit such boxes as they reduce the time savings and general efficiency of the uniform application. The group suggested that, while popup boxes should not be excluded as a means of differentiation, other means needed to be pursued to reinforce the individuality of the fairs. Members of the group noted the value of the prospectus as a marketing tool. Some discussion ensued regarding the many alternative means of building show identity other than through the application form.
~The issue of acquiring an official signature through online means was discussed. Saunders noted that many advances were being made in that area and that more were coming. He stated that, already, an online signature had been awarded the status of being equally valid to that of an original hand signature. He stated that the primary means for such a signature process was the verification of signature via a third party that validates a signature code matching the code assigned.
~The group stated that additional feedback on the application form from a selection of art fairs of all sizes would be necessary prior to a first draft being submitted to the field for comment.
~Slide information statements of 20 words in length or less were thought appropriate for the application. The point was made that such statements should be designed to describe the materials, technique etc. the jurors are looking at and are not intended to be an overarching statement of vision by the artist.
~The group advised that the section related to categories was the most problematic portion of the form. They noted that there was a lack of uniformity across shows regarding categories and that much would need to be worked out in order to become even moderately uniform. The suggestion was made that popup boxes that allow some differentiation may be most appropriate in this area of the application.
~The various kinds of reports that would need to be extracted from a universal application process data were discussed. Some of the report designed search abilities mentioned were: beginning and ending dates; the ability to make weekly/daily dumps of information; addresses; and timetables.
~The ability to add a second name to the form was considered important. Similarly, the group thought space for a second URL should be made available.
~The group advised that the system should have the ability to capture show-specific data such as willingness to demonstrate and willingness to participate in an auction. The consensus was that of significant importance was the disclosure of the request for such services and the disclosure of the implications of complying and not complying with that request. The group indicated that provision of electronic spaces for these functions should not be construed as an endorsement of their practice.
~Core application registration information should be on the first page of the application to ensure easy reference. The group further recommended that every effort be made to format the application on a single page to avoid turning the page either via computer or in paper form.
~The group referenced the draft universal application proposed by the NAIA and noted that artists should be heavily involved in the testing of any application. The group further noted that the organization of the application should be such that it is a step-by-step easily followed process.
~A detailed discussion was held regarding ways that customized information for certain shows could be included in the universal application. The WESTAF staff suggested the use of radio buttons. Such buttons, they stated, would allow easy navigation within the application site and give artists the opportunity to select shows that require additional information than that required on the universal application.
~The application and the application process need to enable artists to adjust the visual materials referenced in the applications to reflect the type of art preferred by each show.
~The application process needs to allow for the phenomenon of artists applying to one set of shows and deciding which shows to apply to next based on their early acceptances and/or rejections. Some discussion was held as to what additional charges an artist may incur if they were to apply multiple times rather than a single time. Another factor that they advised be built in is the ability of an artist to select another show if they are rejected from another that occurs on the same date.
~Consideration needs to be given to time sequencing. How long a submitted application remains active, when the overall application season begins, and when subsegments of the year conclude are all factors that remain to be worked out.
~Care must be taken to limit what is requested in each application. The point was made that the more that is asked for, the less likely the form is to be accurately and completely filled out.
~Detailed information about the shows needs to be in the system. Such information would be designed to help the artists decide if they should enter a particular show and what they should expect in terms of an experience if they do. Information included should range from sales reports to load-in maps to accommodation options.
~The system could be designed to allow artists to e-mail notices and images about specific shows to their customers and contacts. Such an e-mailing should have the capacity to be segregated by geographic area and other delimiters.
~The application should contain a clear explanation that the requested artist's statement is a statement about the work presented for jurying, not a general artist's vision statement.
~Six images and a booth image were deemed adequate for the universal application. Although some shows do not use a booth slide, inclusion of the slide in the universal application was not thought to disadvantage artists.
~The application system must have the capacity to manage artists' show priorities.
~An attempt should be made to make the general release statement as standard as possible. Understanding that this will be difficult, provisions need to be made to include release statements, or portions of such statements, that can not be standardized. The hope is that at the least, a core release statement could be devised and that differentials could be accommodated thorough the use of popup boxes.
~The statement of originality needs to be retained even though the enforcement of the commitment remains a challenge.
~A number of fair administrators will need a system with the capacity to process a very high volume of applications within a very short period of time.
~In order for the system to be of greatest utility, it must reduce the significant costs of processing applications.
~Application deadlines or master deadlines need to be structured so as not to disadvantage those who apply to multiple shows.
~If application deadlines need to be changed to accommodate a universal application, shows need to start moving in that direction prior to the introduction of the system.
~No one in the group was aware of a deadline study, however all agreed that such a study should be conducted.
~A suggestion was made that all deadlines be allocated into three or four annual periods. In this scenario, all shows would be asked to select the deadline that best met their needs.
~There is general agreement in the field regarding the contents of a universal application. The group noted, however, that devising an online jurying process would likely prove to be much more of a challenge.
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Discussion of Online Jurying
Recognizing that the field was not in consensus regarding online jurying, the group discussed some of the factors that needed to be considered when designing such a process.
~The quality of the images placed on the Internet remains a key concern of artists and managers alike. Saunders noted recent and soon-to-be available advances in image quality that will address some of these concerns. He suggested that within a few years, the quality of images on the Internet would likely be high enough to be universally accepted as a medium for jurying.
~When the topic of remote online jurying was discussed, the group voiced three major concerns: a) The possibility exists that persons not part of the jurying process but in the room when the juror reviews images at home or in a place of work could influence the juror. b) When in a group, juror conversation can enrich and often improve the outcome of the jurying process-this is not available through an online, remote process. c) Fair management can learn a great deal about the artists and their art by directly observing the work of the jury. Such a process also allows the fair director to be more effective in public relations and publicity efforts.
~Because artists do not send the same suite of images to all shows, there is a need to design a process that allows adjustments to the image mix submitted to each show. If the jurying moved to an online format, one strategy that was recommended was the submission of a universe of slides to the application site and the designation of specific slides for submission to specific shows. Saunders suggested that the program be set up so that artist users have passwords that allow them to return to the site and make changes to the pool of slides and the designation of images for specific shows.
~How artists feel about on-line jurying is an important consideration. If they are not comfortable they may avoid shows that use the system.
~A suggestion was made that, until Internet image quality is sufficient for use throughout the jurying process, the online process could be used to select finalists whose works would then be juried via slide or though enhanced electronic means that are as good as or better than a slide image.
~The issue of the ability of artists to manipulate slides to their advantage was discussed. Although the group voiced concern about this possibility, the point was made that the ability to manipulate slides through electronic and other means already exists. Further discussion about this possibility was considered advisable, however, many thought the possibility for abuse in this area would grow no matter what method was used for image presentation.
~Because some fairs use multiple jurys, any electronic system must have the capacity to service such a system.
~A way must be found to ensure that online jurors select artwork that reflects regional character and the taste of the public visiting certain shows.
~Issues of confidentiality in the jurying process need to be made explicit and accommodated in an online system and its administration. Such confidentiality needs to be maintained both between shows and among artists.
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What does WESTAF Get out of the Project?
In response to a question regarding what WESTAF gets out of the project Radich listed the following:
~The project has the potential to expand the reach and use of ArtistsRegister.com.
~WESTAF is committed to developing infrastructure for the nonprofit arts organizations that introduces efficiencies and builds the net revenues of those organizations.
~WESTAF is working with public arts interests in the area of online jurying. The jurying aspect of this art fairs project is of interest as a way to gain additional experience in the area of the dynamics of jurying.
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~The Visual Arts Affinity Group has helped shows feel more comfortable about sharing and cooperating. This has helped establish a positive environment for the design and acceptance of a universal application.
~Artist and show management communication has improved in recent years and this has made the design and use of a universal application more feasible.
~The ArtShowJury.com project is a commercial venture that needs to be communicated with prior to the development of an online jurying system.
~The manner in which the application process can be managed and funded remains an open question. WESTAF is willing to take some steps toward the development of the application but needs to identify approximately $25,000 in hard costs in order to complete the project.
~In the long term, WESTAF would like art fairs to consider encouraging artists to use the ArtistsRegister.com project whether for jurying or another means.
~WESTAF believes that its substantial investment in extant online sites can save art fairs substantial money in the work to design and implement a universal application.
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