Our guide is there to help you navigate the ins and outs of how to identify red flags when applying to an open call.
So you’ve done some searching and found an open call that seems to be a good fit for you. Great! But you might have to do some investigating before you get too invested in it. As with a lot of things floating around on the internet, open calls might not be completely transparent about what it is they’re actually offering.
We’ve put together this list of red flags to look out for before applying to the next open call, to help you feel secure, prepared, and savvy.
There are fees — lots of them. But why?
Ok, just to be clear: not every opportunity that comes with fees is untrustworthy or a scam. Some opportunities may prioritize income from application fees, without rewarding participants at all. Or, at least, they might not offer anything of value.
But there are also plenty of reputable institutions that charge fees. And though application and participation fees are certainly an obstacle for creatives, that alone does not necessarily make it a red flag. So how do you know?
Let’s say an organization charges application fees. But there’s no explanation of why the fee is required or what that money is actually being used for. You might want to think twice about it before clicking send and transferring payment. Though it might not be a scam, it is certainly not transparent.
What do you do?
The best way to determine whether an opportunity is legitimate is to do some research and use your judgement. Take a look to see whether the individual or organization explains what their application fees are used for. If they don’t and you feel uncertain or uncomfortable with it, ask them!
Also try to research those who previously applied and were awarded or exhibited. Check out their websites, ask around, if possible. Try to find out about the experiences of others who have previously submitted or are familiar with the organization.
Essential information can’t be found
You come across an open call that sounds interesting, but there doesn’t seem to be any detailed information available. You can’t find a website, and/or there’s nothing concrete about where they are located, who they are, or what they do.
Be wary before investing time and resources into applying if there’s no way of verifying the identity or reputability of someone claiming to run an open call for a competition, exhibition, etc.
How should you proceed?
Before dismissing it, see if you can get in touch with someone at the organization. Organizers of a legitimate opportunity will be responsive and answer your questions. If you are able to speak with them, see how they respond. If you are still unsure, feel like something’s off or get a bad feeling, then trust your gut.
It definitely seems like a scam if the language used in an open call sounds suspiciously familiar. Meaning, it’s word-for-word exactly the same as another open call you’ve read, but is not at all affiliated. Scammers will typically recycle the same language and phrasing over and over, and often keep things vague, with no identity of their own.
It’s unclear who has previously participated
And another note on missing information…
Of course, new institutions, or individual creatives looking for collaborators, might also organize open calls. In which case, it’s likely that no one has participated before.
But if an organization is running an open call for their 7th Annual Art Prize, for example, then there should definitely be some documentation and information available on those previous six iterations.
Have you checked out their website, hoping to take a look at previous winners, or past exhibitions held there, only to find a whole lot of nothing? Once again, it makes it difficult to place your trust in something if there is next to no information available.
Why is this important?
For an artist applying to an open call for an exhibition or competition, for instance, knowing about previous participants is valuable information. Not least of all because it gives you some insight into the type of work the organization is interested in and the career or experience level that is best suited to the opportunity.
On top of that, potential applicants have the chance to find out whether the opportunity has actually benefited artists in the past. Maybe awarded artists really did receive a solo exhibition, but the venue was misrepresented on the website. Or no one showed up to see the show, or there was no support from the gallery what-so-ever…
If important information is missing, then the opportunity might not be credible. Or at the very least, you might find out that the organization is not a good fit for you.
It’s actually a service — not an opportunity
A real opportunity should ideally offer something without a price tag: whether that means an exhibition, publication, compensation, meaningful exposure or publicity. Though not all open calls come without fees, if a so-called opportunity is actually just trying to sell something to you, then this is something else entirely.
For example, a company or individual issues an ‘open call’ offering portfolio review services–for a fee. This is essentially an offer for someone’s services, rather than considering, selecting and awarding artists based on quality, experience, references, etc. That’s fine, if that’s what you’re looking for. But can we call it an opportunity? Probably not.
Or maybe you come across a call for submissions for a new catalog of contemporary art: for a fee of 400 euros for a full page. This essentially means that you’d be paying for advertising space, and might also indicate that it’s not considered a credible source by institutions, galleries and collectors.
So, it’s important to be clear about what it is that you are submitting to and possibly paying for.
These red flags might be hard to pin down, or might not necessarily suggest that an opportunity is a scam. But they are signs that it might not exactly be trustworthy or transparent, or may even be downright misleading. That’s why it’s important to know how to identify red flags before applying to an open call.
Next steps: do some research, try contacting the organizers. In the end, if something still doesn’t seem right, move on. Use resources like ArtConnect to look for other opportunities that might be right for you.