Are Calls for Artists Worth it?


I've always been a little resistant to the idea of applying to calls for artists and artists grants. They've always felt like playing the lottery but with more efforts on our part. They usually involve having to write an essay on who we are, why we create art, how we create art, what kind of concept we have for their projects, and even creating a design before knowing that we'll be picked. I don't know of any other field where you have to put the custom work first and then they decide if they'll hire you while they receive hundreds of proposal for their project. It never sat well with me. 

On the other hand, these thoughts were based on assumptions more than experiences. So this year I figured I would give it a proper try and see if they were really worth the effort. After all, some artists seemed to be living off calls and grants. I figured if they could, maybe I could too. 

After a bit of research, I picked up a couple tips to make the application process less painful. Organization was key. I created a couple version of my bio, my artists statement, and used notion to organize all the calls in a neat table in order of the date the proposal was due. I also had a couple sample projects to showcase and a CV on hand that I could update as I accumulated more experience throughout the year. I picked a day per week to work on my proposal. My goal was to submit 52 proposals for the year and see what would happen. 

Fast forward to now, close to a year into this challenge, I almost reached my goal. I applied to 48 calls. The budgets for these projects varied from $250 to $85,000 for a total of a little over $286,000 for all 48 projects. That's about less than $6000 per project on average. I won 5 out of the 48 calls for a total of just over $7,100, about $1,400 per project on average. So for a 10% success rate I got 2.5% of the available budget. Not very enticing. It also made me see that the pool of open calls for artists is not very big, especially considering the fact that some of the calls received hundreds of applications. There's just not enough projects for the number of artists and I'm assuming it's harder for newer artists to break in.

So are calls for artists worth it? Based on my personal experience, yes and no. It's not worth putting as much energy as I did this year based on the potential return on investment. No matter how talented or capable you are, there's a lot of decision factors that are out of your control. I don't plan on putting as much effort next year into applying for them. I feel that a lot of the time I used to create "submission commissions" could have been used on creating personal projects instead. At least, I now know from personal experience that calls are not where artists will find financial support for their career. However, I still plan to apply to some calls for artists next year, as long as the budget is large enough and the project closely aligns with what I'm already creating.

If you're also an artist, I'd love to know your experiences and insights regarding this. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.