Why Competitions + Open Calls Matter

Having been on both sides of the application process for Open Calls and Competitions for artists, architects and designers, we wanted to share some insight for both parties: the applicants and the organizers. Both sides need each other and wonderful things can come from these opportunities. Read more below.

As artists, designers or architects we've all applied to countless Open Calls and Competitions. There are the ones we win, and the ones we lose. For the ones we win, hurray! Our work was recognized and a new opportunity has been forged. Do it to the best of your ability. You've hopefully researched this opportunity before you applied and are interested in it because the judges are great, the organizer is an inspiring institution and you are happy to be part of it. Great things can happen and new relationships can be formed.

From the applicant's perspective, losing is hard and frustrating, and we don't always receive feedback as to why we weren't chosen. (Tip 1: If you are sent a rejection letter, always reply and thank them for the opportunity and ask why you weren't chosen, unless there are clauses anywhere that say you shouldn't. Tip 2: Always read all of the details when applying and in all communication you receive. The details are there to provide direction for you and eliminate frustration for the organizers and judges.) It's necessary to keep in mind that there are only so many opportunities. (Tip 3: Consider creating your own opportunity. It's a lot of work but could be incredible for you and your peers.)

But there is an upside to applying to opportunities that we don't end up getting (assuring that these opportunities are appropriate for your work and you've followed all the application rules.) There are new eyes on your work and the judges will actually consider your visuals, your writing and your professional career. We've heard countless stories that though an artist didn't win an actual competition, a judge who happened to be a curator took note of the artist's work for a future opportunity. It sound a bit hokey, but sending your wonderful work out into the world for people to see is a positive thing and will generate energy surrounding it. So, keep dedicating time to applying. The organizers and judges definitely want to see your work.

If you're having trouble organizing your work to get ready for the application process, or want direction in creating your own opportunity to show your work, check out the DELVE Toolkit

From the institution's or organizing party's viewpoint, competitions and open calls are strategic ways to introduce your organization to a new audience and source amazing talent for a project. From your perspective there are a lot of pieces to consider, whether you are doing an open call for art work or a competition to hire new architects, including these:

your conceptual goal (why will talent be drawn to your project and how does it serve your overall mission), your audience, telling the story of your organization, budget, space, timeline, partnerships, judges (who will you enlist to draw in the work you want to see), branding, marketing, communication, event planning, and more. 

Organizing an Open Call or a Competition is a tall order and takes foresight and planning, but will ultimately serve you well and introduce you to work from around the globe you may have never come across. This sort of a project is also key in allowing you to interact more with a desired community, whether it be local or global. This is a really great article from GrantCraft, a service of the Foundation Center, that explores why using a Request for Proposals could benefit your organization. A major point they make is: "To be effective, a competition takes careful planning and execution, and it poses a number of out-of-the-ordinary administrative responsibilities. It's sometimes useful to enlist an outside organization to manage part or all of the process." Kind Aesthetic can help you. Check out this case study from a wonderful architectural competition called Ground/Work that we had the pleasure of working on. 

In conclusion, we are big fans of Open Calls and Competitions for both sides of the process. They are a powerful way to share your work, tell your story and create community, which are three of our favorite things to help people with at Kind Aesthetic. 

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