Real Talk: Best Practices for Open Calls and Applications

Kira Simon-Kennedy
Sebastien Sanz de Santamaria
Katrina Neumann

Selected by Open Call
Organized by Residency Unlimited

Thanks to Common Field’s Field Grant, we’ve been compiling best practices for creatives on how to apply for things. We’d like to propose an “On Location | Reports from the Field” session to present an overview of our guide, as well as best practices for running open calls and project submissions for organizations. Through our research, we’ve learned all kinds of key information about what makes the process difficult for both organizations and creatives: 80% of artists think the current system isn't working while 50% of organizations don't receive enough applications, and nearly all wish their application pools were more diverse.

While creatives are yearning for more transparency, as well as feedback on what makes an application successful, we also know that many organizations have had little time to think about the mechanics and implications of their selection processes. We want to share insights and open up a discussion on how organizations can assess their current protocols and adapt them to make them more transparent, accessible, and artist-friendly.

While we hope our Common Field supported guide will be a huge help to those new to the application process, we also hope to shift the mindset of organizations. By focusing on the actual mechanisms that keep some people out and invite others in, we aim to help make a dent into existing structural networks of privilege, nepotism, and closed circles of alumni networks & word-of-mouth.

The “field” we are reporting from is the global field of online opportunities, with specific insights into mainland China and New York City. In running international open calls, we’ve collected insights on roadblocks from many different fields. For example, in China, Google and all its services are blocked, so any organization running an open call on a Google Form is automatically inaccessible to anyone in mainland China. Many people in China don’t use email at all anymore, relying instead on WeChat, and blocked access to social media like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram means that international open calls are rarely accessible for Chinese artists who have not studied or lived abroad. In NYC, we’ve heard from cultural activists that they often cannot apply for things that have an application fee because none of the members in their collective have credit cards or bank accounts. From our survey of over 12,000 creatives worldwide, we know what factors are the most important in people’s decisions, and want to share this data with the organizations. For example, to our surprise, only 0.02% care about the discipline or medium, when that’s usually one of the main descriptors organizations use when promoting an open call.

Our session will be structure in a 30 minute presentation of current issues, followed by 30 minutes of take-home solutions to be expanded on and discusses in a 30 minute open forum. We’ll kick of with a few questions around the issues for which we haven’t been able to find elegant answers, and will follow up after the conference with a public, published list of best practices.