Halifax artist warns about ‘paying to perform’ showcase

When Cait Anthony first got involved with an international arts organization, she thought it would be a great opportunity to help local artists get their names out and support their careers.

But the more she learned about RAW natural born artists, the less she liked.

The organization is expected to stage a show in Halifax on July 5.

RAW natural born artists, which operates out of the U.S., Canada, Australia and Mexico, hosts showcases featuring local talents from a variety of media — visual artists, performance artists, musicians, filmmakers and fashion designers, among others.

On its website, RAW describes itself as “a fun and alternative way for creatives to showcase both to their local community and the world at large.” 

“It did sound like a very good thing,” said Anthony, a Halifax-based performance artist and dancer.

“I actually got to the point where I was telling other people that they should do this, and then it got kind of muddy.”

A ‘red flag’

There’s a catch, said Anthony.

In order to take part, artists have to sell 20 tickets to the event at $20 apiece. If they don’t sell them all, they have to cover the rest of the money themselves — up to $400.

“They say, ‘OK, you sell 20 tickets,’ which is quite a lot if you’re not an established artist,” she said.

Anthony said she was interested in a job as a recruiter for prospective artists for a RAW show in Halifax in 2016.

She was provided with a template to follow while messaging artists to ask them to take part.

This screenshot of a template sent to Anthony in 2016. (Cait Anthony/Contributed)

The “red flag” for Anthony was the system where artists needed to foot the bill for the tickets they couldn’t sell.

“These artists are basically paying to perform,” she said, likening the business model to that of a pyramid scheme.

Internet searches of RAW turn up mixed reviews, with some artists saying it was a great opportunity, and others telling people to stay away.

The 2016 show in Halifax never happened. Anthony said she doesn’t know why.

Event an opportunity: RAW

RAW did not respond to multiple requests for comment. 

Last month, Michelle Bylow, RAW’s Canadian executive director, told CBC Saskatchewan that their shows are an opportunity for artists to gain recognition for their work.

“It allows the artists to showcase free of charge,” said Bylow, adding that artists are able to keep half the proceeds from each ticket sold after the first 20. 

In 2018, she told CBC Newfoundland and Labrador that it also provided a venue for artists to sell their works without paying commission.

They do not earn money from box office sales or other revenues from the event.

Working for exposure a ‘race to the bottom’

Working for exposure instead of money can be damaging for artists, said Anthony.

“I don’t think my landlord takes exposure bucks,” she joked.

While some budding artists may feel that they have to work for free in order to gain a following, Anthony said volunteering work can be a slippery slope.

“If everybody’s getting paid well, and doing well, then we can all prosper,” she said. 

“But if people are doing shows for free, then that starts setting a precedent to be cheaper, and then the undercutting starts. Then there’s a race to the bottom.”

Anthony, a performance artist and dancer, says there are other ways for artists to get their works shown. (Paul Vienneau/Contributed)

She added that the artist community in Halifax is supportive, and many artists are happy to help budding creative people who may not know where to start.

“I found that a lot of people … think that they shouldn’t reach out to their peers, and maybe they’re a bit afraid,” she said.

“I do encourage my students. If you want to perform, tell me, and I can point you in the right direction of how you can start doing that.”

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