It was too short notice for me to attend as an artist but the people running the event were nice enough to give me two free tickets. They hoped I would come by and check it out and consider signing up for next year. So I packed up my Grumpy Husband and made the trip to Louisville this past week to attend. I'll spoil the end of the story for you right now though. I don't plan to attend again in the future (as patron or artist) unless they make some important changes. Here are some of my experiences and the biggest problems I had with this event...
It was impossible to actually talk to any of the artists.
We arrived just when the doors opened, and about ten minutes later the live music began. I'm not really a fan of loud music to begin with, so maybe that colored my experiences, but this music was so loud that I couldn't hear my husband shouting right next to me. More than half the artists were also set up right around the stage where the musicians were. I tried to talk to a few of them. Some of them had some really beautiful and unique items that I wanted to learn more about. But we could do little more than smile and gesture towards each other. Our voices just couldn't compete with the music.
It was difficult to actually move through the venue.
This event took place in a performance space with a stage in the middle and couches everywhere instead of traditional seating. There was also a big balcony section circling above with more couches and space for artists to set up tables. While it might be fun to sit on a sofa and enjoy a performance (I appreciate the more informal vibe) it was actually really difficult to move from one artist to the next. The venue was not designed for this kind of movement, so there was only enough room between the artists and the walls and sofas for a couple of people to pass each other. If I stopped in front of an artist's table I literally stopped the flow of traffic because no one would be able to get around me. All I could do was walk around and around past the tables, taking a few moments to gesticulate at the artists I liked best.
The general mood of the artists and patrons was pretty low.
I only stayed for about 45 minutes so maybe things changed after I left, but for the most part everyone I saw around me seemed to be uncomfortable and unhappy to be there. The artists only smiled if you made direct eye contact, and even then many of them could only manage a weak grin. They seemed disengaged and overwhelmed, staring off into space, sitting behind their art instead of beside it, frowning when they thought no one was looking, and otherwise just shuffling around. The patrons, those people who came there ostensibly to shop and make connections with artists, all sat on sofas that were distant from the artists themselves. Many of them looked bored and disinterested. They couldn't even talk to each other because the music was too loud for any of them to comfortably communicate.
As an artist I would love more places to show off my work, make connections, and maybe even drum up some sales. I especially like the idea of a showcase that is different than the norm, something that is more intense and more engaging for the people who go. I think that is what RAW wanted to be that evening in Louisville. But instead the whole thing felt more like they were checking boxes rather than trying to actually figure out what works and what doesn’t, or how they can actually make the artists feel more like the center of attention rather than sideshows on the way to the bar.
Finally, I know that RAW also has allot of controversy surrounding it. There are many people who accuse them of scamming artists and putting on "vanity shows." I'm not going to speak to that directly. I'm not here to rant. But if you are an artist considering participating in a RAW event in your neighborhood I would suggest doing a Google search or two before you sign up. Read what other people are saying. Take their advice seriously and make sure you know exactly what you are getting in to and how you can use it to boost your exposure. Without that solid game plan it is easy for events like RAW to swallow you whole.