First, you start with the name: RAW: Natural Born Artists, which must always be spelled in CAPS. (And we're talking about the artist collective/craft-show empire here, not WWE's man operas.) Next comes the process to be part of the movement: submit an application, and get a yay or nay. Then comes the art shows: more like a night at Sutra than your grammy's scrapbook festival. Instead of displaying your work on commission or paying a booth fee, artists must sell 20 tickets to the event at $15 apiece. In return, RAW promises a page committed to your work that will live forever on the Internet, professional photos and a promo video, free entry into any RAW event thereafter, and the option to showcase at any RAW show outside of your home state without having to sell tickets.
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The idea of pay-to-play deters many crafters and artists from signing up, yet presale tickets guarantee there'll be a crowd—and hot damn, is there a crowd! (Take it from someone who has done both traditional fairs and RAW—I won't say what I sell, as our Mexican In Chief only tolerates a small amount of self-promotion.) The company rents out huge spaces, fills them with chain-link partitions, and crams in as many booths as is reasonable—just as the traditional arts-and-crafts festivals. But the event is also carried by fashion shows and bands that have each sold 20 tickets. Depending on your disposition, it's either a huge art party with something to constantly fest your eyes upon or a nightmarish sensory overload.
However, if you make it through the evening, it's a hustle well-played. Your promo photos and videos end up looking not so professional, but the crowd is incredibly supportive and ACTUALLY WANTS TO BUY THINGS! RAW holds a few shows a year in OC—the next one is at the venerable Shark Club in Costa Mesa—and the events are in every major city in the U.S. and expanding overseas. Leave the free wine and cheese to enticing the art snobs.
RAW Orange County at the Shark Club, 841 Baker St., Costa Mesa, (714) 549-1250; rawartists.org/orangecounty. Sun., 6-10 p.m. $15.