On asking artists to speak at your event

I know we haven’t even gotten to Halloween yet, but I’ve been thinking about January and February 2019. It reminded me of a hilarious comment I heard during an art event:

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This person receives tons of last-minute requests to speak at this Black History Month event, or make a presentation at that Martin Luther King Jr. Day gathering. In one sentence, the person made several points:

  • I am available for (paid) speaking engagements all year round, not just in January or February

  • Please don’t wait until a week or two before your event to invite me to speak

  • I am perfectly capable of speaking about topics other than being a person of African descent

I’m not nearly as well known as that person I quoted, but I was invited to speak at five events during January and February 2018. I accepted four of those invitations.

  Me speaking at North Seattle College, with artists Gabrielle Nomura Gainor, Elisheba Johnson & Tariqa Waters

Me speaking at North Seattle College, with artists Gabrielle Nomura Gainor, Elisheba Johnson & Tariqa Waters

Know why I turned down the fifth event? Because the organizer waited until mid-February to ask, and was hoping to compensate me in “exposure” to potential art collectors. Maybe I would’ve said yes anyway… but I was a little busy with events related to my museum show, and curating a group art exhibit.

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So here’s your take-away, if you’re going to invite an artist to speak at your event: Ask early, and offer tangible compensation for their time. Even gas money or social media love is better than “exposure.” And yes, now would be a good time to book me for MLK Day or Black History Month 2019.