Manifest's nonprofit exhibit development process is two-part and very intense. The curator and Manifest staff develop the exhibit theme which must be approved by the Manifest Board of Directors. Submissions are assembled by staff, and presented to a blind jury of anywhere from six to twelve (sometime more) qualified volunteer advisors with an art, design, art history, or otherwise relevant background. The juries are a diverse mix of ages, backgrounds, and geographical locations (local, regional, and national) including active professionals, professors, museum curators, and when possible one student.
For the primary selection process the jury is directed to score based purely on their objective assessment of the quality of the work submitted, without regard to the exhibit space, theme, personal preferences, or logistical considerations. They are provided only the basic information for each work of art, including special notes if necessary to understand the submission. The jurors deliberate privately and separately, with no debate or dialogue involved. The unique approach to this process neutralizes individual biases, and generally results in diverse exhibits of high quality artwork.
The jury submits its scores back to staff who tally the results, and then provide the jury-approved works to the curator. Only the works scoring 50% or better (that is 50% of the total possible points) are considered jury approved and given to the curator for consideration.
Usually, after this first stage, there still remain too many jury-approved works to include in the exhibit space. Therefore the curator is directed to assemble the exhibit from the approved pool. In this way, having undergone the filter of our jury, the exhibit returns to the person who proposed the concept, and develops thematic and spatial unity (exhibition design). The curatorial stage allows for subjective interpretation and judgment in order to fulfill the initial concept. However, it must be emphasized that the curatorial role at Manifest is more editorial and design-based in nature, not 'curatorial'. Most of the heavy lifting is done at the jury stage.
Emphasizing a two-part objective/subjective process and going to the extra effort to arrange for a variety of inputs into the process has contributed to Manifest's decade and a half of success at developing consistently strong exhibits with international participation and critical recognition. Contrary to the popular practice of sensationalizing a call for entry by virtue of the name of a celebrity juror, it is fundamental to our process and principles that Manifest's jurors remain anonymous. The complex layering of inputs (using many different jurors) further neutralizes the significance of any particular individual's identity relative to the project outcome. We believe ego, artistic reputation, or stylistic predilections of our jurors should have no bearing on the results of the projects Manifest authors. It follows that we expect entrants to rely on Manifest itself, trusting the organization's nonprofit intentions, our track record, and our reputation, to apply this process fairly, with integrity, and to the genuine benefit of those involved.
Furthermore our jury makeup changes dramatically, as do the themes themselves, from project to project, with almost no chance of the same pool of jurors serving on any two projects exclusively within a season. So from exhibit to exhibit a wide range of potential outcomes continues to exist for works and artists alike.
WHY CALLS FOR ENTRY?
Manifest's exhibition program emerged out of layers of professional experience, including over forty years combined experience in a professional large museum setting, university level instruction, academic program development, and professional fine art (studio) practice. Merged, these influences generated insight that none alone could provide.
The short answer to this question comes out of the academic realm—where students are reminded that to succeed in a professional career one inevitably must compete with others doing the same thing. This is no different for the creative professional than it is for any other career path. However in academia the competition is generally with oneself and the high standards of the program or professor, except perhaps when competing for a scholarship, award, or a seat in a coveted course. In theory academic competition is an effort to attain a certain high level of quality in one's work regardless of how others are doing. It is also to measure progress relative to one's peers.
In the world of art, however, we notice that competition often centers more on marketing spin, being in the 'in crowd', emulating the fad style, lathering one's work with rationalizations of meaning and importance while remaining blind to its deficiencies as a whole work of art, or relying on the willingness of other people to do these things for the art within their own limited agendas. In other words, quality (and competitiveness) of the work is too often dependent upon the quality of other things and other people completely independent of the work itself. This is both the responsibility of the artists and those non-artists whose careers exist by virtue of the world of art.
Students who have not yet learned to be students will often dismiss a professor's grade for their artwork by reminding themselves that all judgment of art is subjective. Ironically in doing so they also dismiss their purpose for being in the course and learning from that professor. Yet this is a pervasive and corrosive myth even in society. We believe that just as it is a mistake of the student, so too it is a mistake of professionals and society in general. This is not meant to deny the deep importance of subjectivity, but rather to take a stand for the importance of objective quality, of high standards, of seeking a common ground with the goal to always reach for the better on those terms.
Manifest's exhibition program was formed out of a clear understanding that there is an important difference between a sense of taste and a sense of quality. We respect and enjoy both, but we understand that to confuse the two, or to assume they are the same is a mistake. Our goal is to apply the one (our jurors' sense of quality) in the creation of our exhibits and publications, thereby empowering the use of the other (the public's sense of taste) by people who experience them.
Such an approach across the last decade and a half has resulted in clearly diverse projects collectively showcasing the full spectrum of visual art being made today. That is as one would expect when applying a system that is as unbiased as possible.
By offering a rigorous, carefully crafted, consistent, and fair competitive process we provide artists a standard by which to measure their work, and the public a standard by which to measure their taste. Hopefully this inspires them both towards higher quality.
It is the competitiveness of our projects which forces our selectivity. It is our selectivity which makes the participation rewarding. It is understanding all of the above, the principles that underlie the process, which gives meaning to participation as an entrant, incentive for ongoing competition, and high value to success.
Submit to a Manifest project. Learn about them here.