A real opportunity or a raw deal?

‘The arts and entertainment in general are one of the few industries that people will ever ask you to do your work for free.’

Stephen Miller

The number one objective of any starving artist is to get noticed, but it’s a steep climb to the top and the path is crowded with other hopefuls.

RAW: natural born artists, an independent arts organization, says they can help. But some St. John’s artists say participants are getting a raw deal.

Danielle Aubut is the head coach at Cirque’letics, a St. John’s company that specializes in the education of circus arts. She’s been a mainstay in the local performing arts scene for well over a decade.

Danielle Aubut specializes in circus education and aerial performances. Aubut is critical of RAW’s business practices. Submitted photo

 “So they offer you the opportunity to perform for exposure and for this magnificent opportunity you’re required to sell 20 of their tickets,” Aubut said sarcastically.

RAW’s business model has a lot in common with multi-level or network marketing companies such as Herbalife.

Their main base of operations is in Los Angeles but they have chapters in cities across the U.S., Canada, the UK and Australia. Recruiters find local independent talent in an area and attempt to find enough participants to warrant a showcase.

Each of the local artists, from hairstylists to musicians and everything in between, has to sell $300 worth of tickets or pay the money out of pocket for the chance to perform at a showcase. The idea being each individual artist gains a much larger audience than they could on their own.

Artists are not paid for participating in the showcase, but have the chance to sell merchandise or network and potentially make connections in the industry.

The online Merriam-Webster dictionary defines multi-level marketing as, “a business structure or practice in which an individual seller earns commissions both from direct sales and from the sales of the seller’s recruits, of those recruited by the seller’s recruits, and so on.”

Aubut is less charitable with her description of RAW. She says she is not the first to criticize the company. She references news articles, social media posts and a report on the leak of internal documents, that showed large profit margins and attempts at the company to suppress negative commentary online through search engine optimization.

“They try to put a positive social media spin on it, but if you actually just look through it, that’s exactly what it is,” Aubut said.

Aubut says her concern lies with the young up-and-comers who in their desperation to make a name for themselves, might get taken advantage of.

After being contacted by a representative of the company looking to have an art showcase in St. John’s, Aubut did some research on the company’s business practices.

Aubut was so bothered by what she learned, she decided to make a post in the St. John’s Juggling Club’s public Facebook group. She warned others not to sign on and linked an online news article and a blog post critical of the company.

“The arts and entertainment in general are one of the few industries that people will ever ask you to do your work for free.”

Danielle Knustgraichen is the director of Ignite Circus in St. John’s and trained at the École Nationale de Cirque in Montreal. She has several concerns with RAW’s business model.

She takes issue with the lack of pay the performer receives, citing the countless unpaid hours that already go into preparation and training.

“The arts and entertainment, in general, are one of the few industries that people will ever ask you to do your work for free,” Knustgraichen said. “You never have anybody calling up a plumber and saying, if you fix my bathroom one time for free, I’ll tell everybody what a great plumber you are, right?”

Like Aubut, she feels that young artists are most likely to be taken advantage of as they may lack the confidence to demand the payment they deserve.

She also questions if their business model would even work in a city the size of St. John’s, as most of the patrons and performers are already known to each other.

David Madrid, a customer service liaison of RAW, responded to an email requesting a response to the concerns voiced by local artists.

“Thanks for your interest in our organization! I’ve reached out to our RAW St. John’s NF Director to further assist you. Please let me know if I can assist you with anything further,” the email read.

The director did not respond by the time of publication.

Not all of the artists who have been involved with RAW are dissatisfied. There are several testimonials from artists who claimed the service worked as advertised, making connections that lead to paid gigs and boosting their profile considerably.

In the end, the responsibility to research the company and decide whether or not to become involved rests on the shoulders of the individual artists – a task made more difficult by the company’s efforts to boost positive commentary in search results.

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