Raleigh jewelry designer Alysha Bushey felt stuck in a craft-show rut.
“I’ve been in the craft circuit, and I’m trying to get out of there because I don’t think that’s where my customer is,” says Bushey, 26, owner of Saola Designs.
But then she discovered an escape route.
The night of June 6, Bushey showed her work to hundreds of people in the community at the first Raleigh RAW showcase. “It was the first showcase that I’ve been to like that,” Bushey says. “I’ve given out more business cards at this showcase than at any other show.”
RAW is an arts organization that presents local artists’ work in monthly community showcases. Founded by a Los Angeles fashion designer in 2009, RAW holds showcases in more than 50 cities nationwide and in Brisbane, Australia. The second Raleigh showcase will be held Wednesday. As Raleigh RAW showcase director, Brittany Guarino finds a mixture of visual artists, performing artists, designers, stylists and musicians – between 20 and 30 artists – for each show.
“We try to keep things really diverse,” Guarino says. “We don’t stick to one type of artist. We try to encompass all types.”
That variety, she said, makes the night something anyone can enjoy. She said about 350 people attended the June showcase.
“I was shocked at the turnout,” says Raleigh fashion designer Kristin Robbins, who showed her clothing under her brand name, Tyger Alexis. “Everyone just seemed really excited about the event.”
The atmosphere depends on the artists, Guarino says, who make it “swanky and hip.” The night progresses through a concert featuring a local band or two, a runway show featuring local fashion designers and hair and makeup stylists, and an after-party. Visual artists’ work adds to Solas’ – the venue – aesthetics.
“Our artists deck the place out,” she says.
Because each artist must sell 20 tickets to the event instead of paying a fee to participate, Guarino says audience members are just as diverse as the art.
“When artists are selling tickets, they’re selling them to parents, grandparents,” she says. “Sometimes the music is too loud downstairs for people’s grandparents, so they’ll go up a floor to where the runway show will be, and it’s much calmer.”
But people as young as 18 can attend the shows, and people in the arts community outnumber grandparents, Guarino says. “During the event, the majority of the people there are involved somewhere in the arts.”
That’s what makes the showcase so appealing to artists like Durham painter Darius Quarles, who says he rarely turns down the opportunity to show his work.
“Exposure’s the key,” he says. “Networking is the lock.”
Quarles has been painting for almost 10 years, and he says RAW had a unique spirit that validates an artist’s work, uniting some of the best artists in the area.
“If you do a RAW show, it motivates you to say, ‘I’m still in it,’” he says. “It’s the event swagger.”
RAW provides artists with professional photos, an on-camera interview and a profile on its website to help market their work.
After the June showcase, Robbins received an invitation to show at Charlotte NC Fashion Week. While she does not know if it was because she showed at RAW – and directors of the fashion week did not respond to interview requests – she says RAW strengthened both her design platform and the arts platform in the Triangle.
“RAW was just a catalyst to exposure and opportunity,” she says. “It was really great to see this stuff emerging from our hometown.”