CaFÉ is not where you get your coffee but hot news about open calls to artists. Using quick search and filter by categories, artists are able to find attractive proposals to submit their work for consideration. Iryna Kanishcheva of GNV URBAN ART had an opportunity to chat with Raquel Vasquez, Program Manager at CaFE™. As an MBA candidate at the Warrington College of Business, Iryna was curious to learn the business inside of the program and understand what makes CaFÉ such a convenient service for artists and art administrators.
What is the history of CaFÉ? Who are the founders and how did you come up with the idea?
WESTAF (Western States Arts Federation) is a regional nonprofit arts service organization dedicated to strengthening the financial, organizational, and policy infrastructure of the arts in the West. We launched CaFÉ in 2005 after developing a similar software called ZAPP® in 2004. With ZAPP we created an online system that art fairs and art festivals across the country could use to handle submissions from ten of thousands of fine craft artists and handicraft artisans. CaFÉ was launched subsequently with the focus on handling artist submissions for all other visual art opportunities such as juried exhibitions, public art commissions, photo contests, artist residencies, etc. making it purposely distinct from ZAPP.
What customers value most of all? Why do they use this service?
As one of the earliest online application management systems for the visual arts by a nonprofit, now in our 15th year of operation, our customers trust our service and trust our product to help them affordably handle the application management and entry fee aspect of their art opportunity. Artists appreciate that CaFÉ is free to sign up and that it is a safe and secure way to submit to an abundance of visual art opportunities from one system. Organizations appreciate that we offer personalized service & support and that we have remained mission-focused and budget-friendly for 15 years.
How do you identify the market of your business and who are your competitors?
CaFÉ customers are in the creative industries – art galleries, museums, state, city, and county arts agencies, college and university art galleries and art departments, craft associations and artist guilds, artist residency programs, etc. After launching CaFÉ in 2005 a few other services have tried to replicate our model since but with different success and focus. The other services out there target very specific markets such as college and university admissions, and the literary and publishing industry and operate as for-profit businesses. A few others are start outs with limited resources or only locally focused. CaFÉ is focused broadly on the arts sector and driven by our commitment to the arts.
Why, in your opinion, CaFÉ became the most successful “call to artist” platform?
We know from surveying our customers year after year that they value our reliability and consistency. Hundreds of customers, both artists and arts organizations, are long-time loyal customers. Artists trust us to host thoughtfully vetted art opportunities and arts organizations trust us to deliver a service that is invested in the arts regionally and nationally.
How do you find your customers? What is your marketing and pricing strategy?
At CaFÉ, most of our customers find us. Either because they have used CaFÉ as an artist, or because they know of other organizations using CaFÉ. WESTAF also casts a wide net in the Western region and beyond and we’re known for our leadership in developing online services for the arts as such we have a vast network across the country that seeks to use our technology programs. Pricing for CaFÉ has remained affordable relative to our competitors. As a nonprofit, our focus is on developing technology services for the arts sector and the arts field; therefore, we try to price appropriately so that arts organizations of different levels can have access to CaFÉ. This way cost is one less barrier to achieving efficiency in the call for entry process.
What are the challenges you are facing?
Right now, because of the pandemic, our staff has switched to remote working. While we dearly miss the physical space that connected us to our team, I think this moment has helped re-energize the work we do by seeing how artists are not giving up even though they may be struggling and how they continue to be productive and still find meaning during these uncertain times.
How does CaFÉ help as a tool in decision making in the artist selection process?
Very early on, one of the catalysts for creating an online submission system was to help make submitting to art opportunities a uniform process with all applicants submitting the same number of material and all organizations receiving the material in a consistent and organized manner. This meant that no artist would submit more or less than was required and organizations could spend more time focusing on the review process with their committees and less time collating packets or chasing after artists for missing material. Before online submissions, the call for entry process was onerous and came with many disadvantages especially during the transition from analog to digital. WESTAF lead the way in advancing the process when we launched ZAPP and CaFÉ.
What are your plans for the company (extensions, add-ons, etc.)?
WESTAF is in year two of our 10-year strategic plan. As one of five technology products, CaFÉ is projected to continue growing and developing key services to meet the benchmarks we have planned out, and that is an integral part of the work we do in technology, advocacy, and arts policy.
Thank you! We appreciate your time with us. Wishing CaFÉ growth and development in the coming years!