Thursday, February 5, 2015

Jury fees. Show fees. Is it worth it?

It started a few years back.   Jury fees for up to three images at about $10.  It seemed like a small amount, a way to help the organization compensate the jurors for their time. 

As an artist, I felt paying a small fee for the chance to get included into bigger exhibitions seemed worthwhile.  And if my work did not get juried into the show, I got my money back.  It was not something I did every year, or even every month.  I had plenty of opportunities to show my work in galleries, group shows and local exhibits for no upfront costs to me.  Yes, I expected the venue to take a percentage commission on the sale of my work. They made money when I made money.  When I joined local artist groups, I paid a yearly fee that gave me even more no cost exhibit opportunities. I paid my dues; the group got a percentage of the artists’ sales, publicity for the group which led to more opportunities for all, more members and that meant more money.

Not anymore.

Now, every show requires fees.  The jury fees have doubled or tripled and they are non-returnable.  Even galleries are requiring either jury fees and/or show fees to hang work on the walls for a month.  Some shows require a jury fee and a participation fee for the artist to pay.  On top of this, the venue usually requires the artist to pay them a commission of 25-50% should their work sell during or up to 30 days after the show. 

Adding it up.

Joining an artist group and participating in that group’s art opportunities now costs artists membership fees, jury fees and gallery fees. Yes, there’s intrinsic value in being a member of an artist group or guild for the connections to other artists, educational and social opportunities.  And I’ve been a member of several groups where I’ve made friends, learned new techniques, gladly volunteered to use my skills to help out, shown and sold my work. But now, even these groups are raising prices.  

Recently art group friend of mine, decided not to renew his membership.  Why?  He said, "Because I took some art business advice and asked myself how is the organization serving me?”

Good question. 

Another good question:  Have you ever heard of actors or musicians paying an audition (jury) fees? Or being asked to pay the producers to perform a symphony?

Yet another good question:  Why are all the costs for art shows and fairs being placed on the artists’ plates?

I realize that there are costs involved in making and maintaining a business.  Art is a business.  So, looking at it as a business, how can you afford to pay all these fees and give away a percentage of the sales as well?  I understand the economy has slowed art sales making it harder for galleries to stay in business.   

More questions:  But what about the artists?  How are we to stay in the art making business if we have to pay all those fees and give up a percentage of the sales price?   Do you, as an artist, then increase your prices to pay for all these fees?  And how does that affect your sales?

As an artist and consumer, I watched sale prices go up and sales go down.  Yet the venues routinely expect and continue to collect hundreds of non-returnable jury and/or participation fees from the artists.  It's no wonder the lists of art shows and fairs are growing.

But is it fair?

Sometimes, participation fees do make business sense.  If you’re receiving tangible marketing materials, media publicity and still get to keep the money for your sales.  I know I feel my participation fee for a local open studio tour is a valuable use of my money.  I get all of the above, catalog, signs, pr and sales plus the added bonus of creating art connections with other artists and art lovers from my local neighborhood.  Another example is an organization I joined several years ago.  The fees are reasonable and with it I get to show and sell my work at one of the city’s biggest ceramic shows.  In this instance, I do give a percentage of my sales to the organization, but I’ve made more money every year that I’ve belonged to these groups.  This is fair and makes good business sense.

Good or bad?  It’s a tricky choice.

I don’t know about you, but I am getting increasingly picky about what shows I am willing to spend my hard earned artist money on.  I want it to be fair for all.  I did gallery shows where they got a percentage of what I sold but it was even.  They made money and so did I.  I didn't to have pay an art audition fee to get into the show.   I think as artists, we have to stand up about jury fees.  We have to stand up as business people about participation fees, as well.  The symphony musicians don't pay to for the chairs they sit on to perform.  They get paid to perform.  So why are we paying for wall space on the chance we might sell something?  And then, if we do sell, we lose a percentage of the profits, too? 

It’s confusing, no doubt about it.  But, maybe as artists, we need to figure out where we stand and stand together.  Let me know what you think.


Melody Cleary said...

I'm with you, Susan. With a still down economy no matter what the news says, it seems unfair that we visual artists' show fees go up. It's nuts. I'm glad you've found other ways to market your work. Melody

Susan Gallacher-Turner and Mike Turner said...

I agree with your point about the economy, Melody. It makes the decisions of who, what and where to show that much more crucial. Let me be perfectly clear, I do pay fees for participation but I crictically weigh the costs against the income I gain. If the show comes in favorably, then it remains on my list. What upsets me most is situations where the venue is obviously taking advantage of the artists using fees to actually make themselves money and not the artists.

SO Art Studio said...

I could not agree more! I truly believe that if Art Festivals could only collect a percentage of sales vs a jury fee and a booth fee, many of them would cease operations immediately. I would also add that many times the artist is expected to pay a jury fee and then if they are accepted they get to pay a fee of between $50 and $1000 (depending on the show) then if it is outdoors, they are expected to provide a canopy that is tastefully decorated and tied down and to man that booth from any where from a day to a few weekends.

Instead of the vendor putting on the show taking the financial risk, the onus is on the Artist to take all of the risk.

What I love about the Studio tours is that you will be in your studio anyway, you art will be there as it is when you create it. It may only last a weekend, but everyone walks away knowing how to find you and has your contact information. The catalogs showcases you and what you do, and they are artist directories that people keep. A really good investment, in my view. Some of the best shows I have been in, are the ones organized by the artists vs an outside entity.

Thanks for blogging about this, it has and continues to be something that I have yet to figure out how to change... Sharon

Susan Gallacher-Turner and Mike Turner said...

I agree, Sharon and thanks for having the courage to join the conversation here. It's important to remember that artists make s product that is needed, just like any other product. I do believe that artists can change the systems by making choices based on good business and not fear.

Anonymous said...

I was in a local un-juried show where there was a $35 fee for "up to" 3 pieces. There were several shows going on simultaneously and the entry form was unclear, so I didn't know about the fee until I arrived to drop off my work. I debated as to whether it was worth the risk, as money was tight, and on top of the entry fee, the commission was steep for a two-day show (40%). The show was gracious enough to let me go home and bring back higher-end pieces.Unfortunately, the piece that I thought would sell didn't, and even though I raised the price only one of 3 sold. After all was said and done I lost money even though I sold work.

It's incredible to me that a gallery can ask an artist to pay to show, and I'm hoping that this doesn't become a widespread practice.

You're right Susan (and others) that artists need to be shrewd in weighing the value behind each show.

Personally, a notch on the resume doesn't help to sell work in the long run. Exposure can be beneficial; 6 months later someone sought me out because they liked my work in the aforementioned show. For now I'm taking my work and that of the artists I rep to venues out of state, as well as looking for other non-traditional ways to sell art. thanks for the post.

Susan Gallacher-Turner and Mike Turner said...

Hello Anonymous!
I've been in a local show much like you describe and felt that this particular show had such a large audience and a reasonable fee that it was worth it. Even though it was filled with local art and artists I knew and liked, I did not sell any work, and therefore not a good idea to do again.

I'm glad you made a sale and customer contact to make it a better situation. But as you state, it needs to be more than that to make good business sense. What I see as a pattern is the need for artists to raise their prices to compensate for these fees. Unfortunately, the customer only sees the sticker shock and doesn't understand the reasons behind it, making them back away from purchasing art.