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.
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?”
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.