Friday, August 28, 2009

More on Entry Fees

I recently posted a response to a local listserv regarding entry fees, which I am copying to my blog here. For those of you following this, I won't deny that my sentiments on the subject have changed some over time. I do still get irritated over entry fees. But I also see how they've come to be an integral part of the submission process for all that I don't necessarily like it. And I see how so many organizations come to rely on them to stay afloat, especially in tough economic times when other funding is harder to obtain. Essentially, the more I think about it, the more I realize that artists must be willing to invest in their careers and that different artists have different criteria for this. Entry fees can help open up opportunities that otherwise wouldn't exist - chances to show work that isn't as commercially-viable, work by less established artists and those just starting out, work that confronts the status quo, work that otherwise simply would not be funded...

Entry fees do seem to be on the increase, I think in part because so many grants and patronage have been lost or cut back, thus forcing many organizations to struggle to survive by relying more and more on the artists that they serve to stay afloat. But we as artists can't legitimately sit back and complain without recognizing our active role in this. We feed into the cycle by entering shows and paying the fees charged. Unless we collectively decide that we've had enough and en masse choose not to enter shows that charge exorbitant entry fees then there is less incentive for organizations to change, even if those organizations legitimately want to do so as a benefit to the artists but haven't found other ways to make ends meet. (Recently it seems that a lot of opportunities are being extended due to too few submissions; perhaps this does mean that artists are reassessing whether or not they want to pay those fees to participate and are being more selective about what shows they do enter.)

From an organizational standpoint, entry fees are good. They help to fund exhibitions and opportunities. And charging a fee to enter can ensure that artists will be more likely to follow the submission guidelines and to enter their best works to avoid declination. So it can benefit the show organizers in many ways. So I don't take up issue with the practice (although I will admit that some fees seem high to me too, but I just don't respond to those calls). What irks me is when exceptions are made for some and not for others. Inviting guest/celebrity artists is different because that establishes a difference up front, but waiving fees for friends and making exceptions regarding drop off times, presentation, and other logistics is both unprofessional and unfair to those who abide by the rules. It can reflect poorly on the show organizers, especially when they have put out a public call. As other artists learn of differences in treatment, it can dissuade them from abiding by the rules and encourage them to seek exceptions for themselves. And it can cause an uproar on behalf of those artists who felt like they got a bad deal because no one bent the rules for them. It also behooves show organizers to be courteous and communicative to those who entered, especially if there was an entry fee charged. Those artists who entered put both time and money into the submission process and deserve to be treated respectfully and professionally. Let them know of scheduling changes promptly and acceptances & declinations on schedule - they'll be more likely to want to work with you again in the future if you do. I appreciate all of the galleries and organizations that I've worked with and I understand that putting on an event is a lot of work and that things come up, but please be aware if you are organizing a show that you will be remembered by all of those artists who submitted and participated, for better or for worse.

I personally feel that it is up to each artist as an individual to determine whether or not he/she thinks something is a benefit and to weigh it against his/her career and what he/she wants to gain from the experience. It is important to examine the pros and cons. Sometimes the entry fees are worth it and sometimes they're not. Acceptance fees are somewhat better because they are only charged to those who are showing their art and thus gaining the benefit of exposure, but those can be high too and so those opportunities should be weighed according to the pros and cons as well. This also holds true in regards to donating artworks to fundraisers and volunteering time in organizations. We are all at different stages of our careers and all have different needs, so we need to determine this individually. Essentially, ask yourself - what am I willing to put towards this (time, money, materials...)? How does it benefit me? How does it benefit the art community as a whole?


Colin said...

i've managed to avoid the "pay-to-play" scenario for the most part, though i know i'm doing a lot less shows than some artist's in town. while i understand that it costs $$$ to put these things on, i'd rather share a percentage if something sells- in my opinion, this makes everyone work harder to promote the common cause, the sale of works. and why should the poorest segment of the art scene, being the artist, have to pick up the tab for everyon else?

ChaoticBlackSheep said...

I will admit that I do both shows with entry fees and shows without. I like to get my work out there as much as possible - it does no good to just leave it sitting in my attic. Especially not the pieces that are intended to raise awareness or act as social commentary. For me, it comes down to weighing the pros and cons, not just for myself but for the art community as a whole.

It is a greater benefit to me to suck up an entry fee (albeit not an outrageously high one) to be able to show something controversial than to just let it sit in my closet where no one sees it because a commercial gallery isn't interested in it as it's not immediately marketable and a local business won't take it as it may upset their clientele.

That said, I don't like entry fees anymore than anyone else. But I think that they reflect on more than just the politics of the art world; there is so much more at play. It is about the community at large and where funding comes from and how we are all supported (or not). It is about the breadth of what is available and what is funded. It is about creating new opportunities to offer those who haven't established themselves and can't yet throw their names around. It is about showing works that deviate from the status quo, that are not "safe" or are confrontational and that still deserve to be seen...

Without charging entry fees, a lot fewer opportunities would exist. Some for the better because they are genuinely in it to be exploitative of the artists that they purport to serve, and some for the worse because they enrich the art scene by offering opportunities and taking chances that no one else can.