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Omphaloskepsis Blog

Artists, PLEASE! Stop paying to show your work!

Jan 19, 2014

This is NOT the cost of being an artist.

I know you want to get your work out there. I know you want to show your work. But please, stop footing the bill for institutions to have a cultural experience. You've already done your job, you made the work. There are a lot of people out there preying on artists, using artists as a revenue stream, "serving" the arts community at the expense of the artist. Many vanity galleries and publications that do nothing to further your career, and leave your wallet empty.

Every week I sit at my computer sifting through and applying to calls for entry:

contests, publications, galleries, exhibits, biennials, etc. I sort through the calls and evaluate the value of applying.

  1. 1. how much does the application cost? Usually between free and (on the high end) $45.
  2. 2. Who is the curator? is this someone I want to get my work in front of?
  3. 3. What is the cost of exhibiting? Shipping, building shipping crates (time and materials), travel, per diem, truck rental, hotel
  4. 4. Will the organization pay me a stipend and is it enough to cover the costs? If it's an educational organization there is no reason you should be footing the bill to get your work there or get it back.

I understand you need to bulk up your resumé. But if we all just stopped paying the expense of showing our work, then the system will have to change.

What set me off this evening, while I was combing through my applications, was this one from Penn State University. My Accident Painting series shows well in a college or university setting. It's the right audience. In addition, my brother graduated from this campus and my mother worked at one of the satellite campus' for many years. I was drawn to this call because it felt like a piece of home. While reading the application I saw this:

"Delivery of Work: If awarded, artwork may be hand-delivered or shipped prepaid to Ivyside Juried Exhibition, Penn State Altoona. Penn State Altoona will make every effort to cover return shipping. Final shipping costs to be determined based on available budget., Each exhibition will have labels, a poster, email blast, gallery reception, and simple checklist."


No stipend. Nothing to defray the shipping costs. Just return shipping. For my work, that means several crates, materials at about $100/crate. Labor, about a week's worth of work, shipping- more than $500. The out of pocket expenses for me are somewhere around $1000.

Applications to show at an art center or eduacational institution should be free. Most of them are. Then, if the organization wants your work they usually pay a stipend. I know the small contemporary art centers that I've come in contact with do not pay for shipping or a stipend, and a few of these on your resumé is desirable: You have the opportunity to make friends and good contacts as well. You broaden your audience. And your professional behavior paves the road for good things to be said about working with you. I would like to show in Canada. Canada has laws about paying artists. CARFAC

Sometimes I send my application in anyway, because the juror is the curator of a major museum. I know I can turn it down if I can't afford to send my work. For one Brooklyn exhibit of my interactive sound installation Mother May I...? I aggressively fund-raised the $6500 I needed to take my work there and install it. That was worth it. I learned a lot about fund-raising, my work went up in front of a major curator and she awarded it Best Installation. On the other hand, I said no to a private museum on another continent owned by one of the richest men in the world, when they wanted me to pay for the whole deal: travel, shipping, presentation, catalog, promotion. After running the numbers this came to about $10,000.


Here's an email I received. I applied for a call to be published in a magazine. I missed the part where I would have to pay to be published. For many years I was an art director and then a creative director after graduate school. One fabulous job I had was as the art director of a publication called The Workbook. It published a photography and an illustration volume. Before the internet changed everything, this publication sold spreads to professional working illustrators and photographers and their reps. It was several thousand dollars for a spread in this publication. But the quality of the printing and binding was very high, and the books were distributed to nearly every ad agency creative director and design firm in the country, so the exposure was fabulous. Prior to working at this company and indeed following my tenure at this company, I used The Workbook extensively to hire talent. (My job as an art director at The Workbook was to review the portfolios, sometimes advise the illustrator or photographer on what to keep in their portfolio, and design and produce their spread. I worked very hard and long hours and what I learned was invaluable.) But my point is, I understand how these pay to publish organizations work, and they worked very well for professional illustrators and photographers. I would not participate as a fine artist producing high art. It doesn't make sense.

I do my research. I look at the expense and the real cost to me v. the benefits.

  • Will this further my career in some significant way?
  • Will this exhibit provide me with key contacts and access to an audience or organization that I won't otherwise have access to?
  • Will this provide a significant learning experience that I need and want?
  • Will there be a quality catalog  and/or other press?
  • Or even: Is this exhibit in a city where I have family or friends I want to visit?

But when the organization makes you pay to provide a cultural experience to their audience with little or no benefit to you...just say no. If we stick together on this we can effect changes.

Other blogs you may enjoy:

Pay to show-No go!

Residencies for parents-woohoo!

Now I know why artists are important

Category: Opportunties
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