Art Entry Fees are Too. Damn. High!

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I’m sure any artist who has ever looked into entering their art into juried shows has balked at some of the prices to simply SUBMIT to have their work considered. It seriously stinks. I’ve seen price tags as high as $60 to submit TWO images! That’s how much it costs to apply to some graduate school programs! Rabble rabble, I know, but it does suck when you’re an artist without a lot of money to just gamble away on these things.

As I always do when I feel righteously indignant, I googled “art entries too expensive,” and I found this great interview with Lori Zimmer, a Brooklyn based curator, writer, and art consultant. I really agreed with what she said regarding art entry fees:

“…but to tell them oh, well, ya gotta pay me. That’s a little too greedy for my tastes. I understand that you have to pay your staff and you have to pay people to look at things, but if there’s no return, where does all that money go? If 1000 people enter and they each paid $45, where does all that money go? And then if you’re selling the work on top of that?… It just seems a little greedy to me.”

And I’m sure in some (hopefully not most) cases, the high prices being charged are not even proportionate to the qualifications of the jurors. I think that there’s an unfortunate trend where even really inexperienced curators/ galleries with really unimpressive qualifications are still demanding high entry fees simply because that’s what other juried shows/competitions that they want to compete with or emulate are doing.

I can obviously understand what is most likely the original argument for charging jury fees- that it discourages mere hobbyists or people who are less than professional from applying by requiring that entrants put some skin in the game. But I think in some cases it has the opposite effect- you get only the people who are so desperate to have their work shown somewhere that they’re willing to fork over $50 to just have their work looked at and possibly rejected. I mean, curators and other arts professionals aren’t impressed by someone with a bunch of pay-to-show vanity galleries on their resume, so why is it suddenly different when you have someone willing to pay to enter a juried group show? Professional artists are savvy businesspeople. Unless your jurors have some truly impressive qualifications, they’re not going to see the benefit of gambling away their hard-earned money just to possibly be rejected. And if they are accepted, to then have to pay shipping and insurance costs on top of the initial entry fee adds up to a lot of money invested. The quality of work received would probably be better if the entry fee were something affordable- like $5-10, or if there were only a fee to those selected.

As artists, we’re asked constantly to gamble away our money, time, and skills in the hopes of it leading to regular work, a sale, or even just nebulous “exposure.”  If an organization or gallery truly cares about giving emerging artists a chance, then they need to stop forcing them to take on all the financial risk from the get-go.

Design Competitions: Scams?

Recently I was browsing my Facebook news feed and saw an interesting ad on the right hand side. It was for a “design competition” to design the album cover for a band’s upcoming release, the prize being $1000. Now, that prize is pretty good. Hiring a graphic designer to do an album cover would cost around that amount, probably. However, it got me thinking of all the similar contests I see out there that offer prizes closer to $100. And even if the grand prize results in what may be fair compensation, there are other factors that I think need to be considered…

Like copyright issues. During my senior year of high school, like many of my classmates, I started a fastweb account (a site that matches you up with scholarships to apply to.) My matches included some of these types of art competitions, one of them being to design new packaging for red vines (I think.) I was contemplating entering, but I made sure to read the fine print first. To my surprise, I found that the Red Vines company would retain copyright on all images I submitted. I would no longer own the work that I submitted, regardless of me winning or not. I think they offered around $1000 in scholarship money to the winner, an absolute bargain to the company, given that for that $1000, they not only get a new logo/design, but they also own the rights to the thousands of other entrants who didn’t win. It all just seems more than a little exploitative to me. Why not just hire a talented graphic designer to do the job? Or just nix the contest and just start a damn scholarship if you care about education so much? Oh, because it doesn’t involve getting tons of cheap/free labor. It just seems a little shady- and it’s such a gamble for the entrant. All but a small fraction of the entrants walk away with no prize money, nothing they can (legally) use in their portfolio, and out however many hours they spent on their work. Seems like an exceedingly bad deal to me. Oftentimes, these contests don’t produce very good work, and sometimes a winner isn’t even chosen.

Would you want being paid for your work to be a roll of the dice?

There are so many young designers/artists out there (me included) who are really hungry to break into the industry and get exposure. I feel like many of these types of competitions take unfair advantage of these naive dreamers. This website is a great resource on spec work and its unethical nature. Generally, these types of contests ask for designers and artists to put in hours/days of their own time, not to mention use their own materials, to produce work that has only a slight chance of actually paying them. Think about working at your own job only to be told when you clocked out “sorry, you weren’t the winner today, so you worked for free this week. No paycheck for you!” So, I’m not saying that all art/design competitions are bad, but be sure to read the fine print and seriously weigh the pros and cons before forking over your work and (often) money in entry fees. Overall, I think one is better off taking on small clients and getting experience that way. If someone truly respects your work, they’ll pay you a fair wage for it.