viewpoint published in:
the press of manorville and the moriches friday, february 17, 2006
"artists are hindered by pay-to-play metality of east end art shows"
while summer in the hamptons is the “season of east end benefit parties." it is also the season of outdoor art shows. it seems as though every town, every village, main street, church, museum and school has one. there are themed art shows, arts and crafts shows, fine art only shows, weekend art shows, juried art shows, and on and on.
as varied as they are, there is one thing that almost every art show has in common, the tie that binds: it is the artists who pay to show in these exhibits.
ever go to the theater where the actors pay to perform and the audience gets in for free?
seen any music in the parks or village greens or on the beaches throughout the east end last summer? was it the musicians who paid to play? or the audience? or a sponsor such as a bank or real estate company or local civic association?
when you go to your local libraries on sunday afternoons to hear famous authors speak, are they paying to be there or are you?
yet no one questions, weekend after weekend, artists spending $100, $150, $300 to “rent” a 10’ x 10’ space on a main street or village green for a two-day art fair that is absolutely free to the public. if art shows are the weekend's entertainment, then why are the entertainers paying to perform instead of the audience?
let’s say we have sixty artists exhibiting (a medium sized show) each paying $120 (a median amount) for a weekend show. that would come out to $7,200 paid by the artists in entry fees. surely there is someone willing to make that sort of commitment to get their name attached to an annual art fair. surely we can pass the hat for art fairs as we do for wednesday night concerts in agawam park so that the public can put in its dollar or two.
the current system abuses the two facts that: artists are notoriously unorganized as a group and there are always those willing, and needing, to pay-to-play.
but it is wrong. and it gets even worse. an organization such as a local museum, whose main function is to exhibit art with a particular sensitivity to local artists will have a juried show that works like this: if they are members of the organization holding the exhibit, artists may submit up to five slides for $50 (sometimes three or two slides, sometimes the price varies) . if they are not members, the artist will, of course, first have to become a member, for another $30 (or $25 or $40). and here’s the funny part -- if your painting is not accepted into the show by the jury, they still get to keep the $50 plus the $30! nice deal, huh?
oh, and that doesn’t include the 30-50% commission the organization will charge on all sales!
according to caroll michels excellent book “how to survive and prosper as an artist”, the national artists equity association’s “recommended guidelines for juried exhibitions” states that,
“while certain circumstances might necessitate asking the artists who are chosen [my italics] to share in some of the costs, national artists equity suggests that this be done only as a last resort and that the charges should be published in advance. however, charging fees to all [their italics] prospective artists (entry fees) is considered to be inappropriate and unprofessional.”
“the national endowment for the arts has also had a long-standing position against the charging of fees. a spokesman for the nea has stated that ”if a show promoter charges fees . . . top caliber artists won’t enter the show, and . . . shows requiring entry fees generally don’t have good reputations.”
you may think these entry fees are minimal? $120 for a weekend booth, add on two days working the booth (and more including all the set up work) plus two days of missed "real" work painting. and perhaps no sales -- it happens more often than not. there are art shows and $120 entry fees every weekend.
but $120 is my electric bill for a month. these fees are not inconsequential to me as an artist.
this is a community that has been built, to a certain degree, on its relationship with its local artists; the famous, the infamous and the not-so-famous. talk about the hamptons with someone who is not familiar with the area and how many sentences does it take before you are talking about the artists of the hamptons. it is a source of great pride, as well it should be.
and so it is way past time that we begin to treat one of our great resources more kindly.
the practice of artists paying for the art shows that attract hundreds, if not thousands of people to spend money in local villages on restaurants and shopping, must end. artists: refuse to pay to show -- the towns and villages need you to fill their village greens on those days more than you need them. imagine if no one paid, if no artists showed up. we can find a way to organize our own "open" art shows.
the solutions are simple: find a sponsor. collect small change from the public. collect a reasonable percentage from sales made.
a bit of respect and love for one of our great resources: local artists.
if you are an artist or artists' organization who would like to pursue this issue, call me. if you are an art show administrator and would like to talk about the 2006 art show season, call me. if you own, or know of, a large field/barn where artists could set up their booths on a weekend(s) in return for a percentage of sales, call me. if you would like to sponsor a new or existing art show, call me. i look forward to continuing this conversation in the press' "letters to the editor". my phone number is 631/878-7961.
surely, together we can find a better, fairer way.