I was on a panel called The Business of Art presented by the SOMA Studio Tour along with Gwenn Steemel and Jared Green. I spoke about juried shows for visual artists and thought I would share my talk notes here for those of you who missed it.
Download this Juried Show Worksheet to use when researching show opportunities: MSWord | PDF
My first shows as a young artist just starting out were juried shows. My art teacher suggested a few shows for me to enter when I was still a teen. I was reluctant to enter because I doubted my abilities and I feared rejection because I was still a kid. When I finally got the courage to enter a show, two of three paintings got in, and one won an award. This was a large exhibition that attracted artists from all over Northern California, with a well-known juror. It was a very big deal at the time. Over the next few years I entered a lot of juried shows and had a pretty good run. I consistently had work accepted and almost always won awards or an honorable mention.
Looking back, that early success is what convinced me that I had enough skill that I could be a professional artist and led to my majoring in art when I went on to college.
As a student and emerging artist, entering juried shows was beneficial to me because:
- It gave me my first show experience
- It put my work in front of professionals who gave it either a thumbs up or down - the assessment of complete strangers who were not my teacher, my mother or friends
- It taught me to have a more critical eye about my own work when I saw it hanging next to work by a diverse group of other artists
- It taught me that if I didn’t put myself out there I would never have success
Eventually I burnt out on juried shows. There were limits to what I could learn about myself as an artist and how my work fit into the art world. Once I started college I didn’t have the time or the money to send my work all over northern California, and I began finding different ways to show my work that were more aligned with my goals.
There are pros and cons to every exhibiting opportunity including juried shows. It's important that you have an idea of what your goals are, do research about any opportunity, and make sure your expectations are realistic.
What are the benefits for artists - why should artists enter juried exhibitions?
Here are some reasons artists enter juried shows, and why they can be worthwhile. I have entered shows for all of these reasons at one time or another:
- To get your work out into the world and get feedback form other artists
- Be realistic with your expectations - People who see juried shows are most often artists, their friends and family
- Attend the opening - get feedback about your work from everyone you can. Network with other artists and ask them questions about their work and process. Thank the judges and the show organizers. Art openings are very important in building connections with the art world.
- Don’t expect to be “discovered” by a gallery or museum curator and be offered a museum show. It’s a little like speed dating - there is limited commitment from the artist and presenter
- To get your work evaluated by art professionals and judged alongside the work of other artists.
- Feedback you get from the juror is limited to thumbs up, thumbs down, a prize - highly subjective process
- To build your resume and show history. - They can be helpful in building a show history that will be necessary down the road
To sell your work
- Research the show to find out how much work sells on average before you apply if this is an important issue for you
- Most sales at juried shows are from collectors who already follow an artist in the show or from an artists' friends and family. There are exceptions but make sure your collectors know about the show and come to the opening
- Some collectors and gallerists love finding work by emerging artists and they will scope out juried shows
To increase your status and reputation
- It can build your reputation to show in a prestigious venue (museum, esteemed gallery) or have your work accepted by an important juror (museum curator, influential art world figure)
- Most worthwhile for students and emerging artists if you have a thin resume
- Once you are an established artist there are more focused strategies in forging relationships with influential people in the art world that are less of a crap shoot than entering juried shows
To win cash prizes and award money
- I see this as more of a perk than a reason to enter, especially if you have to pay an entry fee. You may as well buy lottery tickets, the odds may be higher but you stand to win a lot more.
- If you consistently apply and are accepted in juried shows, and it fits with your goals as an artist, go for it. But keep track of the time and money you are spending to see if it is really worth it.
For perks that come along with entering or exhibiting
- Some juried shows offer perks for entering or exhibiting, such as memberships, being featured in an art magazine, complimentary subscriptions, listings in an exhibition catalog, etc.
For recognition in a particular medium or genre
- Some art societies require acceptance in their juried exhibitions for full membership (for example some watercolor societies). This has importance and weight within some media or genres (wildlife painting and the coveted Duck Stamp, for example) and may be a good strategy if applicable to your work and goals.
- The downside is that it can take years to be accepted even if your work is quite good so make sure it's something that makes sense for you.
For community involvement
- Many organizations mount juried shows as fundraisers and if you support their cause, it can be a positive experience to participate.
How does an artist decide which shows to enter?
There are three considerations that will help you evaluate which shows are right for you:
- Research - Find out everything you can before you apply to see if it’s legit and a good fit
- Strategy - Make sure the show fits into your current goals and direction
- Expectations - Be realistic about your chances of being accepted and the benefits of exhibiting in a specific show
Research - Find out everything you can before you apply to see if it’s legit and a good fit
Don’t enter blindly, do some research before entering any exhibition or contest. There are a lot of scams and schemes to separate artists from their cash.
Artists are vulnerable because we need exposure to be successful, and we often need to rely on gatekeepers for entry into the art world. But we need the RIGHT kind of exposure, and we need to find gatekeepers that are trustworthy and above board, who treat artists fairly.
Do your homework and find out if the opportunity is legitimate and if the gatekeeper is respected in the art world. Recently I read about Martin Stavars, a shady art world character who has hosted a series of online photo contests, collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars from photographers, pocketing the money and giving little in cash prizes. The article alleges that in many cases the "jurors" never saw the work and Stavars chose the winners himself. (You can read about it here.) Thousands of photographers paid fees to enter sham contests. The more you know about a show, the likelier it is that you won't waste time and money.
Strategy - Make sure the show fits into your current goals and direction
Be strategic about which shows to enter.
- What specific goals do you have that would be met by being in the show?
- What are the costs of the show- in both time and money? Whether or not there are entry fees, if work is accepted, how much will it cost you to photograph, prepare, package, ship or drop off the work (to and fro).
- Be selective. Do your research. Plan ahead, don’t scramble to enter shows at the last minute.
- Do you feel like your participation in juried shows is a merry go round and doesn’t help you advance your career? Maybe it’s time for another tactic.
Expectations - Be realistic about your chances of being accepted and the benefits of exhibiting in a specific show
Rejection sucks. I always have a tantrum when my work isn’t accepted in a juried show. But don't read too much into a rejection - it doesn't mean your work isn't good, it just means the jurors had a different vision for the show. An artist friend of mine always says that if you get upset about rejection letters, you aren't entering enough shows.
Here are some things to keep in mind about the jurying process:
- The judging process is completely subjective. An artwork that wins an award in one show may not be accepted in another.
- Jurors are often called upon to select work outside their medium or area of expertise. If you are a sculptor, consider how valuable it is to you to have a photographer judge your work.
- Jurors need to put together an exhibition from a randomly submitted group of artworks. How your work fits into that grouping is as much a factor of the quality of an individual piece.
- Find out how a show will be hung. Will it be hung salon style? This is common with membership shows or when too much work is accepted. Does your work look OK when mounted that way?
- Is the show being hung in a barn? Make sure there are no animals in the barn...
- Don't take rejection personally.
Make sure you know what you are getting yourself into. If you have questions, ask BEFORE you apply. There should be a person you can contact either by phone or email if you have questions about any juried show. (If there is no contact person, you may want to stay away.)
Common fee structures for juried shows
1. Free to enter, gallery earns commission on sales
This mirrors the traditional gallery economic structure
Gallery earns commission (standard is 50% of sale price) in exchange for marketing the work and presenting to collectors
2. "Art lottery" entry fees
- All artists pay an entry fee whether work is accepted or not
- Artists get nothing if work is not accepted
- Fees collected go to cover exhibition costs, and anything extra is income for the gallery/organization
- Keeps artists of low income from applying and helps foster income inequality within the art world
- Nonprofit galleries/arts organizations (which earn most of their income from charitable donations, grants, admissions, classes/workshops; may or may not earn commission on sales; percentage varies)
- Commercial galleries (primarily earn their income from art sales, standard is 50% commission)
- An ugly and growing trend I see among commercial galleries is where artists pay just to have their work seen for potential exhibitions or for representation, then if work is selected artists also give a standard commission on work sold. Requiring a fee for a gallery to review and artist’s work devalues that relationship and cheapens the reputation of the gallery and the artists. Reputable galleries do not operate this way.
- Online contests and online exhibitions, “Artist directories” and “International Art Catalogs” – research these opportunities very carefully. Ask artists who have participated in the past how they benefited.
3. Exhibiting artists pay fee - rental gallery
- No fee to enter but accepted artists pay exhibition costs (I have seen range $25-$300 per exhibition).
- Slightly better than "Art lottery" since the artist only pays if they are exhibiting. But the cost of mounting exhibitions is part of the cost of doing business for commercial galleries.
- If the artist also pays the gallery a commission on sales, what exactly is the gallery offering the artist?
- Sets up a co-op or rental gallery fee structure which lowers the reputation of both the gallery and the artists who participate.
- If the artist is also responsible for marketing, refreshments, sales etc. what is the purpose of the commission?
- Keeps artists of low income from applying and helps foster income inequality within the art world
4. Entry fee for all - with perks
- All artists pay entry fee, all who enter get something of value, only selected artists exhibit
- Perks may include a membership to an organization or museum, a free workshop, a magazine subscription, vendor discounts, etc. Good compromise depending on the perk. The artist gets something even if their work isn’t exhibited.
- This is a good compromise because the artist gets something.
- Enforces income inequality for those who can't afford to enter
5. Miscellaneous rental scenarios - Artists play a flat rate to participate
- May be juried or not, may take commission on sales or not
- Artists rent tables or booths
- Common structure for festivals, art fairs, holiday boutiques, trunk shows
- Studio tours - may be a combination of artist fee, admission for general public
- Trade shows, gift shows, wholesale shows - expensive but good for certain media/niches
- Show expenses and cost for artists vary widely
- Some events also charge admission which can offset artists’ participation costs
Should artists pay entry fees for juried shows?
Visual arts is the only industry that finds it acceptable that artists pay up front for their work to be judged, and to receive nothing in return if they are not chosen for an exhibit. It’s not fair. But it continues because artists allow it.
Lottery-style entry fees, where everyone pays to enter but only a few get in, hurt artists, hurt
galleries, hurt nonprofits, and hurt the credibility of the art industry.
Jury fees reinforce income inequality within the art world and add to its elitism. They keep talented artists from applying to shows by creating a pay-to-play economic structure.
I think it is a bad practice to make artists pay for nothing, even though the practice is widely accepted by the art establishment.
How can we change the unfair jury fee system?
What can galleries and arts nonprofits do to change the unfair jury fee system?
If you truly want to support artists, stop asking them to pay something for nothing.
It is bad for them, it is bad for you and it hurts the art industry.
Here's what you can do:
1. Stop charging jury fees and fund your projects another way (charge admission to exhibitions, write a grant for exhibition costs, get a sponsor, ask the artists to help with fundraising ideas)
2. If you must charge jury fees, always offer something of value to everyone who enters, not just those accepted for shows. These perks can be free admission to an event or class, a membership to an art organization, a magazine subscription, career advice. Ask the artists what they would like in return
3. If you must charge jury fees, make them optional or pay-what-you-can so everyone can afford to participate
What can artists do to change the unfair jury fee system?
Here is some advice from artist and blogger Matthew Terrell from his article "Artist Entry Fees: A Necessary Evil or Barrier to Entry?":
“This is a hard reality everyone in the art world recognizes: entry fees are part of our system. Shaking ourselves free from this will require artists to step up for themselves and demand they get something in return for entry fees. If they don’t get into an exhibition, they should receive some form of compensation to improve their creative practice. Not simply a lesson in how expensive and unfair the art world can be to many folks trying to make a living in it.
So, here’s what I say to my fellow artists: Send an email to the folks running these calls for entry. Ask what they will do in return for your fee if you don’t get in. Post on Facebook and Twitter asking (nicely … don’t be aggressive) for your fair place in this system. Give suggestions: We want portfolio feedback, free tickets, membership. Ask this of the judges, too. We need to start challenging the status quo to make the system better.” – Matthew Terrell
Galleries and organizations continue an unfair practice only because we artists allow it. If you are asked to pay a fee for entry into the art world, ask what you get in return, like people would in every other industry. And please call out galleries and others who take advantage of artists so others won't fall into the same trap.
Questions or comments? Chime in below, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org