Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Competitions Worth the Fees

Skimming through Facebook the other day, I came across an artist complaining about the high cost of entering competitions. Like many artists I've heard, he felt that art competitions are scams--a way for the organizers to "rake in the cash." Having been the organizer behind many such competitions, I want to assure you that most competitions don't make money and really aren't organized for that purpose. Quite often, they barely break even.

This may come as a surprise to some artists, but competitions actually cost the organizers quite a lot of money to run. There's the cost of advertising the competition to artists. There's the cost of paying the judges, maybe even flying them in, putting them up in a hotel, and feeding them for a few days. There's the cash awards. If there's an exhibition with an opening, there's usually promotion fees, invitations, caterers, valets, and more to pay. If there's an online component, there's a web designer who'll want to paid for his or her services. The list goes on and on. And the organizers are committing themselves to paying for all of these items before they've ever collected a single entry fee!

Now that you've seen the flip side of competitions, you may be thinking that a $10 entry fee is actually quite reasonable. But what about those competitions with big $25, $50, or even higher fees? Well, the organizers often use the entry fees to communicate a message. A $10 fee says all artists--pros and amateurs alike--are welcome. Higher fees are often used to let artists know that the contest is for professionals only. And there are a variety of valid reasons why organizers might want to limit the participants in this way.

When all is said and done, a competition is an invaluable chance to see how your work stacks up to your peers' work. If you get accepted into a show, it's a fantastic opportunity to gain exposure. If you win an award, you walk away with some cash in your pocket and a huge bonus to add to your resume. And if you're really lucky, you might even find a new gallery representative or land some other major coup. So how much is that worth to you?


  1. Jennifer,

    I am surprised at your comments as someone who has been in the art scene for quite awhile you know full well the higher end shows don't charge submission fees. Shows like the Autry, Prix de west, Buffalo Bill, Coors, etc have no jury fee. Only the low end shows have fees.

    Gallery run shows are self serving income generators for galleries that should probably not be in business in the first place and use shows as an excuse to get artists they couldn't represent the rest of the year.
    Most low end Plein Air shows not only take submission fees they charge a fifty percent commission on sales something the high end shows never do. High end shows take 35 percent or less and have no problem paying operating expenses. Because they have high standards they sell out most of the show. Low end shows take advantage of artists not professional enough for most galleries, charge high rates for submissions and high commission fees for sales.
    The fact is these lower end shows prey on amateur artists who just need to knuckle down and paint better.

  2. Armand, thanks for your response. You raise some excellent points. It's true that many of the highest level competitive shows don't charge fees, knowing that they will earn plenty of money from the commissions from show sales. This is not always true, though, as in the case of a museum-sponsored show that is for exhibition purposes only.

    However, I disagree with your comments about smaller gallery- and organization-sponsored shows open to all artists, including amateurs and emerging artists. Yes, in the case of gallery-sponsored shows, it is a for-profit venture, and if they're working hard like good galleries do, they earn what they receive. And because of sales and exposure, the artists benefit from these competitions just as much as the galleries. Shows run by most organizations, such as art societies, are not-for-profit, and any money they earn goes to a worthy cause: the support and education of artists. In short, I think that competitions are a great investment for all the reasons I listed in my post. Thanks for this discussion! What do other people think?

  3. I was all set to agree with you Jennifer and then read Armand's comments and thought he made good points. So I am at point non-plus. I like to think that the higher fees might mean that higher quality artists are going to be shown. I have learned to be very selective in my choices. I consider the group, the location, the juror... before entering anything. I know where my work might fit and don't bother with anything that would just be resume filler. I consider the fees to be advertising costs and for the most part, supporting artist's organizations.
    I think that the big shows that Armand mentioned are all invitationals too which are on a different level all together.

  4. Jennifer..
    Good post and wonderful comments that followed. I often wonder if anyone at all cares whether you've been juried in to shows or not... whether it's worth it to anyone but only to sort of stroke your own ego (or .....if rejected to dash it).
    However, you make a good point that occasionally you get a new client or a gallery will see you work and contact you and THAT is worth quite a lot.

  5. Hi Jennifer
    I can vouch for the fact that competition shows are one of the best things an arstist can participate in. Apart from the benefits of both selling works and gaining awards, it encourages us to do our best work. In my book it is never lost money. It is also an idea to put a small reasonably priced work in as well as more expensive ones, as this may be more likely to sell and you at least recoupe your costs.

  6. Hi Jennifer, thank you for taking the time to write such an informative post. After doing some local shows here in Houston, I've decided my time and energy (and money!) will be better spent entering competitions so it was good to hear your thoughts.
    I'll visit again,