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?