This posting is for PROMOTERS and SHOW DIRECTORS only - please note all artist comments or responses will be deleted. Connie has graciously consented to this. The goal is opening a dialogue with those who direct and promote art shows. Only promoters may post, unchallenged. We ask, encourage, hope they will read and respond. A dialogue is desperately needed.
Since starting art shows full-time about 13 years ago it has seemed, conceptually at least, that art shows, patrons, and artists walk the same path with interwoven objectives. Together we create the ‘fabric’, the tapestry of the art show world. It is woven of patrons wanting to purchase artwork to enrich their homes, their lives, or at least match their sofa. Of artists passionate about creating, turning their visions into tangible expressions of what they see and feel, at times allowing glimpses into who they are. At other sad times, in the most basal sense - it is for some to merely “make a few bucks” selling a product.
Promoters have always been positioned in the middle. Sometimes artistic in their skill sets, interweaving artists and patrons to create a beautiful and powerful tapestry which we know as a successful art event. Other shows struggle to connect the dots, with varying degrees of success. Others annually and dogmatically perform rote activities without thought or concern for the consequences. Merely overseeing an event and raising some money, primarily from artists.
In my relatively short time on the show circuit I have seen and learned the difference between an “event” and an “art show”. Between bodies and buyers. Watched the rise and eventual fall from grace of artist groups such as NAIA, PACA, CAFE, striving but generally failing to make substantive change. Witnessing groups such as Sunshine Artist and ArtFair Sourcebook struggle to find a path serving dual masters: artists and promoters. The annual Director’s Conference that seems such a potentially rich and bountiful source for discussion and interchange on what is happening in the art show world – usually poorly attended, deciding little, implementing less.
The objective is to start close to the beginning of art shows, logistically-speaking. Ask questions of and seek responses about compelling up-front issues we artists struggle with these days. We ask you to consider our perspective and explain yours. Only myself or Connie will respond and then simply to clarify a comment. The objective is to hear and consider your responses and learn the how’s and why’s of your decision process. If you care what is happening to your show, about the artist community that provides your artwork and have concern for your patrons - please, respond. Discourse is desperately needed.
THEN AND NOW
In the “old days” when I started doing art shows, jury dates were absolutes. Deadlines for application and booth payment were closer to the event. Wait-lists were small and for stronger shows usually no man’s land for one rarely was called off the wait-list. Jury fees were low although operating costs and labor for the jury procedure high as the process was manual, not electronic. Booth fees were far more reasonable and for the most part, shows were smaller.
Nowadays, the opposite seems the norm and the situation worsening. Jury dates are ‘mobile’ many routinely extended. Wait-lists increase yet still in some instances gone through entirely with people contacted on the ‘reject’ list. Jury fees seem astronomically high for a process that is now electronically performed with most of the earlier labor and physical costs gone and akin to watching the rise of gas prices – except they never do go down. Rejection rates for many ‘veteran artists’ are astoundingly high and in many instances the same juror used by multiple shows. Jury scores and juror comments are rarely returned. And despite soothing words to artists about understanding how tough it is for us, that response is too often followed by increased jury and booth fees and more booths added to the events. Herein lies much of the disconnect.
Let us put aside political correctness and see if we cannot live with honesty and directness. Please do not be politically obtuse but respectfully to the point. There is too much at stake to play at word games, word-smithing and word-crafting. Ethics and honesty are all that ever count. For example, if you respond with a term such as “critical mass” assume we are clueless and explain your terminology. Please don’t just reply “yes” or “no” – explain why.
I mean this last point sincerely - we want to know. Not to criticize - to understand. Eventually, to discuss. You may point out much we have not considered. Even at some point should we disagree, you will assuredly find many who see different perspectives to be a point of discussion and exploration for improvement. Things can - should - and must - get better. Discussing, listening, and considering will take us to that solution.
Theory A is that we are all connected, fellow travelers on this path, our goals interwoven.
1. Do you agree that we are partners on this journey of art shows?
2. If yes, to what extent are art patrons, artists, and promoters linked? Do you feel the artist ‘voice’ or perspective is important to your event?
3. If we are not partners, why? Is this simply your event and we are granted an opportunity to participate when juried in for the cost of a booth? That we are free to disassociate ourselves at any time if the terms are not to our liking?
4. Where do the art patrons fit into the picture? Are they important to the success of your event? When they speak through buying, or not buying, or not attending, is that voice important to you? If so, how so? How do you monitor that voice and incorporate it into your decisions regarding your event?
There is much inconsistency in the timing of deadlines prior to an event. At least one of the St. James shows sets their deadline about a month after their event putting it 11 months prior to the next year’s events. Many others have deadlines set 6-7 months prior to the event, some 1-3 months prior to their event. At least one promoter has a form of ‘rolling jury’ right up to the event. Such variability is confusing if shows are driven by similar forces (e.g., advertising, site licensing fees, artist applications). In this economy it has become difficult for many artists to pay booth fees, in winter, 6-7 months in advance of an event.
As for reasons to extend the deadline, the only verbalization by a show I have received has been stated as the need to achieve a “critical mass”. That response begs the obvious question of what “critical mass” are they referring to! All others remain mute.
1. What factors/needs drive your decision in setting deadlines (i.e., application deadlines, booth fee deadlines) prior to the event?
2. What do you feel is a reasonable time prior to an event for deadlines to be set?
3. Is the setting of the deadline for your event related to deadlines set by other events held on the same show date?
4. Over the years, have you lengthened or shortened the time period between deadlines and the event date? Why?
5. Do you ever extend your application deadline? If so, what drives your decision? Is there any ‘penalty’ for applying during such an extension? Why or why not?
6. Do you have a booth refund policy developed in connection with your booth payment deadline? If yes, what is it? If not, why?
JURY & APPLICATION FEES
Jury fees have dramatically risen over the past 10 years. In the ‘old days’ fees were $10-$15 and the application/jury process manual rather than electronic. The application was far more complex with paperwork applications filled out by the artist, slides titled often with descriptions of sizes and prices. Often a hand-written or typed artist statement. Slides were mailed in plastic sleeves, taken out of plastic sleeves and put into projectors (thanks to NAIA for their #1 contribution to the art show world: the red dot!), removed from projectors, returned to the plastic sleeves and mailed back to the correct artist using SASE’s although acceptance and wait-list notifications were often hard-mailed. Shows produced hard-copy brochures describing the event that contained the application, these mailed through the post-office.
Nowadays most shows use electronic communication and jurying (i.e., ZAPP, JAS, EntryThingy) or direct-to-show mailing of CD’s. Material and labor costs seem to have dropped dramatically, yet jury fees have more than doubled (average $30-35 on ZAPP). Needless to say, many artists of a more ‘conspiracy theory’ bent believe that shows do this because (a) they can and (b) it is a revenue stream for the event that vastly exceeds the actual cost to jury the event. Go figure – conspiracy theorists!
1. What is your jury fee now? 10 years ago, what was your jury fee?
2. Is your fee based on actual costs incurred, or ‘fair market value’ for the service as established by other shows? Or some other factor?
3. Do you think there is an upper limit to what a reasonable jury fee is?
4. What has necessitated any increase to your jury fee?
5. If you use an online jury system, have your overall costs increased or decreased? Has your overall labor increased or decreased? In what ways?
6. A digital projector system for your jury process is more expensive than allowing jurors access to the images online. Given that premise, do you feel it is appropriate that jury costs should be the same regardless of the mechanics of the jury process itself?
This is a tough one. Admittedly, even in the ‘old days’ it was unusual for shows to return jury results, although some did. Various methods were used. UpTown in Minneapolis sent them on sheets of paper, Bayou City and Columbus Arts Festival in their letters, and Broad Ripple posted a spreadsheet with the average score for each of the four criteria used in the jury process. Bravo to all.
These days, shows still are resistant to it. Just in my own experience in 2012, I have had responses that it is “unreasonable to expect any meaningful response”, or “we don’t have the time”, or “given the pace of the jury process there is no time for writing comments”, or simply - “we don’t”. I have even been told that “generally speaking you have to be above the average to be accepted.” Ouch! Mostly we are left with “please apply next year - we will have different jurors”.
Most artists are somewhere on the scale of Perplexed to Infuriated by such responses. It seems inherently that if we pay for a jury process that by its nature provides a numerical set of scores used to determine our status (aka: fate), the issue is mechanically providing a means to release that information. An achievable endpoint given the models out there and the creativity that could be brought to bear in fine tuning those or creating new ones. For example, if ZAPP stores the scoring from separate jurors, it exists in their software. Perhaps a modification of the software to output it as individual juror scores is but a tweak away. On the surface, not doing so seems more a mindset against it or an unwillingness to spend the time and money.
That is the kicker - the mindset of why feedback to the artists is not considered relevant. In how many aspects of life does rejection or failure in the absence of information as to “why” make sense? I think the artist model of “success” is fairly straightforward: first, whether or not we get juried into shows we most want to participate in and next whether or not we sell to that audience.
Without feedback, how do we know why or how we ‘failed’? Were we close or not even? If rejection leads us to a conclusion change is warranted, without feedback, what direction do we take to change? How can we possibly strengthen our presentation? Was it our booth slide? A particular image slide? Booth hung too closely, booth too minimalist? One image not a good mesh with the others? Not a consistent enough body of work? If we are close, small changes, tweaks, may be all that is necessary. Not close? Especially for 2-3 years of different jurors? Obviously something more dramatic may be needed. How many years should we apply before we realize that perhaps the issue is given the types of jurors routinely chosen, our work may never appeal and we need to stop applying. Change merely for change is expensive and usually meaningless.
Probably should mention that here too, a chance the “conspiracy theorists” may pop up. Maybe saying, for the sake of example, a show charges a $35 jury fee and takes in 1000 applications - by simple math $35,000. To be told that there is no time or money to take down scores and juror comments and return those to the artists would be ..... Well ...... You know where THAT argument goes - revenue stream! Whatever! Pesky conspiracy theorists!
1. Do you believe it is important or valuable for artists to receive jury results? Why or why not?
2. Do you provide artists feedback from the jury process? If so, how? Individual juror scores? Average score? Juror comments?
3. If no, why? What should a rejected artist do in preparation for submitting next year to improve their chances of success?
4. Do you provide an online archive going back several years of the artists and their work juried into your event that might give artists an insight to the type of work typically juried in by your jurors? Similar to what Main Street, Des Moines, and Columbus and perhaps others do?
If there is going to be a start, let’s make it now. Share with us your thoughts, insights and perspectives. No feedback. Just listening on this end. Let’s start that discussion that is so sorely needed.