Art Fair Insiders

Call for Artists, Making Money at Juried Art Fairs, Craft Shows and Festivals

I used to do Howard Alan Shows.   He has “regulars” who do many of his shows.  I was one of them.  He  and Debby knew my work well.  They know the work of their regulars.   Some weekends I would call about a show I hadn’t even apply for and he would say, “Sure, I’ll find you a space”.  I liked Howard and Debby, and though their entry fees were high, they put on many good shows.  But then they implement a $15 jury fee for each and every show we applied for.   That’s when I quit applying.

When I started doing art festivals in 1981, there was no such thing as a jury fee.  Then, in the mid-eighties I saw my first one.  It was $5.  Until then, shows funded their own juries to assemble the best mix of artists they could.  Now, 25 years later, shows treat the jury fee as a revenue stream, a cash cow from hundreds, even thousands of artists they know will never get anything but a “Dear John” letter.  Good shows today get more than a thousand applications and charge upwards of $40.  Do any of us really think it costs $40,000 to jury an event?  The bottom line is we are often funding shows in which we do not participate.

Two years ago, when I was accepted to Main Street Fort Worth I was rewarded not only with a $20K show, but they reduced my entry fee 10% because they got so much money from an overwhelming  number of jury applications.  Why should we, the few who got into the show, be subsidized by the many who were rejected?  Why not reduce next year’s jury fee by $5 so all applicants could benefit?  Why not reduce the jury fee to what it actually costs to jury the show?  Then charge the lucky ones who actually do the show enough to cover the costs.  Seems like a common sense approach.

I recently sent a $25 jury fee to The Des Moines Arts Festival through Zapplication and went off on a road trip to do shows in Memphis and Pensacola.  When I got home and caught-up on my email, I found  one from Stephen King the director of The Des Moines Arts show.  In it, he said he thought my digital photography should be moved from the photography category to the mixed media category.  The email said if I agreed I should respond by a certain date.  The date was long past.  So, I thought, since I had not responded, at least my application would be juried in the right category.  Right?

Not so.

On my next visit to Zapp, I found my category had been changed to Mixed Media!  Then I got an email from the show giving the statistics of the applications.  In photography there were approximately 100 applications.  In mixed media there were over 150.  Needless to say, I recently got my “Dear John” letter from Mr. King.

What did I get for $25?

Here is what I wrote on the Des Moines application to describe my work in 200 characters or less:

“Images of wit & humor from my imagination. By blending digital files in Photoshop, I work to emulate traditional darkroom photography. All work is produced to archival standards.”

Here are several statements taken directly from the Des Moines application:

In addition to the rules of exhibiting, the following guidelines/restrictions apply to the jury process:

5. Photography may only be submitted for jury in the photography category.

Photography – The process of capturing images that begins with a camera lens, then printing the images, by chemical or digital means, onto a surface. The photography category includes traditional film photography, hand colored images, emulsion transfers and digital photography that has not been excessively manipulated to achieve results beyond what could be done in a traditional darkroom.

Mixed Media – Includes any combination of a variety of materials to create an original work of art.

In 31 years of applying to thousands of shows, I’ve never applied in any other category unless photography was divided  and there was a Digital category.

Back in November when I got Mr. Kings email, I replied that I thought he should put me back in the right category and that his email intimated I wouldn’t be switched without my permission.  Recently, I emailed him asking for my jury fee back “ for cause”.  I didn’t get a reply back then and I don’t expect I will now.

Just what is it we get for our jury fee?

Views: 4452

Comment by Sue Foss on December 11, 2012 at 10:53am

I appreciate your thoughts on this.  I have been wondering as well.   I was told by a person putting on a local show that the jury fee was being used to help fund 'other costs'. 

My thoughts were that it sounded exactly like a revenue stream.  

I recently got a 'dear john' from a show where the jury fee was $35.  There were 123 accepted and 600 who applied.  That's a lot of revenue stream.

I would love to know what a juror is typically paid for jury the shows.  No where have I seen that.  I think that might put a different perspective on the idea of jury fees.


Comment by Barry Bernstein on December 11, 2012 at 12:29pm

Of course it's a revenue stream. Why do you think you get inundated with spam emails imploring you to apply to their show even though you have little chance of getting in? My favorite is when one gets invited back to a show and then still has to pay the jury fee.  They then call it a processing fee. I could see paying a processing fee when we filled out a paper form and send in slides because the show had to hire someone to sort and put those slides in carousels.

Comment by Nels Johnson on December 11, 2012 at 3:59pm

Welcome to the 21st Century art shows.  These shows know they can get away charging for jury/application fees.  You can vote with your feet or wallet (don't apply to the show).

The sad thing is there are about 100 others standing in line behind you, ready to pay the fees.

You have a whole fresh stream of baby-boomers, just retired, looking for extra income, they are not trying to make a living.  They will pay and pay until the sad reality hits them, that they are not really making much money.

Howard doesn't care about you Rich, he just wants your money.

What tickles me is when somebody near me at the show says, "Well, whew, at least I will make my booth fee."  That is not a good business model, nor does it show much business acumen.  One would be better off buying a bunch of hot dogs and selling them off a vacant lot. You would go home with more money and less hassles then investing $200-$300 in a booth fee for a marginal show.

Face it.  As long as there is a line waiting gladly to give their money away, the shows will continue to prey on artists.

Most shows now, with few exceptions, see us as a commodity that brings in a bunch of people to buy the beer and food which most shows get a percentage of.

Sorry Margue, of St. James fame, but I will not pay your inflated booth fee for meager returns.  In case you did not notice, these are very tough times.  So baby your neighborhood association could do with a little less moola, like the artists.  Patty baby, good luck getting that rediculous booth fee for the Charlotte show.

Me, I will take a pass on the preyers and pray that things improve.  Personally, I believe we have seen the best of the art show era and it will now slowly evolve into commercialism and crass buy/sell.  The "art part" is totally lost on most.

Comment by Geoff Coe on December 13, 2012 at 10:21am

Can't argue with your contention that jury fees are high for many shows.  They're certainly a profitable revenue stream for promoters, but they're never going away.  (Have you ever seen a fee, anywhere, that goes away?) If they did, promoters would simply raise the booth fees to cover the nut. 

In that respect, booth fees wouldn't be much different than banks and credit card companies.  Remember how excited everyone got when the feds cracked down on those guys to cap some fees and eliminate others--and the banks came up with other, different fees that weren't addressed by the new laws? 

Howard may have been one of the first to start charging jury fees (or not--I wasn't in the biz then, so I don't know.)  But his fees are cheap ($25 through ZAPP; $15, I think, for paper apps) compared with some promoters.  Reston charges $50; ArtiGras $40; even rural, locally-run Cedar Key (FL) charges $37. 

I've yet to encounter a show that doesn't charge a jury fee at all--and if there is one, I'll bet they just boost the booth fee to cover their nut, and then some. 

Comment by Nels Johnson on December 13, 2012 at 2:28pm

Oops!  Did I dare say, "the emperor is not wearing any clothes?"

When I dded my above comment, about 240 people had read the blog; now more than 450 have read it.

Yet, only one lone stalwart individual, Geoff Coe, has weighed in with a comment.  I am very surprised.  Is there no interest out there on how badly we are getting screwed at outdoor shows?  Are you a bunch of lambs, afraid you will be "black-balled" if you weigh in with a comment.

Let's hear some feedback folks, Fulwiler's blog struck a very important note about the state of our affairs. This is not a problem that is going to go away--we are all going to have to get more proactive if you want to hve any chance making a living at this portable enterprise we do.

With that said, Mele Kelelikimaka folks.

Comment by Connie Mettler on December 13, 2012 at 3:27pm

Okay, Nels, I'll put in my two cents. Not to be self-serving here but did anyone reading this post listen to our most recent podcast? There was an extensive discussion of where the jury fees go and what they pay for that explained a few things for me. Yes, the person who gets accepted does get the benefit of your fee, in some ways. What else is the fee paying for? It pays for office staff, rent, utilities and all the things that enable an event to host a show among other things.

I'm with you, the fees are too high for sure.  Here's the link to the podcast.

Comment by Lucia Friedericy on December 13, 2012 at 3:34pm

Actually, I've been thinking about this for a couple of days--what Warren said about wondering if it was legal. Living with a bunch of actors as I do (husband, son, sister and brother-in-law), I've been struck by the similarity with art show jurying and actors auditioning for parts in film and television-both very competitive ventures--and it is against the law to charge an actor money to audition for you. There was even a big fuss a few years ago with "casting workshops", which are classes that were offered at actor co-ops that were taught by visiting casting agents and gave an actor the chance to perform for them and hand them their picture and resume at the end of class--the actor paid to be in the class. There was an expose on 60 Minutes about this and many were shut down. This makes me question if jury fees really are legal or not as you are paying for the chance to apply for a job in a sense.

Of course, it can be cutting off your nose to spite your face, because casting workshops were one of the most effective ways to be seen by a casting agent for many TV shows and that avenue is now closed to actors. They were relatively inexpensive at aprox 15-35.00 per class depending on who taught it. Nothing free has replaced them and the biggest loser in a way became the actors. So maybe if there are no jury fees, the number of applicants per show will just continue to increase and the competition just get ever bigger with one less reason not to apply to a good show. I also agree with Geoff that the shows will probably just fold the fee in elsewhere--I doubt that artists' costs are going to go down.

Comment by Connie Mettler on December 13, 2012 at 5:17pm

As I was driving along today I thought about that old adage "what goes up must come down" (thinking about my current income), but have a feeling Lucia that you are right. But don't you think these fees, call them "jury" or "application", are like applications for other situations, say a competitive college, grad school, where there is a lot of handling going on and consideration given?

And it is a shame about the actors losing access to that opportunity.

Comment by Nels Johnson on December 13, 2012 at 6:40pm

All good thoughts and information--I am glad somebody is reading and considering.  I listened to the podcast, it was eye-opening in some ways--but I think Greg Lawler was onto  a good point when he basically said, to paraphrase him, "With the amount of money these shows get from jury money you would think they could get more jurors per media to give a better judging of your work, rather then having a person, well-versed in ceramics for example, having to make judgements on your painting."  Most shows do not pay their jurors much money.  They could expand the jurors per category.  They also could provide more info, like your score relative to who made the cut.  Most don't, and the artist is left still wondering what they might do to improve.  Yes, I know that most shows rotate the jurors yearly.  

Comment by Lucia Friedericy on December 13, 2012 at 7:14pm

Well, I think the difference with a college application is the employment component. Believe me there is a lot of handling and consideration in casting a role--almost always multiple call-backs and levels of people that you have to audition for. In a casting workshop class, an actor was actually paying for a class, often a very good and informative class, which is value given for their fee, but it was still found to be an illegal process because the casting director was using the process to consider them to be brought in to audition for a part at a later time. 

I think the grey area is whether or not being accepted in a show would be considered as a type of employment. Probably not, but then it is for say, the performers, musicians, stilt walkers, etc, that are also at a show as entertainment.

On another point, I also think that there is a difference for justifying a jury or application fee between for profit and a not for profit show. I find it easier to help the show pay its administrative costs, which I do understand--and I also understand how expensive it is to mount a good show--when the profit is part of fund-raising. But there is something a bit off-putting about being told that artists need to help off-set administrative costs for a show that is to be generating profit for an individual or entity. And that being said, I don't begrudge them a profit--I hope they make a really good living putting on great shows because that will keep them doing it, and keep them in business. I'm just not sure that their administrative costs should have to be part of our "cost of doing business". 


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