Art Fair Insiders

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Madison "On the Square" jury misrepresentation??? You be the judge?

I had suspected for a couple years that Madison On the Square was not doing a conventional "on site" jury.  I just saw an e-mail they sent out on March 16th informing applicants that the jurors will be given 8 days to review the applicants.  To me this smelled of "off site" jurors being given the code to get into ZAPP ADMINISTATION for jurying at their own leisure. 

I think that this is the absolute wrong way to go for a jury process.  So why would they want to do this?  Saving costs would be tops on the list of reasons to do this.  They charge $35 per artist jury fee.  Let's assume that they get 1200 applications.  This is a top 50 show.  Maybe they will get even more.  Sure I know that there are between 62 and 87 re-invited artists that don’t have to pay a jury fee.  However, that's still about $42,000 just in jury fees not counting late jury fees.  Even if they paid 4 paid jurors for 2 days covering all the expenses for airfare if necessary, hotel and food, additional support employees, ZAPP projectors, or computer rental, etc, I would think that quite a tidy profit could still be derived from this profit center of the show.  Or perhaps the director doesn't want to be bothered with the tremendous effort involved in producing an "on site" jury.  I understand this as I've done it but....well, I guess, that's part of the job.  Maybe the director doesn't think that they are any qualified jurors within a 1000 miles.  No, that couldn't be.  I know that looking at 1200 applications, 4800 images, is a chore.  If done over 2 days, 600 artists are very manageable.  Sure it can be visually and mentally exhausting.  But I don’t think that’s the problem.  Ok, so I'm perplexed.

If the jurors are looking at the images ‘off site’ then the images are not looked at simultaneously as it says in the prospectus. They are not looked at simultaneously by the jurors as is done in a ZAPP projected jury.  And in addition, when off site they are not projected; they are looked at on a monitor when viewed off site.  When viewed on the on-line ZAPPLICATION process, the images are looked at individually with only a very small thumbnails being seen as a grouping at the end and on the scoring page; these small hard to see thumbnails are the only simultaneous viewing of the images.  This seems very deceptive to me.  By the way, I have been suggesting for 3 or 4 years to ZAPP that they enlarge these grouped images.  I finally hear that they may do just that.

Now let's look at it from the artist’s viewpoint as to why this is a problem for them.  Jurors would perhaps be dispersed across a large area in different time zones.  (Ok so the 2 jurors that they’ve announced are from the Madison area). Maybe they would be looking at the images during the directors working hours and maybe not?  What if they had multiple questions with no one to answer them?  What will their pre-jury instruction be?  Who will enforce the rules?  I've been to enough live juries to know that there are a lot of questions.  Will the jurors be looking at the images on quality monitors, or even similar monitors?  Will different judges be seeing the same thing from an image or not?  Perhaps juror 'A' has an old CRT monitor that's 10 years old and is totally not able to be controlled for color and brightness.  Perhaps juror 'B' has a monitor that cost $50 at some box store and the contrast is so bad that there is no shadow detail seen or the highlights are completely non-existent.  Laptops are notorious for their poor quality of images.  The point is that the jurors may not be seeing the same thing.  As a professional photographer I know how important "calibrated" monitors are.  Calibration standardizes what is seen on a monitor as long as it’s capable of control.  Ok, let’s proceed.  What if juror 'C' has a young child that is home and needing attention while they are jurying images during this 8 day process?  The jurors could be very distracted from doing their due diligence for any number of reasons:  diaper change, ice cream time, homework, domestic dispute, etc.  What if juror 'D' worked really hard all day but waited till the last moment to jury the images.  Perhaps they fall asleep at their screen and are half conscious giving a score and click on the wrong button.  Will that juror be doing justice to the jury system by being totally exhausted at the end of their work day?  Not likely.  Jurors “off site” can look at images for different lengths of time.  Is this fair?  They can even research web sites and explore other images done by artists.  Is that fair?  What if the juror decides to consult with what friends think of an artists’ work.  The images could be copied and pasted to be seen anywhere.  This alone has been a major concern for many artists.

The bottom line for me and I hope many artists is that they are not, let me repeat that, are not being judged equitably.  For $35, or $5 or $75 for that matter, they deserve a fair shake.  Having jurors not "on site" is not a fair and equitable way for shows to be jurying.  There are way too many variables for the jury process to proceed along this path to give the artist what they are paying for and deserve.  For years this show was run successfully by intern directors:  graduate students, in the arts program at UW Madison, who would be the director for 2 to 3 years.  Now a paid director has taken over and it seems that what is now important is the bottom line.  It is no longer the well being of the artists and what is in their best interest.

Is it a stretch to assume that all of this has something to do with the chaos that has been going on in Madison and Wisconsin?  Is it a stretch to say that this has something to do with the current administration in Wisconsin defunding the Wisconsin Arts Board?  Ok, I certainly will not go there as it is off point.

The control, the standardization, of the jury process and of the jurors as a group is gone with this newest move by Madison On the Square.  It is no longer a "level playing field" for artists.  The shared experience is eliminated.  This smacks of a director giving up and giving in.  So I decided to email Annik Dupaty, the Director of Events, Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.  She is the director of the show.  I simply asked if it is true that jurying takes place off site and her reasoning for this.  She responds first by saying that jurying off site is the “standard of the industry.”  I don’t know where she gets her facts on this.  ZAPP does not even know what the percentage of shows jurying off site is.  She also claims that the system was set up that way when she took over as director.  I know one of the previous directors and this system for jurying was not in place while he was director.  There was a director between his term and Anniks taking over.  The graduate student director before Annik took over quit the post as director and did not graduate.  She states that,  “in these hectic ‘modern’ lives we lead it is hard to get full-time, busy working people to (1) align schedules, and (2) commit to being here for 1-2 full days straight”  Well, we have always been in these hectic ‘modern’ times.  Every generation lives through their own modern period.  Jurors were brought together for 50 years before this and other shows started to ask jurors to view images off site.  Jurors were in one location long before the shows were making the amounts of money they make now.  If jurors were paid a decent amount, I don’t think finding jurors to participate would be an issue. Many would relish having been a juror for the show and adding it on their resume or curriculum vitae.  She further states, “…and it isn’t necessary with the technology available to us.”  Well, that brings it full circle and to the conclusion that I reach and that is:  JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN DOESN’T MEAN THAT THAT YOU SHOULD.  The world is full of misguided decisions made with the idea that just because something can be done means that it should be done.

Since the costs for jurying have been so dramatically cut, have the jury fees or booth fees been reduced?  Would Annik be willing to send out a fair Survey Monkey to see what the applying artists feel about “off site” jurying?  I’d love to hear that the applying artists think it’s a good idea and that I’m wrong about all of this.

I think artists deserve an explanation so they can decide whether this is a show that they want to participate in.  They ARE the show.

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Comment by Larry Sanders on April 15, 2012 at 4:00pm

Michelle, yes, it is obvious that the lack of conversation when something is unknown is one of the many problems with this type of jurying.

And there is no way to "safeguard against" subjectivism.  To remain objective as a juror is a very difficult proposistion.  That could be a another conversation tho.

I agree with Munks.  However, the Madison "AFOS" doesn't seem to want to be part of the discussion. 

Comment by Michelle McCune on April 15, 2012 at 9:59am

I can't imagine they have any safe guards with my personal experience - it doesn't make sense. I don't believe this juror felt my work was weak or not cohesive.  Either they did not like my subject, or realism, or perhaps they had a friend with similar work and wanted to protect them from competition. There are plenty of other shows and I have not completely ruled out this show in the future. I went to school in Madison and love the area so maybe next year. 

Comment by Larry Berman on April 15, 2012 at 9:49am

A few years ago I was told that for the Michigan Guild, the jurors had to verbally justify top and bottom scores. That was when slides were projected and the jurors were in the same room. That's not possible with the current way they do their jurying. I wonder what safe guards are built in to counter personal prejudice.

Larry Berman

Comment by Michelle McCune on April 15, 2012 at 9:41am

I am new to applying to shows. I was in 2 last year and did well and this year so far holds great promise. I applied to Madison and was not accepted - okay as I don't expect to get in to every show. This discussion is interesting because I asked for jury comments (if available I like to learn whatever I can). While comments were not available I was told my juror scores on a scale of 5. I received 5, 5, 5 and then a 1. Anything less than 3 prevents you from getting in.  3 perfects and then one lowest possible score. Somebody didn't want me in the show which I can live with but the large discrepancy between jurors is interesting.  I would have thought there might have been some discussion in such a case but if they are not on site then that would be difficult.  Perhaps there was and the one juror simply didn't like my work. I guess I'll never know.  I'm not losing sleep over it, I have plenty of other shows to do. It is just interesting to ponder.

Comment by michelle mardis on March 29, 2012 at 9:16pm
Denied for the forth year in a row.. Had my best show to date at the show 4 years ago, over 17 k.. Sad sad sad
I hope the artists that get I. Have a great show....
Comment by Larry Sanders on March 29, 2012 at 8:00pm

It would never be possible to view 1500 artists in one day as that may be impossible.  But it is possible in 2 days and maybe 2.5 days.

1500 applications at $35 each or more is at least $52,000.  Jurors were paid $200 last year and that may include on-site jurying also.  This is a huge profit center for the show.  Well this is another issue isn't it?  Why aren't jurors paid fairly for the work that they do?

I'd love to see or hear more about "the research" of the pros and cons.  Seems to me still to be an issue of bottom line and convenience.

Comment by Katie Kazan on March 29, 2012 at 5:36pm

Art Fair on the Square is an annual project of the independent, non-profit Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. The fair is in its 54th year.


In 2008, Art Fair on the Square began using a remote jurying process facilitated through Zapplication. Four new jurors are selected each year. Jurors are given 7-10 days to review works and record scores from the location of their choice. Prior to that time, jurors convened in Madison to review projected images concurrently over the course of a day. Consistently, then as now, images have been the sole factor used for evaluation during the jury process for Art Fair on the Square; jurors rank each image based on skill, originality, impact, and design.


In deciding to modify the jurying process four years ago, museum staff researched the pros and cons of remote jurying. Staff believed, and continues to believe, that the system offers significant advantages for both jurors and applicants. Instead of being required to view and rank several thousand images in a single day, jurors are able to review images at their own pace and convenience. As a result, the pool of available jurors is larger, participating jurors are less fatigued, and their assessments are more thoughtful.


Additional information about Art Fair on the Square is available on the museum’s website,

Comment by Bill and Jon Slade on March 28, 2012 at 9:22am

off -site jurying has many problems- and they INCREASE BUY/SELL possibilities- there is no communication between jurors- so if I believe that xyz is b/s; how does Jane & Joe (other jurors) get this info; or pass it back to me--send me a block of 50 apps to my home monitor that is color coordinated to WHAT?????- how does that work out for real color viewing-and then to jury by " YES, NO, or MAYBE and with 3 maybe's who makes the decision???  I realize each show does it THEIR way- but that is NOT what all this was sold to us as--A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD- LESS COSTS- TRANSPARENCY-  

Let us return to the days of ART FESTIVALS where working ,exhibiting, knowledgable , fellow artists are the jurors-not academia,curators,and those that have very little idea of artists reality (local art center volunteers). Back when NO APPLICATION FEES were the norm (not long ago); fellow artists in their respected fields were always gathered together-flown in or whatever to a location- all were proud to be jurors and known as the jurors for that ART festival by the applicants--COST DID NOT MATTER- INTEGRITY- TRUST- QUALITY_ and GREAT ART FESTIVAL'S were produced for the public and artists. tHE ARTIST, AND THE PUBLIC could go to a show knowing that your neighbor was a top of the line artist-making a piece of ART as well as they could-maybe even museum quality- certainly not finding someone next to you with lightswitch faceplates,and/or potholders ;or next to an AMPLIFIED MUSICIAN selling c.d.s-and singing the same 5 songs for 2 days- SO WHERE HAVE THE APP FEES ALL GONE- EXTENDED TOO--we all know about the  revenue source- it just isn't used for the artists or the patrons benefit- or to guarantee a Quality ART festival by assembling a qualified jury.  IT  IS TIME TO CERTIFY ART FESTIVALS - AS REAL ART FESTIVALS- FULFILL YOUR REPUTATIONS AS A TOP OF THE LINE EVENT--- NOT THE FLEA MARKETS ON STEROIDS THAT SO MANY HAVE BECOME.

CERTIFY ART FESTIVALS -NOT ARTISTS-- knowledgable jurors with communication between them can , AND HAVE WEEDED MOST LYING B/S'ers out of our industry in the past. It is time to demand the the ART festivals live up to their part of their prospectus that THEY have written for themselves.


Comment by Larry Sanders on March 28, 2012 at 1:00am

Maybe, and maybe not.

Comment by Larry Sanders on March 27, 2012 at 11:59pm

There is no excuse what so ever for a show director, basically a CEO of a show, to not know what is on both their jury details, whether they have them or not, and their prospectus.  I respect that shows want to do things differently but I don't accept that they let their standards in the jury process go to pot.  And as far as "it being cheaper."  Well what are we looking for?  Cheapness?  Maybe we should be sending the log in codes to China, or India, where things can be done "cheaper."  And as long as a show is in a medium to larger city, there should be no problem in bringing in new jurors every year and that should be the directors job or her charges job.

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