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Juried exhibitions: Pay to play or opportunity?

Juried exhibitions, pay to play or opportunity on ARTiful painting demos by Sandrine Pelissier
Art Business / Thoughts

Juried exhibitions: Pay to play or opportunity?

When you start working as a visual artist, it won’t take you long to realize that there is a lot of competition and that selling original Art is not an easy task. You need to get better at making your art but you also need to spend a lot of time marketing your work.

You might also be interested in this online class:  SELL YOUR ART ONLINE-REACH NEW MARKETS – LEARN HOW TO USE SOCIAL MEDIA

Juried exhibitions: Pay to play or opportunity
Juried exhibitions: Pay to play or opportunity?

You will also notice that many people are preying on the artist’s frustrations and are making money by selling them false hopes and shortcuts. All of us get solicited on a daily basis with emails that promise very tempting opportunities like an exhibition in Miami Art Basel, Los Angeles, New York, a feature in a book that usually has a grandiose title like “Masters of …” or “best of … worldwide”, “Contemporary Masters”….

Very often you get the promise that the book will go to art dealers and galleries owners and that many Art professionals will visit the exhibition, but there is no way to make sure these statements are actually true. These pay to play schemes are usually easy to spot especially when the fee you have to pay is in the hundreds or thousands of dollars.

are juried exhibitions a scam

A reputable commercial gallery won’t make you pay to exhibit your Art, they will make their money from their commission, so they work with the artist as a team to get sales. If you pay thousands of dollars to show in a gallery, they don’t have so much incentive to sell your Art, you are the target market they go after, not the gallery visitors.

should you pay to exhibit

Hooked on Trees, 48 x 48 inches

Some commonly used practices in the Art world are not so obviously deceptive or unfair to the Artist but might also not be as beneficial as you would think.

For example, I am starting to rethink my participation in juried exhibitions and decided to be way more selective and participate only in a few juried exhibitions every year.

I entered a lot of juried exhibitions in the past 10 years, sometimes I got rejected and many times I got in, I even won a few awards, but if I look back I am not sure all of these competitions were beneficial to me.

are juried exhibitions good

They were more important I think when I was just starting to paint as  a way to know how I measured up to the other artists, but as I get more confident in my work, I also see a lot of drawbacks in entering too many of these juried competitions:

  • It is very costly, you have to pay an entry fee, maybe framing if it is a work on paper, a crate or some packaging if you are shipping the work…
  • Your work risk being damaged when you transport it or when you ship it, I had a few frames damaged either in storage or while being handled in such exhibitions.
  • Usually, you have a very low chance of selling the work, as you will exhibit with 30 or more other artists. Sales are very low in these kinds of exhibitions and most of the people attending the opening are the artists themselves, family or friends of the artists who came to support them.
  • You might have to pay for shipping back the painting if it did not sell.
  • Sometimes you know who is on the jury, sometimes you don’t. When you don’t there is a risk of politics and conflicts of interest with members of the jury, so the end result has nothing to do with the Art itself..
  • In some cases the jury might be biased towards a certain style, I recommend looking at past exhibitions to see if you Art fits into the style.
  • At the end of the day, you basically end up paying a few tens or hundreds of dollars for a line on your resume but will that help your career? I am not sure… The real good opportunities are usually free or very affordable for the Artist
is it worth entering juried exhibitions

Going in circles, 48 x 48 inches

I am not saying that all exhibitions with entry fees are a bad thing, as I previously mentioned I did enter many of them especially when I was just starting to exhibit. I understand that Artists organizations need to make money in order to operate but in a perfect world that income would come more from sales commissions than from entry fees and memberships.  I am now becoming more selective, participating only if the price is reasonable and if I am very interested in the exhibition theme or location. I will definitely have a preference for Art organizations that are making public the names of the jurors and also Arts organizations that show a genuine interest in helping the Artists in their community by keeping participating fees reasonably low.

What is your view on juried exhibitions? Do you enter many of them or do you avoid paying fees altogether? I would be very interested in reading your feedback  in the comments.

4.3/5 - (9 votes)

Comments (30)

  1. Anne Wise

    Thank you for your newsletters, Sandrine . . . I’m an artist-wannabe who only plays around, and appreciate all that you offer . . . I would just like to point out that not all juried art shows charge a submission fee . . . Lake Country ArtWalk is an arts festival celebrating its 30th anniversary this year (Sept 9/10) . . . we are all volunteers – no one, not the committee chair who lives and breathes ArtWalk, nor the core organizing committee (of which I am but one), not the judges, not the many, many volunteers we depend on, takes a salary . . . perhaps that’s a reflection of this wonderful community . . . we typically attract 5-7,000 visitors at a toonie apiece, and charge accepted artists $100 for 100 sq ft, $200 for 200 sq ft plus a 10% commission on sales . . . we have 4 sound stages with performing artists all day (performing artists are paid CARFAC fees) . . . all told there are 200+ artists represented, from professional full-time artists to artists with day jobs . . . jurying is done to ensure quality, not make money . . . the only stipulation is that applicants must live within the Okanagan Valley . . . my point is that with a lot – really a lot! – of dedication and support from community members and businesses, a quality art show can be produced without a lot of cost to artists . . . thanks again, Sandrine, for all that you do – Anne 🙂

  2. Barbara Handler

    I have worked as an artist practically all my life. After teaching art in a junior high school in NC for 6 years, I quit in 1974 to pursue a masters in jewelry and metal smithing, with the goal of teaching in college. I could only get adjunct positions, so I supplemented my income by selling jewelry at craft fairs. I also did work in the giftware industry as a designer and sculptor (think Franklin Mint.) When I became a parent, I was lucky enough to be offered a position teaching art at a little Quaker school, where my child got a free education and I happily taught for 23 years. Upon my retirement in 2012, I was excited to be able to make art again. I started by making beaded necklaces with all the beads left over from stringing enamels on beads and did a few local craft fairs to sell them. But I was happiest when I began to paint again. I started to enter online competitions and those at local art centers. But I realized that if I was going to continue to accumulate more paintings, I needed to sell them to make room for new work. I swore I’d never go back to being a business, but I find myself, at age 77, looking for more opportunities to show and promote my art work. I had to overprice my work to be shown at a gallery, and pay a commission for any work sold in an art show, except for the work I sell at an open studio tour for which I have to pay to participate. I can’t get away from the pay to play concept! I primarily use Facebook to promote my work, and am considering adding Instagram and other online sources. I avoid paying a fee to those online galleries who promise to get me published in a book or wherever. Honestly, almost all of the paintings I’ve sold are to friends and family or people who know me personally. I feel that at my age, I just want to paint for myself, but what to do with all those beaded necklaces and paintings that I have crowding my house?

  3. Jeka

    Prior to 2010 I entered lots of shows and publications to establish myself as a beaded jewelry artist. I totally agree with you – it was an expensive and time consuming process. It felt great to get the recognition of being accepted into shows and to build my reputation/get my name out there. It validated me to know that my work was “good enough”. Being juried into exhibitions did give me the credentials I was seeking, but it did not translate into any improvement in my income. Over the years, I’ve found that the best way for me to create a following while actually earning money is to do in person sales events. I understand that it’s very different for visual artists than it is for crafts people, but I think the #1 biggest thing patrons are seeking is a relationship with the artist. If they feel like they know you, they are much more likely to purchase your work. Patrons can only get to know you when they’ve had a chance to talk with you in person and to understand your artistic process. I’d encourage artists to put most of their energy into in person events like open studios or organized sales, but as with everything, the event has to be a good fit for your work. Too many festivals/events attract those wanting an activity, but do not attract people who will purchase your work.

    1. Thanks Jeka, yes I totally agree with you.
      As an artist, my favourite type of events is open studio as I don’t have to move the paintings and people can see where I work.

  4. Kitty Russell

    I belong to a local group of artists in Alexandria VA, Del Ray Artisans. They have 8 one-month shows every year, curated/juried by members based on proposals they submit the year before. Entry fees are $5 per work for members for up to 3 works and a commitment to volunteer 3 hours for gallery sitting. Usually at least one work gets into the show. Sales are low, but I’ve sold a few pieces that way and the community of artists is great to be part of.

    1. Yes, and the way you describe the show seems very fair, everyone helps and the entry fees are low, plus it seems like a gentle jury where you will get at least one piece in and you are part of a community . It is clearly a win-win situation 🙂
      I think the situation changes for bigger organizations or vanity galleries that are clearly there for the money, when you have to pay for shipping, when the entry fees are high or when you don’t know how many submissions there will be and who is in the jury.

  5. Mary Paganelli

    Dear Sandrine, I have not been very successful belonging to art associations and joining in exhibits. When I went to Mexico for several winters in a row, I painted plein air including many of the natives, then I would advertise and display my work in a garden that was part of the complex I rented. This served me well, as I sold many paintings before I returned home. I am thinking of advertising and doing a similar display in my own garden this Spring in New England. I have so many paintings accumulating in my home. My prices on many of my pictures will be reasonably priced.

    1. Hello Mary,
      That sounds like a great idea and I don’t think that juried shows are necessarily the best way to sell your art.
      I like that you can keep the control on how you want to sell your art when you are organizing your own exhibition. Your local art council might also have something similar? Like here in North Vancouver we have the “Art in the Garden” program where artists and gardeners team up for a garden visit and art exhibition.

  6. edreid49573300

    Thank you Sandrine for posting this. Although I have entered no exhibitions or won any awards, I have been fortunate enough to sell a few paintings and have even received a commission! I am thrilled with these small successes which give me confidence to keep on trying. There is so much really good art in the world and just striving to get better and receive a little appreciation is enough for me.
    As I am an older person now retired, I am not in a position where sales are a necessity.
    For those trying to make a living with their art I feel great admiration for both their expertise and all the hard work. Good luck to all of you.
    There is one element which is apparent to me – all good artists have a love for the work and that comes through. My favorite pieces of art are those which show clearly that the artist simply HAD TO get the image on the canvas or paper – it was in his/her heart to be shared.

  7. Sylvia J. Kasparie

    I have been an exhibition chair off and on for many years, even in several local art associations at the same year. So I am going to write from a different viewpoint. Many have mentioned the cost and that groups are making money. Putting on an art show is very expensive… hiring a judge can cost $300-$500, awards can cost $1000 or more, and if you do not have your own building, rental fees might be added plus a reception. The truth is, most local art associations can loose money. They provide the show as a service to their members and also to the community. It is true that not many paintings are sold through the show. However, the public is introduced to your work. If, when, they see it often enough, they will start buying at other events your group sponsors. In fact, most of the paintings that win awards do not sell. Most artists also paint works that will, and do, sell, say at an annual Art Bazaar, or on display during shows with judges and no entry fee. Many local art associations/leagues are 531 non-profit. One of the requirements is to offer something beneficial to the community. This helps to fulfill that surface.

    Many, including you, have mentioned the benefits of entering shows early on so that you can compare your work with your peers. One of the problems many exhibitions have is that everyone want to paint the same type of paintings everyone else is painting…. especially the new artist. I think that is sort of a fear that artists have of not being any good. It takes a while to overcome that fear, but if you keep entering a show and your works start being accepted and hung, it will help overcome that fear…. especially if the artist comes to the reception and people make favorable comments. A lot of that depends on the members of the art group. It is beneficial when they take an interest and complement the participating artists.

    Many leagues also have a gallery walk/talk where either the judge or another artist comments on either the winning paintings or paintings that have a “request” on them. Although the comments are brief, I find they are usually “right on”, a great learning tool even for old timers like me.

    So, I think, especially in the beginning, it is very beneficial for an artist to enter shows. It supports your associations desire to promote art to the community, it helps the artist learn what judges think are important, possibly hears what a local artist suggests for improvement, receives some encouragement from friends and others, and eventually people will recognize their works and will enable them to sell works at other associations events. Quite a bit for a $20-$30 fee.

    1. Thanks Sylvia for taking the time to explain your point of view. I agree with you on many points. I also think juried exhibition can be beneficial at the beginning of your carrer to gain confidence, network and as you mentioned maybe get some feed back.
      I also think that after a certain stage, maybe when you feel more confident about how your work compare to others, it is time to look for other ways of selling your art that are more efficient. I am not ruling out juried competitions completely, I enjoy entering some of them occasionally, I am selecting the ones I am entering more carefully though on certain criteria, like are the names of the juror public, is the venue situated on a busy area, etc…

  8. Tom

    I am a local artist working in Surrey UK. Like many of my fellow artists, I find that it is helpful to belong to several art societies around Surrey as they all have one or more Exhibitions a year. The better ones have an extensive following and this strategy provides many chances of selling for little cost. Very few artist in the UK can make a living unless they also teach

    1. Thanks Tom.
      Yes, I think maybe the key is to be selective and find out which organizations or juried exhibitions are worth the investment.
      I also agree, it is difficult to make a living only selling your art, unless you find other sources of income like teaching.

  9. Michelle Thibault

    At the beginning I entered a few, was selected but…….it was not worth my time. Sure there are lines on my cv in regard to them but they did not help me make more sales. It is the same for all those exibits opportunities did one but the cost was minimal and the person organising the show was legit, it is nice to see your friends and family but they are not the potential clients.

    Now a few years later with more experience I refuse to pay for contest or vanity galleries. I just push on the delete button when the emails come in.

    1. Yes, I think that is a good strategy:) It is very difficult to make sales in juried show and even more in vanity galleries.

  10. Dawn

    Yes, I agree with what you wrote. I’m feeling the same way. I’ve entered s many shows for so many years without sales and paying large entry fees. I’ve now re-evaluated and I think direct online marketing is the way of the future. It’s the organizers of these shows who are making the money. I think shows need to be commission based for sales. No hanging fees or low cost.

  11. I am probably almost too suspicious of emails encouraging me to enter my art in different shows, competitions and publications. I enter shows that are run by the art organizations of which I am a member, or ones I would like to be a member of. And I’m not even sure that membership affiliation is beneficial to me professionally – it would be easy to spend all my time trying to be a member of all the prestigious watercolour associations. I like my local show opportunities but the ones where I have shipped my art (like the FCA shows in Vancouver) haven’t sold any art for me, or seen any growth in my audience that I can see.

    1. Thanks Angela. Yes, I also think that when you have to add shipping costs plus the risk of having the painting damaged during shipping and handling, the cost is becoming too high.

  12. Kim

    I have only been showing my work public for a year and a half. I started out by submitting to some juried shows, and obtaining solo exhibits in some local commercial establishments. I’ve had NO sales from the juried (fee/no fee) shows and only a small handful from the shows in commercial businesses. I have decided that I won’t be doing these any more–at some point the cost benefit analysis just doesn’t work. Starting out in the art market is very challenging, and I think it’s good to see what works, but for now I will be looking at other forms of “advertising”. It’s discouraging in some ways, but takes some pressure off to monitor and enter the juried shows and calls for proposals…

    1. Thanks Kim, yes I think it is very smart to always reflect on the cost/benefit of what we try as artists 🙂

  13. liz

    Thank you for an honest and very helpful post. I have also been approached to “invest” in promotion of my art. These can be very slick and well-produced advertisements of their promise to bring you fame and fortune. It is good to know that other artists are experiencing the same frustrations. What is and has worked for me is just taking baby steps. Eventually, you will get to your personal destination.

    1. Thanks liz!
      Yes and as a general rule, I try to remain skeptical if what those advertisements are promising looks too good to be true 🙂

  14. Lee Simmons

    As a fairly new artist I am just getting to know the ins and outs of the art world marketing situation. I really appreciate the comments here which will help me along my path. Hope others will chime in too.

    1. Thanks Lee, I also hope we get the discussion going in the comments as I am very interested in others artists experiences with juried exhibitions 🙂

  15. Tracie Stewart

    I too feel like art is a big business. Where the money being made is from the Artist not for. Lately I have been asked to go into some big venture promotional Art shows. The cost to enter, set up, and become your own Art rep is huge. It’s not that I don’t believe in my work. I simply feel this is wrong and my art is more about a dialogue. I will selectfully enter a jurried comp if a. I know and respect the jurors, and b. the venue is one I want to be in and c. The topic or cause the show represents is one I’d like to support.

    1. Hello Tracie, yes I also got a few emails lately to participate in Arts events where you have to pay a few thousands for a booth. What makes me resistant is that you pay a big fee to go in a place where many other artists will exhibit with you, so basically you pay a high fee to go in a very competitive place. But I would be interested to hear about other artists experiences with these kinds of shows.

  16. Mercedes

    I’m fully agree with your comments about pay for play. At the beginning in my career I had hope to see my work on a public wall. Then I received some awards. But now, I have long been seeing that in contests with sworn local where I live, too often the awards are given to the same people, which I have no doubt that they are good artists, but it is suspected that members of the jury are not public and I feel highly frustrated, not so much to pay for exposing, or because it is impossible to sell my work, as the impossibility that my work is recognized. Up to the point that I have left definitely participate in these exhibitions. Now I only show my Art individually. Thank you for communicating your thoughts. Respectfully Mercedes

    1. Thanks Mercedes, I understand your frustration. I think as Artists we have to be very careful because many people will try to make money from our desire to share our work with an audience.

      1. Diane Lally

        I’m a small local artist and have won no awards but have sold privately in Connecticut,US. We have the pay for play also, as many Art associations do. This weekend I went to an art show and sale where the visitors were given a ticket and asked to put their vote in for their favorite painting… No judge or jury, refreshing! Yes, making a name for oneself by awards may increase the price of the artwork but the public may not care; they just like what they like and their pocket can afford. I believe it’s about the Location or Environment. Art associations or artistic ventures have different goals just like each artist. Communication with other artists whom you trust is important to get input. I like reading the information shared here!

      2. Thanks Diane!
        I totally agree with you when you say that most people will buy the Art they love and they can afford, they might not pay so much attention to awards and exhibitions lists, etc…

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