Research Artist Offers to
Pay to Show Your Art
Do you get unsolicited emails, DMs or other offers to get exposure your art, to post work on social media pages, to be in art fairs, to be part of art fair booths, to show at galleries, to put your art on websites, to apply for contests or awards, to be in art books or directories, or to get other forms of publicity? If an offer or invitation comes to you unsolicited and you've never heard of the senders, you need to know more before you get all excited, especially if you have to pay to participate.
What's the big deal about paying? Because if you're being asked to pay, you have to figure out whether the offer is more about your art or your money. You want to do business with people who are interested in your art first, who care about advancing your career, and not simply about getting paid up front. That's what this article is about-- giving you the tools you need to make sure anyone who approaches you about your art is doing so because they are genuinely impressed by your work and by you as an artist-- and not by your bank account. In other words, when you have to pay, being able to research and fully understand what you're getting in exchange is essential.
The most important part of spending your money wisely is making sure whoever you are paying ACTIVELY PROMOTES, SHOWS, AND SELLS YOUR ART. It is NOT enough to put a few images of your art on a website or social media page, to send out an email or two with several images of your art along with images of art by other artists, or otherwise show your art without promoting it (or you). Posting or showing your art with little or no marketing or promotion efforts beyond that is NOT how art gets sold. Sad to say, many of the businesses or individuals offering exposure in exchange for pay spend FAR MORE TIME soliciting artists to pay them than they do actively representing, showing, promoting, and especially selling the work once they get paid.
In the art world, representing an artist means regularly promoting, communicating about, or otherwise calling attention to their art on an ongoing basis. This includes introducing the artist and their art, contacting clients who may be interested in buying, sending out press releases and announcements featuring the art, and most importantly, SELLING THE WORK. And you want this done on a regular basis. If you receive an email or DM from anyone who says they are interested in your art, or thinks your art is good enough to show, ask them what they intend to do in order to sell it.
Researching an offer or invitation on Google or other websites or search engines, or reading online reviews is not necessarily enough to figure out whether a pay opportunity is worth it. Sadly, some individuals and businesses making these offers actively scour and purge the Internet of negative reviews, unflattering feedback, negative discussion threads, or less-than-stellar coverage or articles about the opportunities they may offer. If they find something they don't like, they do whatever they can to get it removed, including use of intimidation tactics and even threats of legal action. So finding 100% positive and zero negative reviews just might be a sign to dig a little deeper than doing quickie searches and thinking you've done enough. You need to make informed intelligent decisions, and here's how to do it right:
* First and foremost, do senders make clear whether they charge fees for services? Are fees easily accessible on a website or application form? These may include application fees, acceptance fees, participation fees, fees to be included in shows or exhibitions, fees to appear on websites or social media pages, fees to be in books or directories, representation fees, promotion fees, gallery show fees, and so on. Beware if you receive any unsolicited invitations or offers that do not fully and clearly state or disclose fees up front, either on their websites, in emails, in DMs, on social media pages, or anywhere else. Being surprised with fees after applying, responding, or otherwise communicating with senders is not what you want.
* If you can find no information about fees, ask whether any fees of any kind are involved. Ask to see ALL fees, not just application fees. Do this BEFORE you apply, not after. If they are unwilling to provide fast, direct, straightforward information about fees, that's not a good sign.
* Do you have to establish an account, sign in, send an email request, or provide other types of personal information in any form just to see fees? Having to reveal personal information before you can see what you are revealing it for is never good.
* Unexpected fees always raise questions that need to be answered. The main question is why were they not stated up front in the first email or message or correspondence you received? And of course, this raises the issue of whether other information is not stated up front as well.
* Is the offer or invitation addressed to you by name? If it's not, this could be a cause for concern.
* Is the content of the offer or invitation personal? In other words, is it from a specific individual who is specifically contacting you about specific works or aspects of your art?
* Does the offer or invitation give specific reasons why you are being contacted? Reasons may include citing examples of your art, your exhibition history, awards, coverage, or other distinctions you may have received in your career. General reasons are not adequate. Look for reasons that have to do with your career history and accomplishments as an artist, not simply someone saying they like your art.
* Regardless of how great an email, DM or other form of contact sounds, how eager they are to establish a relationship, or what they say about your art, ask how and why you were selected to receive it. Get specifics. Get names of those who selected you and why. You want facts, not generalities.
* If the email states that a jury or selection committee is involved, find out who is on it. If the names are not in the email or on the website, ask to have them emailed to you. When you get names, visit their websites or social media pages and see whether they list the event in their resumes. You might even contact them directly to make sure they are jurying whatever opportunities you are being asked to apply for.
* Find out what percentage of people who apply for the offer are actually accepted. The bar's not very high if they except anyone who applies.
* Are most of their emails about asking you to pay, or about promoting the work of the artists who have already paid? Websites, companies or galleries sending emails often send far more "invitations" to pay than they do to promote the art of artists who have already paid. When this is the case, that should tell you something about their priorities. So BEFORE signing on, ask to be provided in writing with the SPECIFICS on how you and your art will be promoted.
* Put quotes around certain groups of words, phrases, or entire sentences in any emails or offers you receive and search them on Google. Do this with multiple word strings. You are looking to see whether any other artists are receiving the exact same invitation, and if yes, how many. Google search results will show any pages that contain those exact same word strings. Multiple exact matches usually mean you have received some type of mass email or even spam. The more exact matches you get, the more you should be concerned.
* Visit whatever pages come up in your word-string searches and see what people have to say. At the end of the match list, if Google says they are not showing duplicate results, but that you can see them by clicking a link, CLICK THE LINK. This can be very enlightening. Keep in mind that some businesses sending these emails have figured out how to disguise and avoid this type of detection. So even if you don't get matches, you still have to do due diligence in order to figure out whether the offer is right for you.
* Click every web link in any email you receive and read everything on the site, not just the entry form or application page to make sure you fully understand the offer. Also check the sender's social media pages to see how many followers they have and how much engagement they get with their posts.
* Check any website's popularity or ranking to see how much traffic they get. Do this especially if the offer is to pay to have your art included on a website. Sites with low popularity rankings, or with little or no traffic data available could be cause for concern. Websites without much traffic will do little to get the word out about your art.
* Ask for complete lists of ALL artists who have participated in whatever offer you receive. For example, if you are being asked to be in an art fair or show at a gallery, ask for a COMPLETE list of all artists who have participated in recent years, not just a few hand-picked names they want you to see, but the COMPLETE list of every artist involved. Ask for at least the last several years. Established galleries typically list the artists they represent. Likewise, established art fairs typically list names of all participating exhibitors. You deserve to know these facts before you buy in.
* If they won't provide names of participants or don't list them on their sites, that's not generally a good sign. The main question would be why aren't they public? And is other information is being hidden as well?
* If complete lists are posted or you can get complete lists, contact at least five (preferably more) artists who you choose at random. Ask whether they benefitted from the offers including sales, commissions, invitations to show at galleries or fairs that DO NOT charge, and so on. Did they make a profit over investment? Did they at least break even? Would they would participate in those offers again? Would they recommend the offers to others? Saying they met other artists, that lots of people saw their art, or that they had a great time is NOT enough. You want to hear tales of tangible success, and nothing less.
* When you get complete lists, compare name-by-name year-by-year to see what percentage of a previous year's participants returned the following year. If an artist has a successful fair or gallery show one year, they tend to return the following year. If they don't have success, they tend not to return. In other words, the number or percentage of artists who participate in consecutive years is an excellent indicator of the success of the fair or gallery opportunity you are involved in. Many returning exhibitors is typically a good sign; few returning exhibitors usually indicates the opposite.
* Are the offers reviewed or covered by established or respected third-party art websites or publications that have no connection or relation to those making the offers? This does not include PR websites where anyone can post a press release, websites that are owned or operated by the same people making the offers, or any other forms of self-promotion. You want proof that neutral third-parties care about these offers or events and believe they're worth writing about.
* If you receive an offer to be included in a book, magazine, or directory that is supposedly distributed nationally or internationally, the first question to ask is whether it is published in hard-copy, print-on-demand only, or only available online. If published in hard-copy, ask how many copies are printed. Don't automatically assume hard-copy.
* If a publication is stated to be published in hard-copy and distributed nationally or internationally to galleries, collectors, libraries, museums, critics, curators, bookstores or other businesses, individuals, or institutions, get the COMPLETE list of all names, or at least of all names in the nearest major city or cities to where you live. You need to determine (1) whether the list is current, (2) whether the businesses or individuals on the list still exist, and if they do, (3) whether they have actually received or heard of the title in question. Most importantly, you have to see an actual copy at one of these locations so you can personally inspect it.
* If any of your questions about any offer are not answered directly and completely, it's best to move on.
* Once you get on one fee-based email or announcement list-- and especially if you pay to participate-- expect to receive even more from other senders.
For more detailed information about how to research and evaluate offers or invitations to pay for exposure, read Art Contests, Competitions, Offers & Shows Where You Pay Money or Send Art.
(still from an early animated film by Oskar Fischinger)
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