Research Artist Offers to
Pay to Show Your Art
Do you get unsolicited emails, DMs or other offers to get exposure for your art, to build you a website, 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 a website, to apply for contests or awards, to be in art books or directories, to increase your sales, or to get other forms of publicity? If yes, do you have to pay? Are there fees involved? With any such offer or invitation that comes to you unsolicited from senders or DMs you've never heard of, you need to know more before you get all excited about signing on.
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. Most importantly, you want to know the full benefits of signing on before you pay. 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 makes other efforts to SELL 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 and individuals who offer exposure in exchange for cash spend FAR MORE TIME soliciting artists to pay them for services than to actively represent, show, promote, and actually sell 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, making contact with art lovers and collectors who may be interested in buying, sending out press releases and announcements featuring their art, and most importantly, having their efforts result in sales. You want this done on a regular basis, not just one or two times and that's it. If you receive an email or DM from anyone who says they are interested in promoting or publicizing your art, or thinks your art is good enough to show or sell, ask them how they intend to show and sell it.
Researching these kinds of offers or invitations on Google or other websites or search engines, or reading a few online reviews is not necessarily enough to figure out whether a pay opportunity is worth it. Sadly, some individuals and businesses who make these offers actively scour and purge the Internet of negative reviews, unflattering feedback, negative discussions on social media threads, or other less-than-flattering coverage or articles about the opportunities they offer. If they find something they don't like, they do whatever is necessary to get it removed, including 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 or messagers make clear up front whether they charge fees for their 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 build you a website, fees to maintain your website, fees to appear on websites or social media pages, fees to be in books or directories, representation fees, promotion fees, gallery show fees, fees to rent wall space, 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, over the phone, or anywhere else. Being surprised with fees after applying, responding, turning over personal information, or otherwise communicating with senders is not what you want.
* If you can find no mention of fees in your researches, 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, application forms, or other information? Having to reveal personal information before you can see what you are revealing it for is never good. So BEFORE providing personal information you might instead ask to see in writing whatever you can't see now.
* Unexpected or surprise fees always raise questions that need to be answered. The main question is why were these fees 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 being 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. How serious can they be if the sender or messager doesn't directly refer to your art or even acknowledge who you are?
* If an email or communication is addressed to you, do they ask for any contact information including your email, phone number, social media pages, website, or any other personal information? If they already have your email address and are offering some form of service or exposure for your art in exchange for a fee, you would think they already know where to see your art and what it looks like. But if they're contacting you from email lists that thay have paid for or otherwise acquired, they may have no idea who they're even sending to or how to find out anything about them. So they want your money, but don't even know who you are? Unfortunately this is sometimes the case.
* If you click a link in an email and you land on a page that asks you to fill out a form before you can see anything else on the site, especially one that asks for really personal information like how much art you sell or have sold, how successful you are, how much money you make, what your advertising or marketing budget is, you might think twice before filling it out. Handing over personal information before you have any idea what it's being handed over for or how it's going to be used puts you at an instant disadvantage to whomever your communicating with.
* Are you being tracked? If you are being contacted by email, is the reply address the same as the sender address? If it's different, the sender may be tracking you, especially if the reply email is a string of letters and numbers that makes no sense. The same goes for every link in an email. Likewise for links within an email. If you pass your cursor over links in emails and see strings of letters and numbers with no mention of the sender's domain name, then you are likely being tracked. If you reply, tracking could include seeing whether you open the email, when you open it, your location, what your IP address is, if you forward it to someone else, and more.
* Are you being tracked, continued...? To minimize the possibility, amount and extent of tracking by a sender, if you have questions about a particular email offer or opportunity, do not click the "Reply" button. Instead, copy the sender's address, and create an entirely new email where you control everything, not them. This email would consist of YOUR subject line and YOUR text (questions, comments, requests, etc), and NONE of theirs. This eliminates all tracking links that may have been contained in the original email and requires the sender to respond directly to your concerns purely as an interested party, rather than formulate a response based personal data and information provided by tracking links within the original email. Formulated responses based on tracking information may influence decisions about what kinds of emails or other forms of contact the sender may make with you next including who should contact you, how they should contact you, how they should sell to you, what they should sell to you, who to share your personal information with, etc. This way, when you're comfortable moving forward on a particular offer or opportunity, you can provide as much personal information as you want, and not before.
* Another tracking technique is to embed a "tracking pixel" somewhere within an email's content. While this 1-pixel image is invisible, it loads when you open the email and notifies the sender that the email has been opened. If you don't want to be tracked, most email programs and web browsers have "Do not track" or "protection" options in the privacy settings. Use them.
* If you are interested in an offer enough to visit a sender's website (url), be sure to check out their contact page. Is filling out a form the only way for you to contact them? That's another way they can track you. If they list a specific email address as an additional contact option, use that instead of the form. If they don't list a specific email address as a contact option, at least you know what you're getting into by filling out the form.
* Does the sender or messager provide or include a contact phone number? If yes, can you speak with a live person to ask any questions you might have? Do they provide hours that are best times to reach a live person? If you call, do you get a live person or a recording where you are asked to to leave a message? If you get a recording, are you asked to leave personal information regarding the reason for your call or can you just leave your name and number? One of the best ways to evaluate any offer, invitation, service or opportunity you receive is to speak with a live person directly involved with the situation. If they are not directly involved, can they refer you to someone who is?
* If you speak with a live person for any reason either directly or from a call-back, do you feel any pressure to act at any point during the conversation? If you ask about costs and fees, do they give you immediate answers? Are all of your questions answered or are you asked to provide personal information first before they answer? Ideally, all of your questions will be answered without any preconditions or requirements on your part, and you will be provided with whatever information you need in order to make informed decisions. If your questions are not fully answered or feel under any pressure to act, this may be 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 information about your art? If not, the email could simply be spam from a mailing list.
* 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. Vague or general reasons or the mere recognition that you are an artist are not adequate. You want to see that the sender or messager is aware of your career history and accomplishments as an artist, not simply saying they like your art, have seen your art, etc. You want the sender to be familiar with what your art looks like, who you are, and most importantly, give some indication that they care about you as an artist.
* Regardless of how great an email, DM, or other form of contact sounds, find out why they want to establish a relationship. What kinds of good things do they have to say about your art? How and why were you chosen to participate? Get specifics. Get names of those who selected you and why. You want facts, not vagueries.
* If the sender or messager states that a jury or selection committee is involved in accepting you, 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, verify who they are and that they are actually part of the selection process. Visit their websites or social media pages and see whether they whatever you are being asked to participate in is listed in their resumes. You might even contact them directly to make sure they are jurying whatever you are being asked to apply for.
* Find out what percentage of people who apply are actually accepted. What's the selection or review process like? What are their criteria for acceptance? Do they accept most applicants, a small percentage, what? And you want the answer in writing.
* If you get repeated announcements from the same sender or messager, are they more about asking you to pay for various opportunities or about promoting the work of artists who've already paid? Way more "invitations" to pay them for services rather than promotional announcements about the art or artists who have already paid may be an indication of what their priorities are. In other words, are their services more about you paying them or about promoting the work of artists who have already paid? You want to see a good balance between the two. Of course, the most effective coverage comes from third-party websites, publications, influencers, or other sources that have no financial interest in the events, but rather cover them because in their opinions, they believe their readerships deserve to know about them.
* Do senders or messagers regularly extend deadlines for submissions? Do they regularly say space is limited or that only X number of spaces are left? Are they continually having "limited time" or "limited space" sales, or running special offers or "extended" offers or discount sales on their products or events or fees? Do you feel pressure to "act now"? These can be signs of spam or mass emailings, especially if you never respond but continue to receive them anyway. At best, it's a marketing technique where senders bombard you with so many "opportunities" that you get familiar with them and may become more inclined to respond. It's the exact same technique major advertisers use by showing commercials or advertisements for their products or services over and over and over again. The whole point is to literally burn their names into your brain, and in so doing, to sell sell sell-- whether whatever they're selling is something you need or not.
* If you are not sure about how your work will be marketed or promoted, ask to be provided in writing with the SPECIFICS of what they will do for you, how they'll do it, and when. This should include examples of what they have done or are doing for other artists-- and not just their best or famous ones, but artists at all stages of their careers.
* Put quotes around certain groups of words, phrases, or entire sentences in any emails or offers you receive, and then search them on Google. Do this with multiple word strings. You are looking to see whether any other artists are receiving the exact same invitations, 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.
* Assuming you don't have to register or give personal information up front, click every web link in any correspondence you receive and read everything, not just entry forms or application pages, to make sure you fully understand the offer. Also check the sender's or messager's social media pages to see how many followers they have and how much engagement they get with their posts. This should give you some idea of how influential they are in the art world.
* Check any website's popularity or online ranking to see how much traffic they get. Do this especially when the offer is to pay to have your art included on a website or social media page. Sites with low popularity rankings, minimal engagement from followers, 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.
* How many events, offers, or opportunities does the company contacting you make per month or year? The more offers a company makes per year, the less attention they can devote to each individual one. For example, major art fair production companies typically produce only a handful of events per year. Why? Because in order to make those fairs successful, devoting loads of time, labor, production and advertising costs, focus on logistical details, marketing, promotion, and other aspects of hands-on involvement are necessary. If a company makes multiple offers per month for example, you might want to do some research into how effective or successful that participating in those events might actually be in advancing your art career.
* If you can't find names of participating artists on a sender's website or social media pages, ask for complete lists of ALL artists who have payed for whatever offer you receive. This is especially important if the event or opportunity repeats every year or two. For example, if you are being asked to pay to be in an art fair or show your art 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 names of all artists they currently represent and the shows they've had for those artists. Likewise, established art fairs typically list names of all participating exhibitors. You deserve to know these facts-- aka what other artists have to say-- 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 those names public? And is other information is being withheld or hidden as well?
* If complete lists of participants 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 such as making increased sales, getting more commissions, getting invited to show at galleries that DO NOT charge, and so on. Did these artists make a profit over investment? Did they at least break even? Would they participate in those offers again? Would they recommend the offers to others? Saying they met lots of other artists, that lots of people saw their art, or that they had a great time is NOT enough. You want tangible proof that the money they paid yielded tangible benefits, 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 or other type of exposure 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 or opportunity they're paying to be in. Many returning exhibitors is typically a good sign; few returning exhibitors usually indicates the opposite.
* Is the offer or opportunity established and respected in the general art community? Have knowledgeable artists and arts professionals who you know and trust heard of it? The more people who have heard of it and have good things to say, the better. Name recognition is really important when it comes to art. So is lack of name recognition.
* Search social media platforms like Facebook, Linkedin, and Reddit for discussion threads on whatever event, offer, service, or opportunity is being provided along with the businesses that provide them. The best threads can be found in discussion groups or posts where whomever you're researching has no control over what people say, especially in terms of deleting negative comments. You already know what the provider has to say. Now you want to hear from everyone else.
* Join art groups on social media, especially those that have to do with opportunities for artists and the business aspects of art. Make sure you read and understand their rules, guidelines, and codes of conduct before starting any discussion threads, asking any questions, or participating in any existing threads, groups, or discussions. Once you're clear on what you're allowed to do, go ahead and join in.
* If the sender or messager provides the address of a physical location of their business (which is required for registered businesses), dial them up on Google Street View. You might be surprised at the location, it might turn out to be a PO Box or other type of "virtual" location where no business actually takes place. Whatever the results of your search for a location, if you have any questions, ask them before proceeding. If a sender or messager doesn't list a physical address or won't provide one, this could be cause for concern.
* Are events you are asked to participate in regularly reviewed or covered or featured by established or respected art websites or publications that have NO connection or relation to those making the offers? This does not include announcements on PR websites where anyone can post any press release for pretty much anything, regional or national or international art calendar listings, posts on websites or social media pages that are owned or operated by the same people making the offers, or any other forms of self-promotion. To repeat, you want proof that neutral no-conflict third-parties who have established art-world profiles care enough about these offers or events and the artists who participate to conclude that they're worth covering, writing about, and actually reviewing.
* No matter how great senders or messagers make their offers, opportunities, services, or events sound, it's on you to research fully on your own in order to figure out what the chances are that you'll actually benefit from participating. In other words, get more shows, make more sales, get meaningful exposure, and whatever other TANGIBLE benefits they advertise? Most importantly, do you stand to make a profit or at least break even on whatever cash outlay is required to join, apply, or otherwise participate?
* 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, available at retail outlets, or only available online. If published in hard-copy, ask how many copies are printed. Don't automatically assume a hard-copy version exists.
* 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 a list of recipients globally, or at least 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, DM, or announcement list-- and especially if you pay to participate-- chances are good that you will receive many more sent by others.
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.
(movie still from an early animated film by Oskar Fischinger)
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