Pay to Play? Run Away!

You aren’t being selected for your great art, they want your money

Nothing boils my goat faster than hearing about events, galleries, stores and publications that are pay to play.

They send artists and writers these really flattering emails designed to hook you in. And they get eaten up because let’s be honest, who doesn’t want validation?

And artists especially are conditioned to think that they need the prestige of doing shows to be a true artist so they pay and pay and pay.

Here’s the thing: when you are paying for wall space, and (this is sickening) also paying a commission on sales, YOU are the gallery’s target market. You, not the art buyers.

Digest that for a second.

You’re paying for space and the idea of having a show, but the gallery or store doesn’t care if people come to the show or not because they’ve already made their money.

You are taking all the risk in this venture so let’s break it down.

YOU pay to be in the event.

YOU pay to frame your art (where applicable) or wiring it.

YOU pay for insurance to cover your art’s value.

YOU pay for shipping (and return shipping if the work doesn’t sell).

YOU potentially pay taxes or duty if the show is in another country (and yes this is a thing).

YOU do the marketing because they expect you to help draw in a crowd.

YOU pay for your costs to get to and from the event if you’re going.

It adds up. And it adds up quickly. What costs are the gallery absorbing? Nothing. You’re paying them all. The fees they charge cover rent, heating, water, electrical and internet. If they get enough artists to sign on (and they do) they make a tidy profit.

Now, I’m not against businesses making money. That’s the point of being in business!

I am against businesses being unethical about making money. And this is exactly that: unethical.

The idea that to be a true artist means that you have to be in a gallery is a dead one. It’s antiquated. It’s obsolete. We needed galleries in the past because it was the best way to get our work in front of buyers. Why do we need them now in the age of social media and an instant global audience?

We don’t.

Look, if you want to sell your work in person, there are options. Studio tours. Local shows. Hanging work in the library or government buildings where you live. There are usually also traditional galleries around, ones that only charge you money when you sell.

But ignoring your global reach means you miss out on a ton of potential sales. Ones that don’t cost you a thing to make, outside of having an internet connection and a phone at hand.

That money you’d pay to these shady pay to play events? You could use it to run ads or build a kick ass website! You could use it to get good photos done of your work. You could use it to upgrade your business skills. Look at how the alternatives benefit you with greater reach!

So, when you get one of those emails, or calls, telling you that your work is amazing and should be shown in New York or Florence or wherever, ask the hard questions.

Start with, “is this pay to play?” and if it is, run away.

Paula Mould

Paula Mould

Paula Mould is a fine artist, published author and business coach for Leigh & Paula.

She also swears, mostly on purpose.

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