Friday, April 16, 2010

Hanging Fees

A subscriber wrote about hanging and handling fees. She said she had been starting to notice them and didn't like what she saw. She said, "This is getting to be too too much."

These handling fees have been around a while in the watercolor society shows (AWS or NWS and some regional ones) and some other fancy shows for traditional art. Such shows have big prize pools. An award in one of them can be as much as $10,000 and make a difference in a how much a the winner can charge for workshops or how-to videos. With those lures, the watercolor societies, pastel societies and portrait societies are able to charge the hanging fees.

The practice is starting to be picked up by organizations that don't give out huge prizes or hold prestigious competitions, however. I rarely mention those fees in AOM because it gets complicated and I figure if the artist is interested and reads the prospectus and the fee turns her off, that takes care of it. When I do mention it, it usually means I think the show isn't a good deal.

I recently got an email from a subscriber who volunteers with an organization in Northern California. She thought I had been attacking the whole idea of fees. In that particular case, the fees were about average. She explained they didn't get government money so had to charge the fees. She went to great lengths to defend what her organization was doing with the fees they collected: bringing poor kids in to see the shows -- things like that. All of which is admirable-ish, but a clear admission that the sum of the fees was greater -- it seems much greater -- than what was needed just to administer the particular competition. And these weren't even high fees.

I do understand that an organization needs funds and that they have to come from somewhere. Charging artists to enter shows is certainly not the only way to raise funds, but it is the easiest so it is used often. I'm not saying that organizing a show and presenting it is not a lot of work, it is.

But it would be nice if organizations would be up front about the fees: Dear Artist, we are having a competition and charging fees high enough to not only cover our expenses for the exhibit but to also fund significant parts of our program. Don't worry if you are rejected; we will use your money to bus in widows and orphans to get some culture.

I don't mean to be sarcastic. I'm simply suggesting a little truth in advertising. Perhaps if artists would start writing emails objecting to high fees and hanging and handling fees it would do some good. And also asking what the money is going to be used for. Right now, the organizations have a blank check. Most of them are honorable, I'm sure, but they are public institutions and should be asked how they spend the money they get from artist fees. If they are non-profits, their yearly budgets must be made available for inspection, with some limits.