Should Money Buy Art an Entry?

NO ONE would expect a dancer or actor to pay in order to audition for a part, nor would a writer be asked to send in a check along with the manuscript for a publisher to read it. Visual artists, though, usually must pay an entry fee to be considered for a juried competition. Whether they are selected to be in the show or not, they have to pay. People don't look at their work for free. There are an estimated 22,000 invitational arts and crafts shows that take place year round, given by private companies, nonprofit groups, and small towns, and they enable lesser-known artists and crafts people to show their work. A growing number of artists, however, have been voicing their objections to the entry fees which, they feel, place the financial burden on the shoulders of people who have little money.

``Entry fees are a bit like a lottery,'' says Shirley Levy, an official of the National Artists Equity Association, the national membership organization of visual artists. ``You pay for the privilege of having someone look at your slides, even if they are rejected. Emerging artists are told, `Pay your own way until you've made it.'''

She adds that, combined with the costs of framing (between $5 and $120 per work), crating (between $25 and $250), shipping and insuring one's work (expenses that show sponsors almost never pay), the entry fee represents an enormous outlay of money for these artists. Most artists forego the insurance and take their chances with damage.

``A lot of people think that artists should contribute something for these shows, since they're the beneficiaries of them, but that's wrong,'' says Levy. ``Artists don't generally benefit all that much from a given show, but the organizations which put on the shows often make a great deal of money by exploiting artists who need to show their work somewhere.''

Originally, entry fees were established as a means both to control the number or participants in juried fine art competitions, and to provide organizations with up-front money with which to rent a hall, pay some notable art expert to evaluate the artists' slides, and to create prize money.

George Koch, former president of Artists Equity, complains that ``the money a lot of these show sponsors are raising is far more than needed to meet their expenses.'' He added that they could easily earn this money in ways other than taxing artists, including soliciting contributions from local companies, charging admission to the public, creating prints of works on display, marketing a catalog of works in the show, and holding an auction of some of the pieces.

Artists Equity has been uneasy with the existence of entry fees since the organization came into being in 1947 and, in 1981, it wrote ethical guidelines for its membership, stipulating that artists should refuse to participate in events where there are fees.

The group has been pressing the National Endowment for the Arts to develop a policy prohibiting the federal agency from funding organizations which put on juried art shows that require artists to pay entry fees. So far, the endowment has been reluctant to create a policy of this kind.

``It's too specific a thing for our agency to get involved in,'' says Michael Faubion, assistant director of visual-arts organizations at the endowment. ``It's understood in the field that the panelists'' - who judge grant applications - ``don't really approve of entry fees, but most of our applicants are exhibiting organizations which may put on 10 shows a year, and one of them might be a regional juried show that requires a fee.

``It's unlikely that the panelists would deny a good organization any funding because of the one show, though they might decide that none of the money that's given to the organization can be used for that one show. But, generally, we don't want to interfere with the way organizations are run,'' he says.

Artists Equity has also attempted to pressure the Interior Department to drop the $50 entry fee for its annual duck-stamp competition. This is the only juried competition sponsored by the federal government, and over 1,000 artists a year pay the fee to submit drawings for the stamp commissioned by the Fish and Wildlife Service of the Interior Department.

The case against entry fees has found more sympathetic ears on the state and local level. The Oregon Arts Commission, the New York State Council on the Arts, and the Commission on Arts and Humanities in Washington prohibit funds from going to organizations that charge entry fees. Many other show sponsors have chosen to maintain the entry fee system, however, recognizing that there are many artists around who are willing to send in money in order to be considered.

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