The Hazards of Pay to Play Exhibits and Art Fairs

I have had conversations with a number of fellow WCA-MI members recently about various opportunities to show work at art fairs, online galleries or “vanity” galleries which are paid for by fees levied from artists.  There are many, and seem to be more all the time, both physical and virtual.  The best advice I’ve come across was in an article on which you can read by googling .

Published by K.A. Letts

K.A. Letts is a painter living and working in the metro Detroit area.

5 thoughts on “The Hazards of Pay to Play Exhibits and Art Fairs

  1. Thank you for linking my article. I want to clarify that I never use the word “vanity” in either that article or in the article that is linked on that page. The purpose of that article is to provide constructive instruction on how to research any opportunity where artists are asked to pay fees to participate (and can really be broadened out to any opportunity anywhere). Artists derive benefits from presenting their art in various ways, including paying for exposure. Whether an exhibition opportunity is right for you is your decision– I simply provide basic tools for making that decision more effectively, particularly in terms of having realistic expectations of possible outcomes before investing either time, labor or money.

    1. I appreciate your carefully neutral advice regarding paid exhibits, fairs and the like.. but what would you call a gallery that shows an artist’s work-unjuried- for a fee if not “vanity”? (Is “pay-to-play” less perjorative ?) Your article was both instructive and constructive, and I hope lots of artists read it and come to a better understanding of what paid exposure is likely to gain for them. I would welcome a simple evaluative checklist of the variables to consider when deciding whether and when to “pay-to-play”

  2. As a result this and similar posts and emails that I have received over the years, ones that automatically assume no opportunities to show art in exchange for money are worth it, I have today removed the phrase “pay-to-play” from both articles that discuss options where artists are asked to show their art for a fee. I did not intend for that phrase to be taken in a pejorative way– it’s simply the most convenient way to describe these situations (I actually checked definitions online to make sure that it was not a pejorative term before I used it; I can’t say that I checked everything, but I did enough to satisfy myself that it’s not generally thought of in that way).

    Artists engage in various forms of exposure for their art for various reasons– including ones where they pay. Unless you have compelling evidence to the contrary, making blanket assumptions about any exhibition or participation opportunity is not appropriate. A decision about whether or not to participate in any such opportunity, pay or otherwise, is entirely up to the artist– I of course recommend that artists do due diligence first in order to gage potential outcomes. To reflexively take a position that artists should never participate in anything where they have to pay a fee makes no sense. Investigate first, decide based on your findings, and then either participate or don’t.

  3. Thanks for the link…just to clarify, I don’t consider all fee-based opportunities to be a bad deal for artists–I myself participate in various fee-based activities such as ArtSlant online contests and Studio Visit magazine because I view them as as a form of advertisement for my work. Co-op galleries are another type of fee-based exhibit option that lots of artists opt for with success.

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