Art Show - Policies
Insurance & general responsibility
You really only have two choices: you accept responsibility for art in your care, or you don't.
Some art shows state that they will accept art from artists. If the art is lost, stolen, or damaged, it is the artists' problem. This is legitimate if you warn the artists up front, but shows with this policy tend to be small because artists avoid them. Would you send art to someone who said "Send me your artwork and I'll probably return it or pay for it"? Don't confuse the art show with the dealers' room. In the dealers' room you can watch your own merchandise - in the art show the con does it for you.
The other position an art show can take is that while the show has the art, they are responsible for it. The artist must receive the artwork back (undamaged), or the payment for it. The only exception would be for damage the artist is responsible for . If someone viewing the artwork destroys it, the show is responsible for paying the artist. They can certainly try to collect from the person doing the damage, but they pay the artist first.
This probably means the convention will want insurance. You already have the liability - carrying insurance does not increase it (this should be obvious, but I've seen it stated that insurance increases your liability). It also means risks associated with accepting payment belong to the show and not the artists. If a check the art show accepted is no good, the art show still has to pay the artist - the show accepted the check and gave the piece to the buyer. If the art show loses, destroys, or accidentally gives away a $10,000 piece, they owe the artist $10,000. The artist doesn't care whether it was an accident - they want their work back, or the money for it.
Some shows attempt to split the difference, saying "We'll pay for it if it was our fault.". The main result is that a con is motivated to argue about why they weren't at fault. "It's not our fault the roof leaked"... "someone stole the piece"... "the check didn't clear." ... "an attendee broke it". This is effectively accepting no fiscal responsibility, but if you're good at deluding yourself, it may make you feel more morally responsible.
- * The two likely types are artists damaging their own work while hanging or packing it, and a bad frame or mounting coming apart.
Some shows only accept original artwork. Some shows have a separate Print Shop for prints. Some shows accept originals or fine art prints. Other shows allow pretty much any kind of print in the show (though only a single copy of it). Other prints can go in the Print Shop, if the show has one. Some shows have policies about what kind of prints can be in the Print Shop, too.
The convention (or you) may have strong opinions about what kind of prints to accept (if any). The policy you select will help determine the feel and contents of the show, and will affect sales. As far as running the show is concerned, any of these policies is fine. Clearly state your policy and then stick to it. If you can't state it clearly, it's a bad policy. Do not assume that everyone will have the same definition of terms such as "fine art print" - they won't (e.g,, the most common definition excludes photography or digital art).
Allowing anything is the simplest policy. You don't have to worry about the fine points of multiple originals, or what are the rules for limited editions, or what constitutes a fine art print. All the policy you need is: prints should be labeled as such (see bid sheets). This policy could potentially make your art show indistinguishable from a poster shop - you decide if this is a problem.
Some shows accept only signed, limited edition prints. This may help distinguish the art show from the dealers' room, show some modest concern for the buyer and provide some degree of snob appeal. Some shows also apply this policy to the Print Shop.
Shows with limited space may prefer to display only originals, while relegating prints to the Print Shop. Alternatives are jurying, limiting each artist to few panels, or high panel fees. Each will produce a different mix of pieces. Both jurying and "originals only" increase snob appeal . Both are sometimes used in hopes of attracting big, gorgeous, expensive display pieces (BGEDP). Unfortunately, just limiting your show to originals won't get you lots of BGEDPs - it may just get you a small show. What does attract BGEDPs? Selling them. So does being a place where artists can use their BGEDPs to attract commissions, or at the very least demonstrate to potential buyers that their work is worth $12,000. BGEDPs can also attract people who will buy prints - but that's pointless at a show without prints. And some shows like to view themselves as a serious art competition, and don't think they can adequately judge from prints. That could be a valid reason to exclude prints from competing for awards, but not for barring them from display or sale. (also see Print Shops)
- * There's nothing wrong with snob appeal. It's a perfectly legitimate goal or reason for deciding policy. Calling it that often annoys those who want it. I think that's good. If they can't admit that's what they want, they're probably deceiving themselves and haven't thought it through.
A juried show is one in which artists are required to submit samples of their work (traditionally slides, but now more likely digitized) to the show, who will decide which artists get in. You can jury for content or merit.
Jurying for content can be for:
- Topic - e.g., only astronomical art, only fantasy, or only dinosaurs. This is semi-objective (there are always borderline cases).
- Theme - e.g., only art which conveys a positive message of women. Subjective.
- External factors - e.g., art from the 1960s, art from the cover of F&SF, or art by students in grades 7-9. Objective.
- Style - e.g., only art noveau, or only anime style. Mostly subjective.
- Adult content - e.g., no penis visible. Mostly subjective. No set of objective rules work.
The first four are more common at theme shows or exhibits than at general con art shows. The last is most likely to be controversial. The first four tend to be juried ahead of time; the last one is often a case of excluding pieces from the show after they've arrived - which isn't really jurying.
Jurying for merit can be for
- Quality - "you're good enough to be in our show"
Jurying for quality may make some artists feel good when they get in. It will certainly upset some who don't. It's hard to assemble a credible jury (and an anonymous jury is never credible).
How can you jury for sales before the show? You can't. But you can limit artists to one or two panels their first year in your show. If their work goes over well, they can have more space next year.
General convention shows which repeat each year often don't need to be juried. If you charge enough for space, the market will do it for you. Artists who never sell anything won't pay to display. Artists with good sales will pay and belong in the show. You'll survive an occasional panel of art you'd rather not have. Jurying involves much time and effort, and for most conventions its major benefit is snob appeal. It can only keep "bad" art out of the show, not bring you better art.
You may want to jury shows which are for special purposes or themes, or for conventions with no continuity (your show being similar to others is often sufficient continuity). But it's always extra work and expense for both the show and the artists. Some artists avoid all juried shows on principle because they don't think they'd get in, or just to avoid the hassle. It also creates politics and often causes bad feelings. Think carefully before doing it.
Mail-in and membership fees
Will you accept mail-in art? If so, what arrangements will it require in advance? Will there be an extra fee involved, or will artists be required to be members of the convention? These are all related.
Should artists have to buy memberships? Many conventions consider this an income opportunity. It can be, if more artists want to enter than you have room for. Otherwise it is more likely to eliminate artists than raise money. The commonest policy is that an artist attending the convention has to buy a membership, while one just dropping off their work doesn't.
To the art show, it makes no difference whether an artist just delivers and retrieves art or attends the entire convention. Mail-in art does make a difference. It's more work. Art show personnel must unpack, hang, re-pack, and ship the work. The benefit of mail-in art is getting more (and possibly better) art, particularly for shows in isolated areas. Some conventions will charge an extra handling fee for it. This is reasonable if not too high - $5 to handle mail-in is OK, $100 is not - and some shows take return postage from this fee . Otherwise the artist has to pay postage (including any insurance) both directions. Requiring a membership from all artists is essentially an additional (too high) mail-in fee.
If you do accept mail-in, there will be a limit to how much of it you can handle with the staff, time, and storage space you have. You may have to limit how much you accept and require artists to obtain approval in advance before shipping, particularly for large shows. Don't accept more than you can handle.
- * If return postage comes from this fee, the justification for it is obvious (although I don't recommend it - see Art Show - name?). Otherwise, what is the fee for? If can be a way to limit mail-ins to a manageable number, but a simple limit on how many mail-ins you will accept does the same thing. I've seen it argued that it compensates the art show staff for the extra work - but until I see the money given to the art show staff, I don't buy it. It could be used to hire temporary labor to do the extra work, but I haven't seen that, either. I suspect it usually comes down to two reasons: it's extra income for the convention ("because we can"), and because handling mail-in is a pain and the art show staff feels better if they know the artist responsible shared the pain ("misery loves company").
Quick Sales and After Auction sales
Almost all convention art shows take written bids, followed by a voice auction of those pieces with sufficient written bids. Two other sales options are Quick Sales and After Auction sales. Neither is required. Both involve a degree of extra work, but can increase sales.
Quick sale - also called direct or immediate sale - allows a buyer to pay a premium to avoid the risk of paying more at auction. It can only be used by the first bidder on a piece (otherwise it's just a price cap, which artists won't use). Some artists don't like quick sale - they prefer their pieces to go to auction, where they may fetch higher prices - but they don't have to use it if they don't like it. More important, there is no limit to how many quick sales you can make while auction pieces are limited by the time available for auction. Quick sales do take some extra time for the art show staff (you need to accept money throughout the show and it increases the number of transactions), but take place while the show is open. This shifts work from when you are busier to when you are less busy and reduces the amount of non-open time you may need.
Unless most of your members only attend for one day, when you sell pieces via quick sale, ask the buyer to leave the piece on display until art pick up. This avoids ugly blank spaces, and seeing sold pieces encourages more sales. If the buyer needs to take the piece early, they can.
At a 3 day convention, after auction sales work better with Saturday auctions than with Sunday (they're pointless if there's no time for people to shop after the auction). You can either use the quick sale price or a separate after auction price. A separate price offers finer control to the artist but also requires more work and is more likely to confuse artists and buyers. Pieces should NOT be sold after auction for minimum bid unless specifically requested by the artist - as a policy this just discourages buyers from buying earlier.
At other types of auctions (e.g., eBay), you may see reserve prices. Don't use them. You don't have time at your voice auction to waste on pieces that won't actually sell. Having one not sell brings the prices down on all the subsequent pieces.
What do you do if someone bids on a piece, but then never shows up to pay for it and pick it up? This is often called abandoned art or orphan art. You can consider it sold, or consider it unsold. Each has advantages and disadvantages.
Consider them unsold and return them to the artist.
- Plus: It's easy and no risk for the art show or convention.
- Minus: It tends to increase the number of bidders not honoring their bids. It encourages writing bids on several pieces when you can only afford one, because you want a backup in case you don't get your first choice.
- Harder to overlap art pick up and artist check out. You'll have leftover pieces you need to return to artists afterwards; a nuisance for both you and the artists.
- Harder to record sales before people pick up their purchases. You'll have to go back and reverse some sales.
- It decreases sales and can upset prior bidders. If the second bidder wins the piece but doesn't show up, you give it back to the artist even though the first bidder wanted it.
Consider them sold. Track down the bidder, get their money, and get the piece to them.
- Plus: It encourages buyers to honor their bids.
- You can easily overlap art pick up and artist check-out, allowing you to stay open longer.
- Recording sales before purchases are picked up is easier.
- It increases sales and makes them definite. All pieces with bids are sold.
- Minus: Tracking down bidders, getting money from them, and getting artwork to them is unpleasant and time consuming. It's a great idea in principle - but who will actually do the work? Conventions often end up eating the cost of such pieces (I've also seen the pieces used as volunteer incentives or charity auction pieces the next year, so some good was salvaged).
You can try a compromise like "we'll try to track the bidder down, and if we can't, we'll return the work to the artist". This still involves a lot of work and the abandoned piece may be in limbo for a long time, depriving the artist of a chance to try selling it elsewhere.
Any of these policies is OK as long as you clearly express (in advance) what your policy is. None of them is ideal; ideal is no abandoned art.
Should you allow people to re-sell art they bought previously? This is controversial. The most common policy seems to be that art can only be sold by the artist (or agent). No resale is allowed. But is that like saying that none of Van Gogh's art should be sold any more? OK - the Van Gogh argument is silly. So is the stock reply, "It's OK to sell it - just not here".
In the fine arts world, having a resale market greatly increases the value of artwork. Most galleries don't handle it, but they don't need to - the fine arts world has auction houses like Sotheby's that do handle it. SF art doesn't have any such clearinghouse for art resale. It's almost certain that having one would be beneficial. But is your art show the place for it? Maybe. You can if you want. It does involve some amount of extra work. Some issues to consider:
Counterfeit art. What if someone copies a print and ships it off as resale art?
- This can be dealt with just as in the fine arts world, by requiring a provenance or by expert inspection. Unfortunately, it's harder to provide either than in the fine arts world, but that's a separate issue.
What if a reseller is competing with an artist in the show?
- In some respects, every artist in the show is competing. I've often seen an artist's work in the show while a dealer sells the same prints in the Dealers' Room. I see artists put the same print in the Art Show and Print Shop. All those forms of competition are OK - just not resellers? This is more an emotional issue than a rational one. You can say that resellers can't duplicate any pieces hung in the show by the artist.
It's too confusing to the buyer.
- Then you have poorly designed bid sheets. It's not intrinsic to reselling art. It does mean you need to add another bid sheet design.
We don't have room for resale art. We're already turning artists away.
- You have no obligation to provide space for every artist who wants to enter. You probably turn artists away anyway. How big a problem is the loss of a few panels? If you give up six panels to make room for a demo area in the show, how does that differ from reserving four panels for resale art?
We tried it and it didn't sell.
- That's a real problem. It may not be that you aren't a good market, so much as that resellers are poor marketers. Most don't understand the market nearly so well as artists. An artist who sends out to 30 shows per year and has sent to your show for the last six years has a pretty good idea of what sells for how much, how to present work, and knows that only a certain percentage will sell at any given show. Most resellers have no such experience and are often disappointed. You can try educating them, but that's more work and unsure of success.
We're not big enough for our prices to constitute a clearinghouse. If nobody outside our city ever knows how much a resale piece sold for, it can't help increase art prices.
- True. Unless you're one of the biggest cons, having or not having resale art will have little impact on anyone else. How much does that matter to you?
But the artist doesn't get a percentage of the sale.
- And they shouldn't expect one. How much does the Van Gogh estate get when one of his pieces sells?