Art Show - Refine Budget and Set Fees

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Most art shows charge fees of some sort. The obvious reason is to raise money, but fees also help determine what kind of art you get and are used to regulate the show. Whatever fees you decide on must be clearly communicated to artists in advance and not changed. Simple is good. If you have four distinct types of space, each with it's own pricing, plus separate pricing for different categories of artist, the two things you can be sure of are that you're going to spend a lot of time explaining the rules, and that many artists will pay the wrong amount. See Art Show - Rules

Panel fees and Commission

The two major sources of income for art shows are commissions and panel fees (or table fees). There are also "per piece" fees at some shows. All are paid by artists; arists expect to pay them with profits on their sales. If the fees are too high for the sales they make, they won't come back. If panel fees plus commissions plus other fees total more than about 25% of sales, you'll lose artists. This means how much you can charge depends on your sales per panel.

In February of 2002 I checked the fees of 32 regional and local shows whose rates I found on the web. Two thirds of the shows charged 10% commission (it ranged from none to 15%). One quarter of the shows charged $10 per 4'x4' panel, ¼ charge from $5-9, and ¼ charge from $11-15 (overall, the range is from none to $28. The $28 charges no commission). So a charge of 10% for commission and $5-$15 per panel is pretty much customary and acceptable. Though it may not right for your show, few people will notice or object.

Commission is paid on sales of the artists' work. If they don't sell any work, they don't pay any commission. This reduces the artists' risk. Panel or table fees (space rental) are a fixed amount regardless of whether the artist sells anything. They reduce the convention's risk. Some shows use a higher initial panel fee, which then counts toward commission. This helps artists who sell a lot (the ones who need it least). It is also more complicated, not so much to calculate as to explain. You can add whatever other complications you feel want: less for first panel, special rates for partial panels, different rates for amateur and professional artists, special rates for former Guests of Honor, etc. Just remember that simple is good. As it gets more complicated, people will make more mistakes and you will spend more time explaining it. No matter how clearly you have explained it in your rules, some people just won't read them. If it gets too complicated, some artists will give up on your show.

Your fees will help determine what kind of artists and artwork you attract. High commissions discourage artists who expect to sell a lot ("penalize artists who sell well", they say). If artists show with you in expectation of attracting future commissions, this may not be a problem. Otherwise your best selling artists may go elsewhere. Low commissions will make you less money per dollar of sales, but may encourage artists to sell high-priced pieces (but only if you're a market for them). No commission at all encourages this the most (but can also encourage chicanery in bidding [1]).

High panel fees Low panel fees
high commission No artists Artists more interested in display than sales
low commission Artists who sell a lot All artists

High panel fees discourage Not For Sale work, large pieces, amateur artists, and diversity. They conserve panel space; they discourage artists from casually putting one 8"x12" piece on each panel, but allow it if the artist is willing to pay the price. They can lead to artists overcrowding their panels. Low panel fees can lead to large shows, more no-shows, and overly sparse panel layouts.

The convention collects panel fees up front - it doesn't matter how much art sells. Compared to commission, the convention gets its money sooner and more predictably. From the artists' point of view, these are both bad - the artist has to pay the money sooner and poor sales pose a greater risk, since the panel fees are paid regardless.

I like to balance the panel fees and commissions. If one is much higher than the other, you're penalizing either the artists who can afford it least or the artists who sell well. You can do either - just be aware of the effects.

  1. *  It allows an artist (or a confederate) to bid up his own pieces. If there's no commission, it costs them nothing should they end up buying it. Sales tax also acts as a deterrent. If you're not charging tax or commission, you should watch out for this. Most artists won't do it, but there's no point tempting the ones who might.

Other fees

It used to be common for art shows to charge a flat fee for each piece hung, rather than panel fees. The idea is that a panel bearing 50 name tags is a lot more work than a panel bearing one large piece. The major drawback is that you don't know how many panels you will need. Most shows now sell space by the panel; charging by the piece is more common for shows that don't fill up. You could charge both panel fees and per piece fees, but few shows do - this may be for fear of seeming tacky. Per piece fees are also found in Print Shops (see). Compared to panel fees, "per piece" fees favor large pieces over small pieces.

Some conventions require artists to buy convention memberships. They may view this as added income. Unless you have more artists clamoring to enter than you have room for, it's more likely to deter artists than raise money. It's equivalent to raising panel fees plus a bias against artists with few panels.

Mail-in fees decrease the number of artists willing to mail work in. This could be either good or bad for your show. Mail-in fees also make the art show staff feel better about the extra work. They could even be used to hire help to deal with it (though I've never seen it).

Print Shop

Print shops also usually charge commission and fees. The simplest method is no charge for space, with some rate of commission on sales. This is appropriate for bins when the prints aren't displayed on panels. It has the disadvantage of encouraging artists to send you 30 copies of every print they've ever made - which is fine if you have unlimited space (the cost of return mailing will eventually persuade them not to - but that only works for mail-in).

For shows where print shop prints are displayed on panels, you could charge for panel space, but few shows do (maybe because that's how Art Show works, and they're trying to contrast Print Shop?). The most common fees seem to be a charge for each design displayed, sometimes plus a lesser charge for each copy of the design - e.g., 50 cents for each image displayed plus 25 cents per additional copy - plus commission on sales. As with per piece hanging fees, this favors large pieces.