Art Show - Rules

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Rules

The boundary between rules, information, contract, and procedures is fuzzy. Many items can be presented in more than one way. For instance:

  • "The show will be open for artists to hang art from X to Y" - information.
  • "Artists must hang their work between X and Y" - rule.

This works equally well as a rule or point of information. The purpose of all four - rules, information, contracts, and procedures [1] - is to convey information to other people, in the expectation that this information will regulate their behavior. The question is how to effectively convey the information.

  1. *  Art shows have contracts? Your rules and the artist's registration form an implied contract, particularly if you've asked for the artist's signature agreeing to the rules.

It's possible to compile all such information, bundle it with all the necessary paperwork, and send the whole wad to artists when you invite them to participate. But that makes an imposing bundle. You can expect some artists to look at it and decide your show just isn't worth the trouble. Others will skim it in an attempt to find just the parts they care about - they'll almost certainly miss parts they should have seen. And some will read the whole thing, but be seriously irritated. None of these is the result you want.

It helps to break the information out into multiple documents, based on who needs the information and when they need it. These documents can be the formal "rules", artist invitations, artist instructions, parts of forms, signs and handouts, program book and progress reports, etc. Some information should appear in many of these places (e.g., art show hours), while other information should only be in one place (e.g., panel fees. Once artists have paid the fees, they don't need to see the information again).

Time Categories

You can split "things people need to know" into three categories, based on when people need to know them. Some items are in more than one category. You could categorize some differently, but as a start:

  • Things artists want/need to know before they enter. These might help them decide if they want to enter, or enable them to:
    • Name, date, and place of show
    • Procedure and deadlines for entering
      • May include jury instructions
    • Contact information
    • Type of show and sales information
    • Fees and commission
    • What's allowed in art show and print shop
      • Topical - e.g., fantasy or SF
      • Content - e.g., no X rated, or no copyright violation
      • Production - e.g., originals only, prints up to run of X
      • Presentation & Preparation - e.g., framed work only, must be mounted and ready to hang
    • Types of sale being used
    • Is mail-in allowed and what are the rules/costs?
    • When will art be returned? Checks mailed?
    • Damaged artwork policy
    • Panel and table sizes
    • Print Shop type, fees, rules
    • Optional information includes
      • Art show judging information, contests, etc.
      • Number of bids to auction
      • Availability or cost of electricity, lighting
      • Panel refund policy
      • Response time for entry applications
      • Display case info/rules


  • Things artists need to know once they have entered.
    • Acknowlegement of space reserved
    • Instructions for filling out paperwork and shipping artwork.
    • Dates and times for hanging and picking up art. This could be in the first list, but many shows don't know their exact hours at the time they send out invitations.
    • Hours the show is open, auction time
    • Directions to the hotel and to the art show room.
    • Optional information
      • Type of panels, panel layout
      • Times of artist reception, "Meet the artists", artist demo information, docent tours, etc.
    • Repeated information from the first group:
      • Contact information
      • Dates and times for hanging and picking up art
      • Type of show and sales information
      • Number of bids to auction
      • What's allowed in art show and print shop
      • Types of sale being used
      • Is mail-in allowed and what are the rules/costs?


  • Things people need to know at the show.
    • How to bid and buy art
    • Security procedures
    • Art show hours
    • Schedule of demos, docent tours, etc.
    • "No food, drinks, smoking or photography"
    • How to vote for awards (if applicable)
    • What forms of payment the show accepts
    • Sales tax rate

Documents

You'll probably communicate with each artist at least twice before the show; once when you invite them and once when they've reserved space. This could be by mailed invitation and art show packet, or entirely by website and email (in which case it could well be the artist initiating each contact). Either way, you're communicating with them once before they enter, and once after. This conveniently corresponds to the first two categories above. I like to split rules, procedures, and information and present each as it becomes necessary. This keeps the information from being an overwhelming monolithic block. Admittedly, some artists might think that show hours or docent tours are important information in deciding whether to do your show - but the number that do is small enough that I prefer answering their questions one on one to creating a gigantic and unread art show manual. There's nothing wrong with having a single compendium contain all answers to all likely questions - it can work on a web site - but you need other forms of communication, too.

Artist invitation

This could be a mailing or e-mailing to selected artists, or posted on the convention's website. It could appear in a progress report. It could be posted in art supply stores. It doesn't matter if the show or the artist initiates the contact - the artist needs the same information either way.

You must state when and where your show is. This seems obvious but I've seen internet invitations that don't. "at the Art Core gallery on April 16th" may suffice if you're only putting up posters in local art stores, but on the internet, people won't know what city - or even what country.

What other information you need to include depends on your intentions. If you want artists to enter the show without having to contact you for further information, you must include everything they'll likely want to know before entering. That's the entire first list above and arguably even a couple from the second list. If you want to force each individual artist to engage you in email or phone conversation, you should leave most of it out. It's more work relaying the necessary information to each artist individually, but I've seen announcements such as "Announcing show X at time/place Y. For more information, contact Z" so often that I can only assume the person in charge wants extra contact with the artists. If this is intended as an informal jury process - simply don't respond to people you don't want in the show - it's a bad plan. It can only work if you'll know the work of each artist who responds and even then, you'll annoy people just as much by not responding as by telling them "We don't think your work suits this show".

Not all items in the first list may apply to your show. Sales information is often neglected though, and shouldn't be. If an artist has both $3,000 original work and $50 prints, you should tell them which is likely to sell. Letting them find out the hard way will only cause them to write your show off. It also helps artists to know what percentage of pieces are likely to sell at auction.

Response to artists who have entered

Once artists reserve space, they need paperwork and more information. This is the second list above, plus art control sheets, bid sheets, print shop control sheets, etc. They may be sent to the artists via email (if none are NCR paper) or snail-mail. Shows which don't reserve space can just put these forms on the web, but most shows don't want to - it encourages artists to show up without having registered first (it would be OK to put them at a link not shown to the general public). This information is targeted specifically to artists who have entered, and won't generally appear elsewhere. You could include all of it in your invitation to artists, but it makes an imposing bundle. If you're using snail-mail, it increases your printing and postage costs. If you're using email, it makes a large irritating message with too many attachments. Why send forms to people who aren't going to enter?

The information in the second list above can be combined with some of the forms, or separate. It makes sense to put instructions for filling out paperwork on the paperwork itself, while other information might be separate. I like to duplicate much of the information sent in the first contact, to make it easily available to artists.

Information needed at the show

The largest and most complicated of these is "How to Buy Art". It's good to present this in several ways; progress reports, program book, signs on the art show walls, and handouts at the art show. Most of the others are short and simple, and can appear in all the same places. I like to put most of these signs both inside the show and just outside it - people will still want to know when you're open, how to buy art, or how they can pay even when the show isn't open.

"Security procedures" is the most variable; what kind of instructions you'll need will depend on what kind of security you're doing. The most vital is that if you're searching bags at the exit, you must have the fact well posted at the entrance - you don't want it to come as a surprise to people.

No matter how many signs you post, and no matter how many other places you've written it, a large percentage of people will still ask you questions in person or otherwise ignore the signs. You can't avoid this, but you can minimize the frequency.

Wording

Regardless of how you break all these items out and which are designated as the official "rules", you have one major philosophical decision to make. Do you want your rules detailed and comprehensive, or do you want them short? Which you prefer will depend on your audience, procedures, and personal preference. As far as I can tell, the number of questions you get remains fairly constant either way. Short rules leave things out, but people don't read long rules. Your rules should be as short and clear as possible. How much explanation of terms such "quick sale" you need depends on your audience.

How short and simple your rules can can be depends on how simple your show and procedures are. Simple procedures can have simple descriptions. "Panels cost $15 each" is simple. If you have three different categories of artist, each with different panel limits and fees, and the first panel costs less than succeeding panels, and you refund panel fees out of commissions - simple rules are no longer an option.

Examples

Panel fees

Here we have three versions of basic panel information; one long version and two shorter versions. They could all work.

A Long, detailed version B Short, simple version C Short with detail
1. The basic unit of space for flat work is the panel, which is made of pegboard and is 4’ by 4’. For 3-D art, the basic unit is the table, which is 6' long by 30" deep. Please remember that the space you reserve must include

any clearance between pieces, including space for their attached bid sheets. Your artwork may not extend beyond the edge of any panel or table, and it may not interfere with any works displayed by any other artist.

2. You are not limited to buying full panels or tables. The available fractional units and their prices are as follows:

1 Table 6' X 30" $28 1 Panel 4' X 4' $28
1/2 Table 3' X 30" $14 1/2 Panel 4' X 2' $14
1/4 Table 1.5' X 30" $7 1/2 Panel 2' X 2' $7
Panels measure 4'x4'; tables are 6'x30". They cost $28 each. Half panels or tables are $14; 1/4 is $7. Panels and tables cost $28 each. The size and cost of whole and partial panels/tables are shown below.
panel size table size cost
full 4' x 4' 6' x 30" $28
1/2 2'w x 4'h 3' x 30" $14
1/4 2' x 2' 1.5' x 30" $7

Panels are made from pegboard. Remember to leave space for bid sheets; your work may not extend past the edges of your space or interfere with other artists' work.

Taken verbatim from the rules of a well-known art show (border added to table)
  • Detailed and explicit
  • Long - about nine times as long as short version
  • Harder to extract key points from
ABCs art show rules, modified to show the same information.
  • Short and simple
  • Only shows key points - making it easy to find them
Shorter rewrite of long version
  • Crucial information presented first.

The short version is a third as long as the short detailed version, showing the basic philosophical choice of whether to include detail. Whether you need to remind artists to leave space for bid sheets, etc. depends on what your audience is. If you include such extra detail throughout your rules, it will make them three times as long.

Adding detail makes things more explicit, but that can also cause problems. In this example:

  • Does "your work may not extend past the edges of your space" apply to pieces hanging below the bottom of the panel? It's common to allow that, and the mention of "interfere with other artists" suggests that this show might also intend to allow it.
  • What constitutes interference? The rule already says you can't encroach on another artist's space, so interference would seem to be something else beyond that (though it may not have been intended as such).

It is impossible to spell everything out. There have to be limits to your rules. Try not to add details that open up more questions than they resolve (e.g., the "interference" statement).

Example A is long. The language is somewhat stilted and bureaucratic, and precise in a way that would seem comfortable to accountants, gamers, and programmers. Since most artists don't fall into any of those groups, it may not be the best style to use. Still, it does convey the information needed.

Sales Information

This is perhaps an example of too much sales information (it's from the invitation to MileHiCon in 2005). Your show may not have all this information available - or you may choose to present less of it - but it's a good example of information that could be presented. It has seven parts:

  • A brief text summary of the type of convention and sub-genres of art that do well. Many shows provide at least some of this.
  • A table detailing sales for various ranges of minimum bid. Here an artist can see that while most pieces in the show had minimum bids under $20, a majority of pieces with minimums between $200 and $299 also sold, as did one $600 piece. But this is not a market for $3,000 pieces.
  • A table of sales by artist. Sales are not distributed evenly. This tells an artist how likely they are to do poorly or well. Here, 32 artists sold under $100, while 33 sold over $100. Three artists sold over $1,300, and six sold nothing.
  • A table of sales per panel by artist. Did the artists selling over $1,300 do so because they had ten panels each? This table shows that wasn't the case.
  • A table of how pieces sold. No sense using low minimum bids and trying for auction at a show which only sells 3% of the pieces at auction, and artists might want to raise their QS prices a bit if a large percentage of pieces sell that way.
  • A table of sales by various ranges of sale price. The first table told you that only eight pieces with minimum bids over $100 sold. This one tells you that another eight or so with lower minumums also sold for over $100.
  • Another brief text summary giving total sales, average sales per artist, and average sales per panel.

I've had requests for other breakdowns: sales of prints vs. originals, and of framed vs. unframed pieces. I have opted not to compile them - let alone publish them - because I consider them misleading for our show. Large framed prints often cost more than small framed originals; some frames add $10 to the cost of a piece and some add $150. In either case, our sales are more sensitive to price than original vs. print or framed vs. unframed. But if these figures would be meaningful for your show, you could include them.

Regardless of what records you keep, almost any show should be able to figure out sales by artist, sales per panel by artist, total sales, and average sales per artist and panel.

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