Detroit Artists: 'Pay For Play' Isn't The Way
By: Amy Cooper, ACRONYM
I understand in the world of putting on art shows, or any show for that matter - you have to pay for the venue and cover the cost of things. And that makes sense, but to a degree. I've done my fair share of entering shows, $50 here, $25 here to cover my booth fee. And I've constantly looked into shows like DIY Ferndale, Dally In The Alley, and even smaller hometown spots like Founders Festival in Farmington, and found that the booth prices are super steep. Unless you're making bank at a full time job aside from your art, you're more than likely not going to be able to get a booth at one of the bigger events unless you split one with 4+ artists.
The "Exposure" Argument: For artists, the word exposure is a disgusting word. It used to be a good thing, and sometimes it still can be applicable (higher up magazine names and clothing lines), but as artists who try to make a living off of what we do, or to make money as a side business with our work, exposure is a huge slap in the face. We can't pay bills with exposure. I work a 40 hour a week job, and I work very hard. I took a second job to make extra cash. But here's my thing: I pay for my equipment. I pay for my computer. My internet to network. My lenses. My prints. All of that to be a respected artist in the community that can offer a solid service to people who seek it.
I very rarely want to come out to throw someone under the bus, but as the masses have voiced there concerns over weeks, and months - there's one thing I want to spell out for the artists of the Detroit community: Unless you make major money, or you have a ton of friends who are willing to spend a tank of gas on an art show for you, enlisting in RAW Detroit is not the way to go. I hate having to name names, so if a representative of RAW Detroit is reading this - please hear me out, because there are TONS of artists who are completely disgusted and fed up with your process, and this is why they aren't enrolling in your system.
The experience overall sounded like a dream come true: an art collective that will back you to break into other markets like Chicago and LA, and a chance to show off our collective works as a unit for the sake of exposure to other people's friends. That sounds wonderful, until you note that you have to sell 20 tickets for $20 a piece to be able to participate, and if you don't sell your quota, you have to cover that cost yourself. That's $400. Now, I promote, and I promote hard. And I still only managed to sell 4 tickets a week or two before the deadline. I could not be responsible for a $400 booth fee, essentially, to showcase my work. And I'm pretty sure most artists can't either.
I'm writing this today, because not only have I had other friends drop out of the show prior to the date because they couldn't sell enough tickets or couldn't afford the fees, but I was reading today in a Facebook post from another artist, in which he's now been requested multiple times. Many of the Detroit art circle has commented since - and we're all saying the same thing: It's a pyramid scheme, it's a rip off, and it's not worth it to Detroit artists to join in.
Beginner artists cannot afford this, nor can artists who have real life expectations. Even if we were able to sell 20 tickets for $10 a pop, that's still an expensive fee for one person to handle, even if the payout is barely breaking even. We'd just assume throwing our own show and putting money towards a venue, one that's not sponsored by any showcase, and where the money comes directly back to us, rather than funding someone else's art show or lacing someone else's pockets.
Now, to play Devil's advocate, some Fashion people were able to get their clothes in front of a group by doing RAW, but at the same time, spending that much money on a gamble is hard to throw in unless you do have the money to do so. And the justification is this: when you place yourself in a show, you may sell a ton, or you may sell nothing.
I've only sold maybe $50 tops at a show, and my work is not bad. Sometimes it's your location, or who's at the show. If you have a ton of people at a show not looking to carry around a 16x20 framed print around, or don't need any art and just want to look at it, or you're at a clothing sponsored show and a bunch of teenagers show up who aren't willing to throw down $100+ on a painting, you're not going to succeed. So a $400 covered booth? That's not going to do anything for anyone, except maybe eat up their entire paycheck.
I'm not trying to bash you, RAW Detroit. Or any other group that does this - but I'm hoping as an open letter to all of you, be realistic about the expectations. Realize that you're getting B or C rated artists to pay in, rather than the more driven-successful-hustlers of the Detroit Art Scene. We'll find a way to showcase ourselves on our own in which we're benefited, not some third hand that gets almost half a $1K out of the artists that show up. We're better off doing it by ourselves... Which might be the Detroit frame of mind, but we're used to pulling ourselves up on our own, thank you very much.