A Year of Fees: Are Art Entry Fees Worth It?

I've always been against entry fees on principle and for most of the thirty-plus years I've been a practicing artist and writer, I have stayed away from shows and submissions that have fees. I wrote about fees before in this 2014 post and came to this understanding in this 2017 post. This year I tried an experiment; I entered every show that sounded interesting whether it had a fee or not. Today marks one year since I began the quest. Here is the analysis.

Was I successful? I have to ask myself what success means to me. I need to be honest about this evaluation because it turns out (if I got the math right) I spent $624.00 on fees and memberships. Looking back:
  • What did I hope to achieve from these unrestricted submissions?
  • Did I achieve my goals?
  • Will I continue in this mode?
Each question branches into more question-twigs. Good questions, I think, for any artist to contemplate; the answers propel the next steps. In fiction, the question is: what does the character want? Here: what did I want to achieve?
  1. To get work out of my studio and make way to create more.
  2. To show new work.
  3. To sell work.
  4. To gain opportunities I wouldn't have if I didn't pay an entry fee.
  5. To see where my new work fit in a new environment/community.
How did the story go? Did I achieve my goals? 

1. To get work out of my studio and make way to create more.
The quilts piled up. The only thing that didn't take up physical space was my writing, which I did not pay to submit, and I did get several things published this year (see this list). So, the answer here is: not really.

1a. Did I create more? which leads to: Did I learn anything new?
Because I created new work for each themed show, particularly for the SAQA shows, I stretched and learned new techniques and processes. Answer: I created a ton of work and learned a ton.

2. To show new work.
I got to show my favorite Osprey quilt, "Sweet Osprey Dreams" to the Osprey Live Chat peeps who live in the area. So that was a plus. There was no fee since I was a member of California Society of Printmakers (or you could call it the membership fee: 50.00). 

I was also excited to have my "Hand Gun" quilt accepted by SAQA for the Guns: Loaded Conversations exhibit debuting at the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles and traveling to the New England Quilt Museum. Those felt the most important to me. So the answer here is: satisfactory. But if you look at how many submissions and fees I paid to SAQA, the answer is less clear; I paid 239.00 to SAQA for fees and membership, total.

3. To sell work.
I sold nothing through the exhibitions. (In comparison, I did okay on Etsy.) I only sold work at Roadworks, where I got a booth in exchange for carving the linoleum for the big three-foot print, and that was the best experience I had all year, both monetarily and emotionally. But for the purposes of this experiment, the answer is: no.

4. To gain opportunities I wouldn't have if I didn't pay an entry fee.
Again, SAQA wins for me with the gun quilt. I also was accepted into a SAQA regional show where I got to show my felted books (scroll down when you go to the link) as 3D quilts. I also started learning about other annual shows that do not require any fees. The answer here: yes, but proportionally small in comparison to what I paid overall.

5. To see where my new work fit in a new environment/community.
I learned that my felted books gain a better reception within the fiber arts community. I learned that my quilts, unlike most quilts I've seen, are not heavily based on craft, but more on art, concepts, text, and materials (no surprise). I guess this is why I still think of them as books. I found that printmaking on fabric and sewn into quilts might show better in a printmaking environment. Answer: gained good knowledge.

Will I continue in this mode?

I've re-upped my memberships with SAQA and California Society of Printmakers. I'll give SAQA another year, partly because I'm working on a project I hope to have ready to submit by the end of the month, and I'm excited about it. I'll probably stick with CSP and just submit to the free shows, of which there were many opportunities this year. And I had a lucky break with the gun quilt, which was worth the SAQA admission and membership. 

The results are mixed and complex. Juried shows are subjective, as I know when I wear my editor hat. I bought a few tickets but didn't exactly win the art lottery. But I did learn a tremendous amount about sewing and the craft of quiltmaking, so if I were to categorize the fees as Education, it was absolutely worth it. The other aspects are debatable. This is anecdotal, so it's hard to know if this is typical or not. It's one artist's data point. 

Conclusion: It doesn't seem sustainable over time, but I'm glad I was able to try it, once. I think it was the right time on my art path to do it.

Related: I entered a proposal and won the 2018 Anolic Family Jewish Book Award. That was free to enter and is a generous grant for a 2018-2019 project. 


10.3.17. 1 quilt submitted and accepted for exhibit. SAQA membership. 40.00.
10.17.17. image submitted and declined for journal. SAQA membership. 0.
11.16.17. 3 quilts submitted and declined for exhibit. no membership. 35.00
1.5.18. 3 quilts submitted and declined for exhibit. SAQA membership required. 40.00
1.7.18. 3 felted books submitted and 2 accepted for exhibit. SAQA membership. 9.00
1.25.18. 10 quilts + books submitted and declined for exhibit. CSP membership. 35.00
2.13.18. 2 quilts submitted and declined for exhibit. SAQA membership. 40.00
2.27.18. 1 book submitted and accepted for exhibit. no membership. 40.00 (upon acceptance)
3.13.18. 1 image submitted and declined for journal. SAQA membership. 0.
4.5.18. 2 books submitted and declined for exhibit. RAC membership-discount. 35.00
5.18.18. 1 quilt submitted and accepted for exhibit. CSP membership. 0.
5.27.18. 2 quilts submitted and declined for exhibit. SAQA membership. 40.00
5.25.18. 1 quilt submitted and accepted for exhibit. RAC membership. 0.
6.11.18. 1 quilt submitted and declined for exhibit. CSP membership. 15.00
7.1.18. 3 quilts + 1 felted work declined for exhibit. RAC membership-discount. 45.00
7.17.18. 1 print submitted and accepted for exhibit. CSP membership. 0.
[9.24.18. 5 quilts submitted. JURIED, pending. CSP membership. 0.]
[SAQA Journal, Volume 28, No. 3: photo of my accepted quilt from 10.3.17 appeared.]

Total Entry Fees Paid: 374.00
Number of Entries (not counting those in brackets): 16
Number of Artworks Entered: 41
Number of Accepted Artworks: 7
Total Acceptances: 6
With Entry Fee Acceptances: 2
Pay after Acceptance: 1
Member Acceptances: 3

I joined the following organizations that are related to this tally:
Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA) 70.00
Richmond Art Center (RAC) 80.00
Berkeley Art Center (BAC) 50.00 [this members' show is upcoming, I missed it last year]
and re-upped my juried membership to California Society of Printmakers (CSP) 50.00
Memberships: 250.00

Total to SAQA (including fees): 239.00 (7 entries, 2 acceptances)
Theoretically the acceptances cost 119.50 each BUT the venues are excellent: San Jose Quilt and Textiles Museum in 2018 and New England Quilt Museum in 2019.

Total to CSP (including fees): 100.00 (4 entries, 2 acceptances)
These acceptances were for members' shows with no fees. So, theoretically they cost 50.00 each. Bridge ArtSpace in Richmond, CA; Piedmont Art Center in Piedmont, CA. I had entered another but declined to pay for shipping it back so withdrew it.

Total to RAC (including fees): 160.00 (3 entries, 1 acceptance)
Members' show. Theoretically, this members' show cost me 160.00

Total to BAC: 50.00 (remains to be seen)

Other fees (non-member, random): 75.00

Total 2017-2018 Costs: 624.00


Amateur said…
I inherited a nice sum of money early in the year. At the same time, I am on a path to building up my handmade book business. So I also invested a bunch in entrance fees this year. I basically entered every juried show, and a couple non-juried, that I wanted to. My only concern was making enough books should I do well.
I am also evaluating the results. As it turned out, I have not done especially well this year. Except for three events, at which I did as well as I had the last couple years, all my other events have been blighted by one odd circumstance or another which tesulted in very thin earnings. The holiday shows are coming up, and since I sell more books as gifts then, I am hoping my luck will change.
If the year turns out to result in lots of fees and little earnings, I know I will still contnue building and heading toward my goals. At least I had the money to try it out, and I know I made a few connections and established my presence here and there. I was asked to supply some books to a new gallery, as one example.
Alisa said…
Amateur—thanks for writing. It's interesting to hear your story, and your somewhat similar result of being reimbursed with something other than the money you paid forward. Gaining connections and establishing a presence are certainly part of the process. Good luck!
kathy loomis said…
A couple of years after I retired from my day job to become a fulltime artist (whatever that meant) I decided to enter every show I could just to get my work out there. It worked -- I sure got my work out there, and learned how to enter shows -- but in retrospect, did it do me any good to have my work at the Salt Lake City Main Public Library in a show about text? I did not keep track of my costs, which is probably for the better; it would be too discouraging.

In subsequent years I have become way more picky about what shows I want to enter. Entry fees are one thing, also the likely cost of shipping (most of my quilts are huge). I don't enter shows that I consider "beneath me" -- that sounds so snobby, but you know what I mean. More and more I am passing the quilt and fiber shows by and preferring shows with all mediums.

What I have learned is that the objectives and plans you have this year won't necessarily feel equally valid next year. You can and should reevaluate periodically -- maybe it's OK to not enter Quilt National this year for the first time since 2002.

Good for you in articulating your goals so well and in going back to see whether you achieved them. We should all be this deliberate!
Alisa said…
kathy—thanks for this. You've brought up some really good points, particularly about the type of venue where the show is held and the shows that feature more than one medium.

It's hard to know sometimes why I would want my work in certain places and whether it would lead to anything further. As a teacher, I recognize that visibility and accessibility can encourage more people to make and view art, but that can be done in shows without entry fees. My local library, for example, allows residents of our city to sign up in advance to display work in a glass case. No fees, no jury. That's more of the time to be an art emissary.

Regarding single-media shows, mixing up the kinds of shows one enters makes sense so one doesn't get overly categorized or pigeon-holed. A friend of mine just wants to be known as an artist, not a certain flavor of one. Being a "this" or a "that" can also cause one to be dismissed or overlooked in the larger world.

And I agree: this is an ongoing process that can vary and change, and will vary and change over time.

Thanks again for your comments!