“If all the other galleries charged submission fees to jump off a bridge, would you?”
“How much is the normal submission fee to jump off the bridge? Will artists have to pay for the bungee cords and protective gear on top of the application fee? Would it be during Art Walk? Will there be a no-host bar?”
An online discussion over the weekend about the ethics of charging artists submission fees led to some misogynist and ableist attacks on my intelligence, mental health, and character, as well as what would seem to be a not-so-veiled threat. So of course, I decided to talk about the practice here.
Artists shouldn’t pay submission fees to have work considered.
Not if the work will be seen by “so many people,” not if “other galleries are charging fees,” and not if accepted artists will receive some kind of perk that can be purchased from that business any other time of the year for the same amount of money as the submission fee.
Other authors have already done excellent jobs on explaining how submission fees frontload the risk of shows onto artists. Martha Knox gives a detailed breakdown on the subject, particularly how the charging of fees maintains the status quo of who is represented in the art world. Please read her article, aptly named “Stop Charging and Paying Artist Submission Fees.” The site Art Business Info. for Artists covers the phenomenon of “vanity galleries” — galleries which make their money off of artists and not actually selling artists’ work. If you’re just starting out as an artist, or if you know someone who is struggling in this field, please, please read their page for a great list of red flags.
Instead of repeating the information found on these sites, here are resources for finding arts organizations that don’t charge submission fees.
Seattle-based Artist Trust recently revised their opportunities website to list whether an organization charges submission fees up front. They also have a number of grants available for Washington-based artists, as well as assistance for those interested in learning how to apply for said grants.
Submittable’s advanced search option allows creators to exclude results with fees. If you haven’t used it before, click the “Sign In” button to create a free account.
An international site that I have had luck with in the past for writing opportunities is the UK-based Writers HQ. Not only do they list the compensation writers can expect to receive, “Writers’ HQ will now only be accepting listings from organisations offering accessible submission opportunities for low-income writers.” Many of the opportunities listed are free.
Submission fees are exploitative. Stop normalizing them, and start creating spaces for more artists to thrive.
I try to share resources as I find them. If this kind of advice is helpful, please let me know either in the comments or by email (firstname.lastname@example.org), and I’ll make it a more regular feature on the blog.