Art Competition Odds

Odd art competitions

Artists have to establish their own criteria for discerning valid art competitions from rip-offs. When are the odds are too high? The fee exorbitant? The opportunity measly? We all have different tolerances.

I recently came across a residency that made me question the value of its opportunity. The winning artist receives a free, work-only studio for 8 weeks, with a materials budget of up to $800 depending on the project scope. The organization does not assist out-of-town artists with finding living accommodations. No other funding is included. This means that the artist is responsible for travel, housing, and a per diem, not to speak of an artist’s fee.

Yet the organization expects the artist to:

1. “Produce a new project that explores the history, architecture, aesthetics, or culture of the building site and surrounding community”…

2. … That results in “a public product at the end of the residency period.”

3. Post regularly on a blog.

4. Give one public lecture.

5. Avail themselves for for studio visits.

6. Provide high quality documentation of all work.

These are all things I’d aspire to do at each residency, but written expectations are paramount to requiring artists to do all these things, and that is different. Not everyone is comfortable speaking publicly (due to shyness, but also because of different language and speech abilities), familiar with blogging, or even equipped to submit documentation. Even if artists were willing and able, items 2 to 6 are distractions from studio time. In changing opportunities to responsibilities, it puts too much burden on the artist.

Consider it this way: What is the cash value of the residency?

The studio is 240 sq ft. That’s not huge. If you calculated the cost of studio rent at $1.75 per sq. ft; that’s $360/month, and $720 for two months. With up to $800 available for a materials stipend, that’s a $1,520 possible value.

How might the costs compare?

1. New project: An $800 materials fund could be easily exceeded for a new site-responsive project. Let’s assume the artist does not exceed the budget; the cost is $0.

2. Public program: Installing art for a public presentation takes additional labor and materials.

The Canadian Artists Representation Copyright Collective recommends a variable fee schedule which would net the artist, at minimum, $40 to $50/hour for exhibition preparation and installation. In addition, CARCC suggests an artist’s fee of $1,441 for a solo project exhibition at a small institution. Even if the project were considered a single work, the recommended fee would be $351.

But that’s in Canada, you say. Well, if an American artist calculated his/her time at $25/hours (a very modest freelance rate when you calculate health care and income tax), and we estimated the installation goes quickly in 4 hours and strikes in 4 hours, and that the organization supplies all the materials, the outlay in labor is $200.

3. Blogging: Say 2 hours/week  x 8 weeks = 16 hours. At the modest rate of $25/hour, the value would be $400.

4. Lecturing: Guest artists usually receive at least $100 for artists’ talks for college classes. The prep and contact time would easily take 3-4 hours.

5. Studio visits: Guests artists are also usually compensated for doing studio visits too. Let’s ballpark this at $100. Again, most artists enjoy speaking with likeminded peers, but mandating an action is not necessarily the best way to achieve the desired result.

6. Provide high-quality documentation: Photographers regularly charge $50-100/hour for their services. Of course artists should document their own work, but again, requiring it means he/she must carry or rent photographic equipment, finish work on an advanced schedule, spend time lighting work for documentation, and conduct post-production on the images. This could easily take 8 hours, or in a modest estimation, $400.

These tasks alone tally up to $1,200. That’s $320 short of the possible value, until you consider the additional out-of-pocket expenses for the artist:

  • Travel
  • Accommodations
  • Per Diem
  • Any materials in excess of the stipend for the project, or exhibition installation/strike
  • Shipping materials and tools to the residency
  • Shipping materials, tools, and artworks back home
  • Exhibition insurance
  • Labor: studio work, administrative work, etc. Artists do the work whether they are paid or not, however, in partnership with an organization which exists to support artists, I think compensating artists for their time is not a revolutionary idea, but a quite logical one.

This could be a really fantastic opportunity for the right artist. (Though, in my informal survey of art competition odds, single-award opportunities like this present the worst odds for entrants.) To me, it looks like the costs implied by the expectations do not outweigh the few benefits.

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