“Hello there! Came across your work in curatorial googling. We have a couple of call-to-artist exhibits that your work may be a fit for.”
That’s an email San Diego artists Bob Jones recently got in his inbox. The exhibitions required $20 entry fees each. Jones said he gets email offers like that all the time. He said that almost every show that comes with a price tag attached is a scam.
His take is shared by many other local artists who weighed in on the ongoing pay-to-play debate after I posted a question about it on Facebook last week.
“The whole pay-to-play scheme is just that, a scheme to get participation fees, jury fees, submission fees, entry fees, whatever up front money they can squeeeeeze the artist for under the guise of ‘well-known curators,’” wrote artist Justin Allen.
But not all pay-to-play exhibitions are created equal, argues artist and art collector John Purlia. He said the fees are often used to pay for marketing, space and other costs associated with putting on art shows.
“Paying a submission fee for juried exhibitions is fine as long as the fee goes to furthering the cause of the gallery or event,” he wrote. “It’s a good way to limit the number of entries (often, quite high anyway) and provide funding for the exhibition.”
While some deals are more clearly out to make profits from artist participation, other artist opportunities that include fees can be more nuanced. Patric Stillman, an artist and owner of The Studio Door gallery in North Park, said each offer is different, and it’s up to artists to decide whether it would be a good career opportunity.
“I think the whole term ‘pay-to-play’ is an aggressive term and it causes all kinds of feelings,” he said. “With every opportunity artists have to say, ‘Well, is this going to help me get to where I want to go?’”
At The Studio Door, Stillman offers a combination of exhibitions. Some shows require no upfront fees but do include standard gallery commissions, or a split of the proceeds on sold work. Other juried shows do include submission fees. He also offers artist development workshops for a fee.
The most often pitched benefit of juried shows with entry fees is the opportunity to get art in front of the jurors, often well-known curators or museum or gallery staff members who could ostensibly present future opportunities to the artists they like. Another perceived benefit can be the prestige that comes with being selected for a juried show with a laudable reputation.
In San Diego, for example, the Athenaeum’s annual juried exhibition and the city of Carlsbad’s William D. Cannon Art Gallery’s biennial juried exhibition are highly regarded.
At the start of the month, Stillman launched yet another way in which artists can pay to exhibit their work. He took over the lease on a vacant space next to his North Park Gallery and called it HYPE at The Studio Door.
HYPE is a co-op gallery where up to nine local artists at a time can pay between $75 to $150 a month to show their work. The artists are also required to spend at least 11 hours a month working in the gallery. If they sell their work, they take home 100 percent of the proceeds. Stillman said he’s not making any money from the co-op gallery and that the artists are just covering the cost of rent while also learning about what it takes to run a gallery. The $1,275 he pulls in monthly from artist fees is indeed low for a neighborhood with increasingly high rents.
Stillman said the co-op gallery filled up immediately and that he’s already got a sizable waiting list of artists ready to pay. He said he thinks artists who want to sell their work understand that it’s a business like any other and requires some financial investment.
“Everything costs money,” he said. “Nothing is free. So the trick in today’s economy is trying to keep the gallery doors open and keep the doors open with as little money as you can. It’s tough and that’s why we see galleries closing all the time.”
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Faulconer Wants to Cut Arts Funding, City Council Pushes Back
When cities are strapped for cash, support for the arts is often among the first things to go, and San Diego is no exception.
The city needed to do some belt-tightening this year due to rising pension costs, so when Mayor Kevin Faulconer presented his proposed budget it included knocking the city’s annual arts funding down by $4.7 million, to $10.4 million.
The San Diego Union-Tribune was quick to gather reactions from local arts leaders, one of whom said city funding is a big part of what keeps the doors open, and that taking away a third of it would have huge ripple effects.
Arts leaders told the U-T they were surprised by the cuts. The mayor and City Council did, after all, increase arts funding last year even though they stopped short of giving the full amount promised in the city’s Penny for the Arts plan passed in 2012.
Yet perhaps the mayor’s proposed arts cuts shouldn’t come as a total shock. In his State of the City address, Faulconer didn’t mention art or culture once and made it clear that his priorities included housing, solving homelessness and fixing roads.
On Monday, KPBS reported that while the mayor’s proposed budget was mostly well received by the City Council, a few members did say they would soften the blow to the arts. Councilwoman Lorie Zapf called the cuts “draconian,” according to Times of San Diego.
If the city had followed the Penny for the Arts blueprint it adopted in 2012, arts funding this year would be more than double what the mayor has proposed in his new budget. The proposed cuts come just after the city’s Commission for Arts and Culture, which oversees city arts funding, made innovative changes to its funding program, which could result in city money reaching more – and more diverse – cultural nonprofits.
The San Diego Regional Arts & Culture Coalition, an arts advocacy group, has launched a letter-writing campaign urging city leaders to boost arts funding rather than cutting it. Meanwhile, some local arts groups are asking their fans to show up to the next City Council meeting to advocate for more arts funding.
• Perhaps local arts groups should start looking toward the Port of San Diego for some additional funding. The Port recently announced $489,000 in funding available for groups that want to host events along the San Diego Bay.
The Public Art Problem Persists
The city’s practice of putting pricey public art in places the public can’t really go didn’t make sense to me, so I looked into the issue last year and was told restrictive funding was to blame — the rules that came with certain money required the art to stay tethered to the project itself, like water facilities the public can’t easily enter.
A new opinion from the city attorney’s office says that the funding for public art on some city projects is indeed restrictive and that the art should continue to be located at inaccessible places, with one exception that the city should be very, very careful to employ. Bureaucracy, amiright?
Kids at Art Shows, Jimmy Buffett Love and More Arts and Culture News
• The “La Traviata” opera is designed and directed by the same person, which San Diego Opera general director David Bennett says makes the production especially cohesive and visually stunning. (U-T)
• The Timken Museum of Art and the San Diego Symphony collaborated on a new exhibit about war. (KPBS)
• Two sides of San Diego artist May-Ling Martinez’s artistic brain are on view at Ice Gallery inside Bread & Salt in Logan Heights and CityBeat’s Seth Combs thinks you should see it.
• Speaking of Bread & Salt and Seth Combs, he went to an opening there recently and was appalled by the bad parenting of a few folks. As someone who is often forced to drag kids (who sometimes behave and sometimes don’t) to art exhibitions, I have to say I am not impressed by Combs’ take, which, even though he’s careful to include caveats and try not to offend us “good” parents, only serves to further isolate parents of young children (trust me, we’re isolated enough).
• Chicano Park Day is this weekend and San Diego Magazine reminds us why the park is so special.
• Artist James Luna, who lives in San Diego County, is one of the 2017 Guggenheim Fellowship recipients. (Los Angeles Times)
• Here’s what you can’t miss in this year’s Asian Film Festival Spring Showcase. (San Diego Magazine)
• Mayor Kevin Faulconer recently appointed Tyler Hewes and Benjamin Meza to the city’s Commission for Arts and Culture.
• A new event series featuring local authors is launching this week.
• CityBeat profiles a San Diego video artist who’s making his first feature-length film. The movie is set in Tijuana and features an all-female cast.
• New Village Arts and Intrepid Theatre Company are teaming up to produce a play about Buddy Holly. (Broadwayworld)
• A big plein air painters convention and exhibition is happening in San Diego this weekend. Plein air artists are those who work outside, often looking right at the landscape they’re painting.
• Surprise! There are people who love the new mural in Chicano Park that takes a stand against the border wall, and others who hate it. (U-T)
• The Roustabouts, San Diego’s newest theater company, are in the middle of their first-ever show and the U-T’s theater critic says it’s good.
• The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego is opening a new show featuring the works of 11 graduating artists in the master of fine arts program at UC San Diego.
• The winners of Rep. Scott Peters’ district’s 2017 Congressional Art Competition are showing in Liberty Station. (U-T) The winners from Rep. Duncan Hunter’s Congressional Art Competition will be chosen at the Olaf Wieghorst Museum & Western Heritage Center this week. Earlier this year, Hunter took down a piece of controversial art that was chosen as a winner of the Congressional Art Competition by another congressman.
• The San Diego History Center is holding a candlelight celebration of life for Gabe Selak, the center’s longtime public programs manager and history ambassador who recently passed away.
• La Jolla Playhouse’s upcoming premiere of the Jimmy Buffett musical has been extended thanks to popular demand. (NBC San Diego)
Food, Beer and Booze News
• A big vacant parking lot on Mission Valley’s Hotel Circle is getting new life as an outdoor venue and urban park. (Eater)
• Ryan Bros Coffee is opening a location in Lemon Grove. The Reader says there’s been a flurry of new craft coffee shops and coffee roasters opening across the county.
• North Park’s Ritual Tavern is closing and its replacement is already planned. (Eater)
• I just came across two San Diego food podcasts: Just Forking Around and Breaking Bread.
• There’s about to be more beer in Bay Park. (West Coaster)
Kinsee Morlan is engagement editor at Voice of San Diego. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Want to recommend this culture newsletter to someone? Share this sign-up link.