Artist Open Calls: Should you be paying? Part 2.

As you may know, we are currently in the planning stages of our first ever, stand alone, open call exhibition! This is something we have wanted to do since setting up Cotton On MCR and to be honest, I don’t know why it has taken so long. As our goals are to bring you a great variety of art events, and to show how art can be for everyone and made by anyone, it’s only logical that we contribute to Manchester’s art scene by putting on an exhibition, celebrating Manchester artists, from hobbyists to professionals and everything in between!

We are super excited to get this launched, but man, it has been challenging trying to work out the best way to do this. A few months ago, we released an article named ‘Artist Open Calls: Should you be paying?‘ In this we discussed a variety of artists open calls that charge all applicants. Some starting as low as £5, some as much as £70, and we discussed what the artists get from paying these fees and what the unsuccessful applicants get in return for their money. We followed this article up with a live chat, that you can find on our IGTV.

Now that we are actually planning an exhibition, we are very much in the depth of this conversation – how do we pay for this? As you may know, Cotton On MCR is a limited company, not a charity or social enterprise. That means we hardly qualify for any funding, especially now during these times where most art funding is going to charities who have been affected by coronavirus. As we don’t pay any staff, and haven’t been making profits for the previous years, we again don’t qualify for any Covid-19 grants either. This means, that any events and exhibitions that we host, we (me, Domino) has to find the money to put that together. As a business, we have to look at the costs of hosting these things, and work out a way of earning that money back.

You may have seen on our Facebook and Instagram that we have tried our best to think of ways to fund this exhibition, and we have been asking many questions to you, our followers, as to what you suggest. We are super grateful for all those that voted/commented/sent DMs etc and we had some great conversations and ideas from people.

There were a few reoccurring things that came from these conversations with people. One being, ‘apply for a grant/funding’ etc, as above I have explained why that won’t work for us. The other thing was to ‘not charge any applicants and make the money back on commissions from the sale of art’ at the exhibition. This to me, is the riskiest of all the suggestions and wouldn’t be viable to do as a business. It will cost us approximately £1500 to host this exhibition, and depending on the work we chose, that is a LOT in sales we would need back. We want to show a huge mix of artwork in this exhibition, from hobbyists to established artists. Imagine trying to sell an art print at £30 to try and gain back £1500? It just wouldn’t work. Especially during this time where people may be holding on to their purses a little tighter than normal. We don’t want this exhibition to be about trying to sell art either, we think that makes art more of an elitist industry, more elitist than charging for applications. We want to show some great art, no matter their price, and without the dark cloud of making sales and commissions hanging over our heads.

With that all in mind, we are going to charge a small fee to all applicants – estimated to be £15 per person. We are not the first to charge for an open call, and definitely won’t be the last. That said, we know this decision will upset a few of you out there (which is inevitable no matter what we do, you can’t please everyone) so we have really tried to consider what we can offer back for your entry fee. We know so many open calls that don’t offer anything back to their applicants and that is something we clearly don’t agree with. So we have taken everything into account and have come up some a plan as to what we can offer. We want to emphasise that ALL applicants will receive something back from us. Not only will all applicants get some form of recognition – as I say, more will be revealed soon – but those successful applicants could be in with a chance of winning some great prizes, some really truly amazing prizes, all for an entry fee of £15!

For all those that have said we shouldn’t operate like this, we shouldn’t charge anything, that it creates a negative environment in the arts, please do try and think of this from our side, the business side that is organising and paying for the exhibition. If we had unlimited money or access to funding, of course they’d be no need to charge for an open call! If we were a huge business that could guarantee sales in commissions, then fantastic, we’d of course do that. However, that isn’t the case. We here at Cotton On MCR work damn hard to build up our audience, to create and organise these events, to promote these events and of course promote the artists too, to promote Manchester’s art scene and be contributors to that. We do so much for Manchester’s art scene and artists that we offer for free, but I’m afraid events need to be paid for, and money is what you need to do that.

Think of it this way, if this exhibition is successful, gets hundreds, maybe into the thousands of viewers, gets artists names out there, gives them a chance to display their work in a professional gallery, gets them exposure, promotes Manchester’s art scene and shows people how much talent we have here – is that all worth £15? We think so! Not to mention the fact that myself and the team are working damn hard to make that happen!

So, keep your eyes peeled as in the new year, the open call will be launching. With this, you will see a huge list of benefits that you will receive as a applicant. We are super excited to have the opportunity to be able to showcase some of Manchester’s best artists in this exhibition, and we really do have some great things in store for all those that apply. Let’s continue the conversation also, and any feedback and suggestions are always welcome – leave a comment on the post below or get in touch via our social media, Instagram / Facebook, or send us a message via our Contact page.


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