Exhibition Open Calls: Who should pay?

Following the success of our previous exhibitions, we are currently planning and putting together our next open call exhibition. Head to our ‘In Manchester’ event page for more information on that!

Hosting exhibitions is an important part of what we do here at Cotton On Creative, as it’s the perfect way of giving local artists exposure and to show that art can be for everyone and made by anyone. It’s only logical that we contribute to the local art scene by putting on an exhibition, celebrating our local artists, from hobbyists to professionals and everything in between!

We are super excited to get our next exhibition going, and from every exhibition we host, we learn something new. We make sure we develop and grow from each previous exhibition and to take on board all kinds of feedback to make each new exhibition better than the last. In 2020, 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’ve started regularly hosting our own exhibitions, we are very much in the depth of this conversation – how do we pay for this? As you may know, Cotton On Creative is a limited company, not a charity or social enterprise. That means we hardly qualify for any funding, especially during the last year or two, where most art funding is going to charities who have been affected by Coronavirus.

Plus, grants take an absolute age to apply for, time which could be spent elsewhere, in advertising and promoting our events. On top of that, grants aren’t guaranteed, and we want to make sure we can plan and host exhibitions that we can guarantee can go ahead.

As a business, we must look at the costs of hosting these events and work out a way of earning that money back, which is where our fees come in. Previously, you may have seen on our Facebook and Instagram that we’ve posted about the best ways to fund our exhibitions, and we have been asking many questions to you, our followers, as to what you suggest. We are super grateful for all those that have interacted with these posts, and we’ve had some great conversations and ideas during this time.

There are a few reoccurring things that have stemmed from these conversations. One being to apply for a grant/funding etc – but as I’ve explained above, that doesn’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 – but to me, this is the riskiest of all the suggestions and wouldn’t be viable to do as a business. It costed us approximately £1800 to host our first exhibition, (and this second one is double that), and we hardly made that back in commission fees. One of our priorities is to show a huge mix of artwork in our exhibitions, from hobbyists to established artists. Imagine trying to sell an art print at £30 to try and gain back £1800? It just wouldn’t work. Especially during this time where financial struggle is enough of an issue as it is following the pandemic. We don’t want our exhibition to only 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 did and will continue to charge a small fee to all applicants – around £15-£20 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 does not appeal to everyone, (which is inevitable no matter what we do, you can’t please everyone) so we 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 don’t agree with. Taking everything into account during our first exhibition, we made sure that ALL applicants had the chance to showcase their work in an online exhibition whether they were successful or not. This ensured that applicants got something for their money and is a small step to achieving accessibility in the arts. We intend to continue this approach with our future exhibitions – making sure that all applicants get something in return, whether big or small. We also ensure that we offer feedback to any unsuccessful applicants – which will hopefully offer some valuable advice in order to improve and succeed in their future affairs.

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 there would 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 Creative 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 our local art scene and be contributors to that. We do so much for the arts 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 or a central location, gets them exposure, promotes the local 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!

Applications are open now for our next exhibition! Following the success of our first open call exhibition, you can see the huge list of benefits that you will receive as an applicant. We are super excited to have the opportunity again to be able to showcase some of the best artists in this exhibition, and we really do have some great things in store for all those that apply. Let’s continue this 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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