You just received an email from a New York gallery, saying that they saw your work online and loved it, and would like to offer you a solo show in a “real New York Gallery.” WOW, you think, you’ve been discovered at last! You respond right away, spend quite a bit of time sending high resolution images and other information they request. You start telling your friends about your New York gallery.
After several enthusiastic emails, they casually mention that “your share” of the cost of the show will be $3000. This number should stop you in your tracks, because you really do know better. But you’ve been seduced by their flattery, already invested time and effort to meet their requirements, and told all your friends about this great opportunity. You seriously consider sending that check because they make it seem like it’s just the next step in a normal process.
That’s how pay-to-play galleries operate. They get your attention, flatter your ego, make you invest your time, and then ask for the money.
Artists need to learn how to evaluate these scams. When you first receive such a letter or email, slow down. Do not respond at all until you learn more. First check to see if the gallery has been listed as a “pay-to-play” gallery. Artbusiness.com has a reliable list, organized by location. You can also type the name of the gallery and the words “experience with” into any search engine. People who have had bad experiences don’t keep it a secret.
So, what’s wrong with a pay-to-play gallery? Everything! They don’t add strength to your resume, you are unlikely to sell any work, and you may be associated with artists of doubtful quality. Your money would be better invested in a new website or marketing campaign.
Since a legitimate gallery needs to sell your work in order to earn their commission, they cultivate a base of established collectors.. Your work might also be shown at art fairs or other high-profile events. A pay-to-play gallery does none of this, because they don’t have to. They already have your money, so they don’t invest the time and effort required to market and sell your work. You will have an actual show in a real New York gallery, because that’s what you paid for, but it is unlikely that the exhibition will generate sales or good visibility for you.
If you have already been taken in by such opportunities, don’t feel bad. Many artists struggling to find gallery representation are vulnerable to these offers because they seem to present a shortcut to doing the time-consuming work it takes to create an art career. Don’t waste your time and money! Develop your own plan and follow it.
Mary Edwards, Ph.D
I am a Career & Life Coach for Artists, based in the San Francisco Bay Area and working with artists nationally and internationally. If you have a question, please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You may visit my website to sign up for future blog posts or schedule a time to talk with me about your own career.