Pay per view


Dear Artist,

For the next couple of months I have a retrospective exhibition in a public gallery. Something that surprised me was that the gallery issued me a cheque for $2065.50. (This was just about enough to pay for three stretch Hummers to take our friends to and from the opening — something we ended up not doing. But I digress.) Known as an exhibitor’s fee, this payment has been in effect here in Canada for some years. The fee is based on guidelines provided by CARFAC, an overseeing, non-governmental body that looks out for artists’ interests. The actual size of the exhibitor’s fee is based on the annual operating budget of the public gallery. Thus, the fee paid by a gallery with a budget of less than a million dollars is smaller than one with a budget of over five million. In fact, the amount that a gallery might pay an exhibitor is discretionary. Some public galleries, I’m told, don’t pay artists at all — others pay more than the guidelines suggest.

I rather thought that payment might be based on a formula that included show duration, number of works shown, traffic achieved, whether or not there’s an entry fee, and other factors. In any case, it’s “pennies per peek,” and this, to a guy who has always lived by selling work, has to be an interesting way to get green feedback. While I would have done a show like this without remuneration, I also know that there are many artists whose work is not collected or even collectable, and who could well use the exhibitor’s fee as a source of income. In many ways the system is a breath of fresh air. With the advent of “pay per view” and all the micro-billing that’s going on these days — why not “micro-paying”? While my particular show is free to the public, the idea of galleries charging an entry fee and sharing the box office with the artist — as many a musician does — may have legs.

Several years ago I was on the board of a regional theatre. It seemed that every meeting consisted of dreaming up new ways to get “bums on seats.” In a way, this is what fine artists also require. “Eyes on pics,” is a similar quest — whether the artists have shock, scenery, sophistry or sales on their minds. (Try saying that quickly.) It’s nice to have a prestigious venue such as a public gallery, but it may not always be necessary. As everyone knows, I’m an advocate of the Internet as the “Greater World Gallery.” It’s hardly prestigious. One day it too could be “pennies per peek.” Maybe artists could make a living from it.

Best regards,


PS: “Since 1968 and approximately every two years, CARFAC has issued exhibition fee schedules that were developed from rates established by painters Jack Chambers and Tony Urquhart. Updated through negotiation and usage, they reflect increases in the cost of living. All fees are considered minimum payments for the use of the copyrights and/or the professional services of visual/media artists.” (CARFAC statement)

Esoterica: The CARFAC guidelines are divided into a number of types of exhibitions that public galleries (categorized by annual budget sizes from 1 to 11) might hold. An example: “For retrospectives, or solo exhibitions that feature more than ten years of an artist’s production, the rate is the listed solo rate plus 25% for galleries in the major size categories (9-11). For galleries in the medium categories (5-8) the rate is the solo rate plus 15%; for galleries in the standard categories (1-4), the rate is the standard rate plus 10%.”


Eyes more important than fees
by Peter Shulman, New York, USA


acrylic painting, 20 x 24 inches
by Peter Shulman

I have had two retros in public space in the last few years, one at the Grosvenor Gallery at the State University of New York, the other at a public library that amazingly has a great collection of Winslow Homer works. Neither one paid a fee. The reason I did them was of course to get eyes on work. I have always believed that artists should get their work before the public in any way they can. When I did a painting of Tennessee Williams for a celebration of his writing held in a Newport mansion and was asked where I would like it hung, I said hang it over the commode in the bathroom you’re using for the public. It may have seamed a strange request to them but I know my work was well viewed. In the 1960s when I first started out, I used to let my work be hung as part of the window dressing in major 5th Avenue stores, again to get eyes on.


‘Double dipping’ in Canada
by Anonymous

As a Public Gallery Curator I have to say that Public Galleries annually go hat in hand to cities and states in order to get tax monies to keep going, keep open, pay their staff, heat the place, pay the insurance and retire any debt they might have. Sometimes Public Galleries can lose focus on performance, traffic and public interest. Many are not the slightest bit interested in paying money to artists in their community. Commercial galleries serve this purpose and in many cases do it well. What you artists have in Canada is a unique and lucky situation — a kind of ‘double dipping.’ Also, it’s my opinion that charging fees to gallery visitors is also not a good idea because then populism gets into the act and shows have to be staged that maximize box office receipts. Ironically, here in the free enterprise USA Public Galleries will continue to be run as sinecures of eclecticism and will seldom be sullied by what artists or anybody else has to say.


Hats off to Canada
by Ron Gang, Kibbutz Urim, Israel


oil painting, 21 x 32 inches
by Ron Gang

I remember as a kid, I was amazed that one got into an art gallery to see a show for free! I would have thought way back then, that you’d have to pay to see, just like in a museum. On this side of the ponds, artists often have to pay the private gallery for a show above and beyond the commission the gallery gets for sales. Many galleries demand that the artist give them a work, including some smaller publicly funded spaces that I exhibited in. There’s a rumor going around here that a major public museum did an exhibition of one artist only after that artist’s dealer made the museum a serious donation. At any rate, the artist here is often the low one on the totem pole, most exploited for others to make their living and career on the artist’s back. So, hats off to Canada for such an enlightened system. We can only pray that other countries will follow suit.


No pay for artists, just big fees
by Michal Ashkenasi, Israel


“Moon Reflection”
oil painting
by Michal Ashkenasi

You lucky Canadian artists! You get paid to do an exhibition in a gallery! Here in Israel it is the other way round! I have to pay and a lot too! The smaller ones ask for $1000 per week and the bigger ones (if they agree to take you, on the chance of selling) they even charge $2000 and more a week. And this is without the percentage they charge when you sell something! However did your association get this agreement done? I want to forward your letter to our association if you don’t mind. Maybe this could give them a push to get things done!

(RG note) Thanks, Michal. Please feel free. Here in Canada there is a well-meaning desire to be a “just” and a “fair” society. Also the idea is prevalent that artists are perennially broke and need money and that the public needs to pay for culture via taxation. Of course, many of the better artists are not broke at all. On the other hand, much unsalable yet challenging art needs to be seen and the artists who make it need to eat too — so pay-per-view might work for them. If the idea goes anywhere, I’m still liking the idea of charging an entrance fee in Public Galleries and feeding a percentage back to the creators who make things happen.


No admission fee please
by Cassandra James, Austin, TX, USA

The notion of paying to enter a Public Gallery to view an exhibition can become prohibitive. We’re finally getting beyond the mindset in some museums that art should not be available to “Joe Public,” but rather for only an exclusive club of the elite few. There cannot be too many people looking at art. The more who see the art, the better, in my mind. It seems to me commercial galleries make so much money on the backs of artists, and their costs are simply the costs of running any retail business. Passing those costs on to the potential buyer is not only tacky, but not very smart. Write it off to advertising, or whatever, to make it viable, but please — no admission fee.


User-pay, sponsorship, and advertising
by oliver, Austin, TX, USA


photograph, Scenic Series
by oliver

Many museums have an entry fee or a strongly encouraged entry donation. So charging per peek is not that novel. Expansion to smaller gallery venues may be, and I agree worth a think. What is not known is what if any fee is acceptable. In the wide world of the Internet there are pay for membership or access sites — newspapers, financial information and porn come to mind. Others make the money through advertising – and further others are paid for by the presenters. I fail to see why Internet art sites, as opposed to galleries that are an extension of a traditional non-vanity gallery, have generally chosen to charge the artists rather than seek advertisements (art buyers have money). Many cultural events are supported tastefully by donations and sponsorships. When is the last time you went to a play, an opera or a symphony? The largest sponsors are mentioned before the event and in the playbill. Rock concerts, motor racing and many other events garner excellent revenue from advertising. Art websites that are not extensions of traditional galleries could also make money on commissions just like any other non-vanity gallery.


Club donated money back to museum
by Sheila M. Wright, St. Martin, AB, Canada

I belong to a community art club and was surprised also when we found that we received a fee for showing paintings at our local museum. It was unexpected and the group will donate the money back to the museum, which has had some hard times lately. The museum still continues to grow and change despite many of the public’s apathy to the old building and small spaces it inhabits. We appreciate the venue for recreational artists like ourselves.


Pay for peeking might work
by Eva Kosinski, Louisville, CO, USA

Maybe an online gallery that charges people to look and pays back pennies per peek might work. It might need advertising to support it as well, or else charge the artists to be there in the first place and just “debit” that amount until they actually make more from the “peeks” than they have paid to be there. That would, to some degree cover the costs of the website, and maybe hopeless amounts of advertising would not be needed, but I suspect there might be some good synergy between art supply outfits (who, after all, want artists to know about them) and artists looking for alternative sources of supplies. Those ads would actually help rather than be annoying.


Open studio day not all negative
by Kim Power, The Hague, Netherlands


Hand-dyed, -embroidered, -beaded, machine-quilted raw silk
by Kim Power

I have a two-sided-coin vision of paying to see art. On the one hand, I think art should be for everybody whether you have money or not. We need art in our society and making it a financial privilege is unfair. On the other hand, this last year at my studio building, where many artists are located, we had an open studio day. There were over 200 people who came through. Not one bit of art was bought. Quite disappointing for those who were hoping for sales. Mostly we all took it in stride as part of the life of an artist and we had fun besides. What I’m wondering is if there is a happy medium somewhere. Maybe a donations box, not begging but a show of appreciation for a weekend’s entertainment. Those that have a few coins could contribute and those who don’t can still see the art. By the way, in spite of the lack of money shown for our open day, there were many good conversations and some wonderful remarks, so it was not all negative. And in fact, I did get an exhibit out of it and made some new friends.


No exhibitor’s fees here
by Frank Ansley, St. Helena, CA, USA


“Bocce Bowler”
acrylic painting, 30 x 40 inches
by Frank Ansley

I was very interested to read about your experience in receiving an exhibitor’s fee. Here in the USA I’ve never heard of this happening with any of our galleries. Where I live, in the Napa Valley, our town only has 3 galleries. That is all that is allowed. And, to add insult to injury, no art is permitted to be sold south of a certain street in town. Apparently our town is flat out opposed to art and artists. (I won’t bother citing the number of high-priced restaurants, jewelry stores, chi-chi clothes shops there are). So we show our work in restaurants (not the real pricey ones), banks, and wineries. Actually a few of the wineries have very nice gallery type spaces. But people don’t go to these places to look at and buy art. I’d be interested to know if any galleries in the U.S. pay artists an exhibitor’s fee.



Against Hummers
by Russ Williams, Austin TX, USA

Please tell me it was a joke and you weren’t really wanting to rent three stretch Hummers. There are so many better and non-damaging ways to celebrate an event.

(RG note) Thanks Russ. Joke it was. Sorry, and I apologize to all the others who thought I might be serious. Hummers disgust me deeply, especially the stretch ones. I am ashamed of giving you the thought and I’m sorry I even mentioned such a disgusting, anti-social idea. Our main car right now is a Prius, so we are quite green here, and smug about it. But everybody thumped me on this one. In the words of subscriber Dar Hosta “I am shocked and repulsed that you would even consider spending any money, much less art money, on the rental of three stretch Hummers. Carpooling and the generosity of paying for the transportation of friends is commendable, but a Hummer is symbolic of so much that is crass, materialistic and just plain ugly in this society. Shame on you.”


Plastination of the human body
by Marshall Chapman


“The Anatomy Lecture of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp”
oil on canvas, 1632
by Rembrandt van Rijn

After reading some of the remarks in the last clickback, and as a physician, appreciator of art, woodworker, metal worker and artist I was quite impressed with the exhibit by Gunther Hagen in Chicago. The bodies used for that exhibition are not from China. From a medical standpoint it is outstanding. A fellow doctor and I wished we had had this type of exhibit to learn from when we went through Medical School. As a person who has held the hand of those who were dying and seen the soul leave, the exhibit is not disrespectful to their life or memory. Those people have given of their worldly self to the advance of science. As to the art, I think one needs to see some of the exhibit to judge that. There was a soulful beauty in some of the examples, especially the ones that depicted action. I too found that the crowd was very respectful. I believe that after the plastification of the body or organ the flesh is totally destroyed and what is left is the plastic. The body is only the mold. People were very curious about what they saw, as to where this and that organ was located. As one who appreciates art in all forms, and as an artist, I found that seeing the body without its covering was very instructive and I thought it odd that some of the artists’ comments were against seeing this exhibition. Are they against life drawings also? Remember the artists of old who did autopsies to learn the anatomy. I agree it is despicable for the exhibits to use Chinese prisoners.

(RG note) Thanks Marshall. It’s difficult to think of any letter I’ve written that has upset people more than that one — and has elicited such a wide range of opinion. Thanks to all who wrote with whatever point of view. It was a learning experience for us all.





Apache Onions

oil painting on canvas
by Julann Campbell, Seattle, WA, USA


You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 105 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2006.

That includes Paula Tironi of Palatine, IL, USA who wrote, “Paying an artist to view works of art has historical precedent. According to Gita May’s Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun: The Odyssey of an Artist in an Age of Revolution, London artists once charged visitors to their studios an admission fee. French portrait artist Vigée Le Brun learned of this custom when she visited England in 1803-05.”

And also Sherry Loehr of Ojai, CA, USA who wrote, “I had to check the date to be sure today wasn’t April Fool’s Day, and that your letter wasn’t a joke… galleries paying an artist for exhibiting work. I am in shock. How do I become Canadian?”

And also Claudia Roulier of Idledale, CO, USA who wrote, “I personally like the competition —  it makes me work harder.”

And also Carol Jessen of St. Louis, MO, USA who wrote about seeing the Bodies exhibit in Tampa: “I came away with a profound respect for the complex machinery of the human body and I commemorated it with a limerick:

While viewing the bodies in plastic,
I had a sensation quite gastric.
My head and my heart
Could view them as art,
But my stomach was not so scholastic!”




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