Here in the UK galleries often charge you to enter their open exhibitions. You don’t get a rejection letter if you’re unsuccessful and you lose money. On the other hand if you’re successful in your application you then have to pay to get your art to the gallery and pay to get it back again, all in the vain hope that the art will sell and you can get some of your cash back again. If you don’t sell your art then you lose money. In fact the way the odds are stacked it’s pretty hard not to lose money entering an open exhibition. In the meantime the gallery wins because they have everybody’s submission fees. Their open exhibitions are essentially fundraisers for the gallery and if they don’t sell your art in the show then it isn’t the end of the world for them. It’s a pay to play lottery situation which I am not willing, or able, to continue to subscribe to. Throwing money at open exhibitions is not a sustainable way to get my art seen. I am not interested in a set up where 99% of the time the artist loses money and suddenly it’s porridge again for dinner and I’m behind with my rent again.
Over in the States some galleries are trying a different approach. Take Rochester Contemporary Art Center in upstate New York for example. Each year they run a fundraiser called 6×6 where they encourage people to donate small artworks to sell. Anyone can enter and there are no entry fees and no rejections. To me this really is the true spirit of the word ‘open’ and every year they have celebrities, international & local artists, designers, college students, youths, and me donating their works. The lottery situation is no longer in the hands of the artists and it becomes the responsibility of the buyer to bid in an attempt to win the art they like. The auction evening is always heaving with people trying to get a look at the thousands of artworks available. Each piece is only $20 to buy so is well within the reach of anyone and everyone who wishes to support the gallery. This exhibition is free from any pretence or elitism and is egalitarian in every sense of the word. Anyone can enter and anyone can buy. The best art sells. The gallery wins. The buyers win. It’s a massive expression of support to artists the world over.
As far as I’m concerned it’s a win for me too. Because they only ask for small artworks 6″ x 6″ in size then the shipping is dirt cheap. Sure I don’t get my art returned to me but I use their show as a testing ground to try out new things and the chance to connect with a new audience…. no no…. that’s not right. It’s not a ‘chance’at all. It’s a guarantee that my art will connect with their audience. It only costs me the time, materials, and postage which comes in at a tiny amount compared with the trials and tribulations of dealing with UK ‘open’ exhibitions. If my art sells then I’ve connected with a new buyer and I know that the style of art I’m making is a viable commodity for selling here, there, and everywhere. It is liberating to set myself a restrictive time frame to experiment to develop my practice whilst creating these small artworks. I have nothing to lose except for $10 in postage from the UK to the US and four collages of some paper butterflies that I spent an afternoon creating.
More than anything, by being part of 6x6x2016 I feel respected as an artist and I gain hope for the future of the art world. I feel that my time and effort are worth sharing because I know the audience will be diverse and eclectic. What I create will be treated equally regardless of my own sense of purpose or philosophical leanings. I will not be frowned upon because I didn’t study something at such and such college, nor will I be ignored just because I don’t work in a particular style and am unwilling to develop something that’s en-vogue. Being in 6x6x2016 gives me hope that the art world can be fun and interesting; that it can encourage experimentation and diversity. Galleries should not be inviting communities to get involved with them as if ‘community’ is some sort of add-on; an outsider commodity to be shipped in to tick the right grant-funding boxes. Galleries should be the heart of their neighbourhood; welcoming and inclusive at every stage of their existence.
One day art will be accessible to all.