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March 2008

Free phone seminar about Open STudios

Are you planning an Open Studio Event?
I will be participating with Alyson B. Stanfied,  ArtBizCoach.com, in a free phone seminar.

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So, you want to invite people into your studio, huh? How will you get them there? What will you do when they arrive? What about insurance, sales, and refreshments?

                     

Hosting an open studio  sounds simple and inexpensive. After all, you have no space rental fees and low overhead. All you have to do is open the door and let the masses in, right? Well, not exactly. There's much more to plannning a successful open studio than that.

                     

A well-run Open Studio event can offer an artist exposure for their work and retail sales, but there are many issues involved.

                     

In this free teleseminar, I will discuss with Alyson Stanfield the essential information you need for planning your open studio event.

                     

  • Consider the upside and the downside of open studios
  • Set your goals and objectives
  • Promote the event
  • Prepare your space
  • Plan for safety, security, and comfort of your guests
  • Follow up with visitors   

Follow the conversation with the Open Studios Professional Guidelines document.

Harriete Estel Berman is the author of an ongoing series of Professional Guidelines for artists to promote understanding, checklists, and practical solutions for recurring issues in the art and craft community.  Harriete has also organized the professional development seminar prior to the SNAG conference for the last three years.    

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Consignment Contract Closed - What shall I do?

Dear Ask Harriete,

I've had a consignment relationship with a gallery in my hometown for three years. My work has been selling regularly (about one piece a month) and occasionally I get commissions through them.  Our current contract goes to January 2008.  Yesterday, I got a curt phone call from the gallery manager informing me that the owner of the gallery has decided that she detests my work and wants it out of her store yesterday.  But we have a contract! What should I do? The whole thing has me very upset.
- Confused & Hurt

Dear Confused and Hurt,
Prepare yourself to move on and look to the future. Yes, the gallery owner should honor the remainder of the contract.  Alternatively, after communicating her new opinion to you, the gallery should have “offered” to let you agree to terminate the contract early if both parties mutually agree to terminate.  However, in this case, even if you had the will or means to legally force the gallery to continue representing your work until January, do you really want this gallery to represent your work further?   If your work is displayed at all, it would be in the least desirable location, perhaps in a bottom drawer in a dark corner.  Trying to enforce the contract for only three months can only create additional ill will.

Most importantly, how do YOU want to be viewed in the art community?  The gallery owner has behaved poorly.  Therefore, I think your best course of action is to put on your professional and most pleasant “face.”  Reply immediately with your preference for return shipping (for example USPS, registered, insured mail) and say something to the effect that you “have enjoyed working with the gallery and feel that it has been a productive relationship.”  Keep on the best terms possible.  You might also thank them for representing your work for so many years and that sometime in the future, when you have a new body of work, you will contact them with images of your new line.  With this most positive and professional reply, perhaps next time they host a group show, they might consider including your work if it is appropriate to the theme.

When you receive the returned work, unpack and check the condition of the work within three days or less.  If everything is returned in good condition, follow up with a letter or email saying that the work arrived safely and in good condition and that you will look forward to working with them in the future.

Your reputation as a professional is important. Artists and galleries do talk among themselves.  Your demeanor in this difficult situation will hopefully show other galleries that you work as a professional and a new gallery will want to represent you soon.

Contracts only help to organize an ongoing business relationship.  If the relationship is finished, then the contract does little to revive it.  The real value of a contract is to convey the initial intentions of both parties – to itemize mutual agreement on specific items and to guide preferences for handling most potential situations (such as early termination of the contract or subsequent modifications to the contract).  As business relationships change,  expect that contracts should be modified or terminated accordingly. 
Sincerely,
Harriete Estel Berman


Discount Question

Dear Harriete:

Everyone is hurting in this economy with high gas prices and sinking housing prices. I am being pressured by a gallery that exhibits my work to accept "special" customer discounts that bite into both the gallery's retail price and my wholesale price even though our contract spells out that discounts are not allowed, period. I strongly feel that discounting can be a slippery slope but do not want to lose the sales or this gallery as an outlet. What's an artist to do about discounts?

Hurting on the Bottom Line

Dear Hurting on the Bottom Line,

You are right, discounts are a slippery slope. In my opinion, the “On Sale/Discount” price reduction mentality of our consumer society is becoming pervasive. Shoppers are conditioned to buy from “low price” outlets with marked down prices. But it seems to me that a work of art should not be put in the same category as the mass produced goods in K-Mart.

Discounts begin with pricing—and pricing artwork is not a science. The artist and gallery agree on a “retail price.” Usually the “artist’s price” or wholesale is 50% of retail. The wholesale price covers the artist’s costs of production—primarily labor, materials, and overhead. The gallery’s share of the retail price covers the gallery’s costs of doing business—rent, promotion, salaries and insurance. It is the job of both the artist and the gallery to communicate the value of the artist’s work (by virtue of its uniqueness, craftsmanship, reputation, and quality), and this value is reflected in the retail price.

It has become increasingly common for galleries to offer discounts from their retail prices. At one time, the practice of giving discounts applied only to major works of art at very high prices (e.g. at tens of thousands of dollars and higher). Discounts were rarely offered, except to very important collectors. Requests for discounts have increased, and the prices at which buyers request them have dropped. Discounts of up to 10% are not unusual. It seems that increasingly, gallery retail prices are assumed to be negotiable, and some galleries expect artists to share the financial impact. Artwork selling at lower price points, under $250 retail, often has very little profit for the artist. Common sense makes discounting inappropriate for less expensive work.

Another consideration is the importance for an artist to maintain consistent pricing wherever their work is shown: galleries, museums, non-profit exhibition spaces, or even from their studios. Price consistency assures all galleries and retail spaces that they won’t be undercut. Price consistency establishes a predictable expectation of value for an artist’s work. Many collectors travel extensively, and they look at art and craft wherever they go. If collectors find different prices for similar pieces, they may feel cheated, and come to mistrust the artist’s work or the gallery’s prices.

Discounts can create disadvantages for both the artist and the gallery. The “Discounts” document in the Professional Guidelines provides a more thorough discussion. 

Here are two important points about discounts: 1) Discounts create uncertainty about the VALUE of the artwork. Discounting gives the message that the work was perhaps not worth its retail price and may diminish what customers are willing to pay for all of the other work in the gallery or from the artist. Thus, in the long run, discounting can erode value. By not discounting, a consistent value is maintained for the work. 2) Discounting creates the impression that art should be bargained for, like items sold by resellers in a flea market. Many craftspeople find this highly undignified.

You stated in your question that your contract does not allow discounts. If the gallery is offering discounts then I would recommend the following steps. 1) Write a clear, very polite letter to the gallery that clarifies the clause in the contract that specifies the no discount policy. Ask why they are offering a discount. State that your prices are based on your expenses plus a small profit and that you can not absorb a discount on the wholesale price. Ask about their justification for not following the contract, and why they needed to offer a discount. 2) Have more than one person read your letter (before sending it) to assure that it sounds polite and professional. Mail the letter. Follow up with a phone call.

Professional-guidelines-discounts-300 At this point:
1) The gallery either agrees to honor the contract that states no discount.
2) The artist decides to withdraw their work.
3) The gallery could decide to buy your work outright at full wholesale at which point their decision to discount the work is outside of a consignment contract because they own the work.
4) The artist and gallery decide on a compromise agreement and write a new contract.

This reply is based upon the Professional Guidelines document about “Discounts.

Respectfully, 

Harriete Estel Berman


Seeking International Exposure

Dear ASK Harriete,

My name is Georgina Heskin and  I am a leading talented visual artist in London, UK. l have had over 37 solo exhibitions 24 group shows. l am looking for advice to place my work on an international level. To view my work, log in the name Georgina Heskin to any search engine on the internet.

Signed,

Seeking international exposure,

Dear Seeking,

It seems to me that exhibiting your work on an international level adds a layer of complexity and expense that may be a premature leap at this point.

I say this because shipping artwork is very expensive and challenging when crossing national borders. Besides that, the market for your work is not going to be any stronger outside your city, county or country where you already may have a reputation. Your name as an artist goes a long way to making your work more marketable or attractive to an exhibition venue.Heskin_3_b

Travel to the cities or countries where you would like to exhibit your work. Look for galleries or non-profit exhibition space that is appropriate to your work.

Network Go to more conferences, art fairs, etc., to network and meet people. You might also consider entering your work in an international juried show appropriate to your art.

Contact your Government Consider contacting your local or national government. The U.S. government sponsors a fabulous Art in Embassies program placing artwork by American artists in their embassies worldwide. (Maybe other countries have one as well.) While you receive no compensation for allowing your artwork to travel the world, what could be greater exposure for your work? In addition, the Arts in Embassies Program takes care of all the expenses for shipping, insurance, and installation. Your artwork speaks to the world about cultural exchange and understanding. I have had the opportunity for my work to travel to Africa with the U.S. Art in Embassies Program which was a great honor and a very positive experience. Maybe your government might be sponsoring shows and exhibitions in other countries (England and Ireland seem to be very proactive for their artists). Research opportunities for you to submit your work for review to participate in these international opportunities representing your country.

Join Art Organizations Join your local art guild and organizations. What if arts organizations that you belong to put together an exhibition either curated or juried? You could be instrumental in helping put together this show. This would be a lot of work, but it would increase your professional profile, give you tons of valuable exhibition experience behind the scenes and you could meet and work with lots of other artists. The premise would be to find exhibition opportunities for the whole show both locally, nationally and internationally. Most museums or exhibition spaces are much more likely to be interested in a group show with an interesting theme or premise showcasing many artists with diverse perspectives than the work of one particular artist. This approach will help both you and your fellow artists find exhibition opportunities.

Internet The internet is very useful because it has no international borders and you can develop your reputation with a  modest financial expenditure. Why not design a beautiful or interesting website for your work. Have you considered starting a blog and/or a newsletter?  All of these ideas will help establish your work on the web.

In addition post images of your work on the numerous internet sites showcasing artwork, many are free! The art organizations that you belong to should also show images of members work?  Find as many different sites as you can to get your work on the internet.

Finally, work on your mailing list. Volunteer at your local art museum, non-profit or guild. Participate at every level. Read the book: "I'd Rather Be In the Studio: An Artist's No-Excuse to Self-Promotion" by Alyson Stanfield. Alyson offers a whole book of suggestions for getting your artwork out of the studio and into the outside world.

Your local, national and internet reputation is the foundation for your international future as an artist.

Wishing you lots of good luck, along with your hard work,

Signed,

Harriete Estel Berman

*Painting by Georgina Heskin


To 2.0 or not to 2.0, that is the question.

The online world is still emerging and exciting and filled with innovative energy. It is also unfamiliar to many people or even a new discovery for some. 

The subsequent discussions about 2.0 were serendipitous and spontaneous. 

What is most surprising to me is that people on both sides of the conversation, “established” and “2.0 people”, felt attacked or judged. This is not conjectured on my part. They told me and I have to acknowledge the sincerity of their sentiments from both sides. The topic certainly initiated fervent discussion.

Personally, I don't think anyone intended to offend others. If any offense was perceived, I hope that everyone will be a little more tolerant as the community tries to learn more about and perhaps eventually embrace these new channels. Many “established” people are still digesting these new ideas even though “2.0 people” are already quite comfortable with 2.0 and blogging.  For a lot of people in the audience, they were hearing about this for the FIRST TIME. They were a little shocked, taken aback, wondering where do they fit in. They are wondering …will the 2.0 Marketplace offer us a place to show AND SELL our work. How do I do this? Where do I even start?

Overall, we have much more to learn from each other. Deb Todd Wheeler showedFormation_of_qeese a flock of geese at the end of her lecture. She informed us that the birds actually take turns as the leader of the V-shaped formation. The one bird in front breaks the wind for the others, making it easier for all the other birds. From time to time, other birds take a turn to take the lead and buffer the wind. This is a very powerful metaphor for this discussion. Leadership, whether from the old guard, the avant-guard or Etsy always takes a little extra risk and effort. The goal is to share the information to help the community.

 


Discounts at a museum trunk show? Who should absorb this expense, the artist or the museum?

Many museums host trunk shows for its members offering a 20% discount to its members.Small_hoop_earrings_4

I would like to comment on the common practice that the trunk show discount to the members comes out of the artist's pocket. Since this trunk show is supposed to be a "perk" for membership with the museum, and represents the relationship of the museum with the membership specifically, it is a total rip off that the discount comes from the artist's percent of the retail purchase price. The discount to the members should come out of the museum's profit, not the artists.

Yes, I realize the museum is sponsoring the event with promotion and using its space; on the other hand, artist's have expenses for travel, accommodation's, and retail display. The artists are coming to work not go on a vacation.

Usually the artist's invited are emerging artists. They are excited, even thrilled to be invited to sell their work at the S.F. Museum of Modern Art. It sounds totally "cool" to be selling their work at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The reality is that they are not showing their work in the museum. They are not  part of the  elite group of artists showing work within the museum's exhibition space. They are selling their work as part of a trunk show on one day.

The trunk show is promoted as a benefit to the members on the announcement and as part of membership information. If these trunk shows are a part of a unique benefit to members from the museum, the museum should absorb the discount.       

There is definitely more to say about this topic but will wait to see how many toes I've stepped on already.

If you would like to learn more about the impact of Discounts, read the Discounts document in the Professional Guidelines.

Signed,

Harriete Estel Berman

 


A response to the discussion on a blog

I am hesitant to add to the long discussion on a blog about Etsy and 2.0, but here it goes.

Without choosing sides, I want to support every artist in their creative effort and the profession of arts and crafts. Every exhibition, whether online, in a gallery, non-profit show, museum or indie show offers the good along with the bad. My judgment or measure of what is good or bad may vary for different venues and may differ from any other person’s scale. So what is “good” or “bad” is subjective and unique to each person – and is not the crucial issue of my concern.

I think it is great that Etsy has created an alternative, online exhibition space. My real concern is how can artists think that they are making a living by selling $6 or even $20.earrings. At such low prices, very few people residing in the U.S. can recoup thier full costs to design, fabricate by hand, photograph, post on Etsy, monitor the site, absorb the transaction fees, and then package and mail the work – and have enough left to pay for materials, labor, and overhead expenses such as studio rent, tools, utilities, insurance, meals, housing, clothing, etc.

The low price points attract bargain shoppers – and every shopper loves a bargain – but does this provide a sustainable living income for artists and crafts persons? Do we want to cater to bargain shoppers or to the advancement of art and craft?

It makes me extremely uncomfortable to look at the plethora of stuff on Etsy at what appears to be exceedingly low prices. I shutter to think about the artists and craftspeople trying to make a living. How do they cover the essentials of modern living? Does it cover business insurance, health insurance, dental insurance, or the orthodontist for children?

Etsy serves a broad market. It is a reality that a large number of artists will offer their work at lower and lower prices to make a sale. I know this generates short term cash, but I also believe that this is a spiral downward for any artist who falls into this trap. When too many artists sell work at such low prices, the competition eventually weeds out unsustainable practices. Etsy is not responsible for pricing; Etsy is simply another market.

Therefore, it is the artist’s responsibility to produce and market work that can be sold at prices that will sustain the artist long term – where design, innovation, and features other than low price attract buyers. 

I’d like to encourage everyone in the marketplace to at least ask a reasonable price that includes not only cost of materials and direct labor, but also overhead and a small % for operating profit.

We need to educate our community to act responsibly and to reach new audiences wherever we can. This was the failure of many craft shows, and online marketing efforts.

Education and outreach need to extend beyond the hallowed halls of academia, beautiful magazines for a small audience, and conferences preaching to the choir. Etsy, the Internet, and indie shows reach out to new audiences and draw in new artists and craftspeople. How can the community embrace and support these new channels?

I'd like to propose solutions rather than complaints. I am excited about the new opportunities in a constantly evolving landscape. I would also like to encourage new artists to price their work at realistic values. What if we talked more about the full costs of creating art and craft? What if more people posted better quality work on Etsy at prices that provide artists sustainable income? Would that benefit everyone? Maybe.

There are many ways to change the future, but each of us needs to act responsibly within our community. We can't expect other people to do this for us, We need to do this for ourselves - for each other. 


Co-Op Opportunity - Is this a good option?

Dear ASK Harriete, 

I would be interested in getting your views on co-op situations.  Are they a good option and if so what type of work is best in that environment?

Signed, 

Co-Op Opportunity

Dear Co-Op Opportunity,

A co-op situation should start with evaluation criteria similar to a gallery.

  •  Does my work fit within the price range as other work at this location?
  •  Does the appearance/style of the other work fit or complement my art/craft?
  •  Is the appearance/style of the space consistent with my art/craft?
  •  Is the staff knowledgeable about the work and will they be able to promote my work in a professional manner?
  • Do they have a contract and insurance that will protect my work from loss, damage or their creditors?
  • Do they seem to be financially stable?
    • You don’t want to find out that they can’t pay their rent and close unexpectedly, placing your work in jeopardy.

Professional-guidelines-consignment-contract-300If you can say “yes” to every one of these questions, then read their contract carefully.  While a contract can not fully protect your work, it will give you some idea about their expectations and considerations.  Use the Professional Guidelines Consignment Contract as a checklist for appropriate terms and for issues that should be covered in their contract. Then review the contract with their staff to clarify any questions that you may have. You can find the Professional Guidelines 

If you can’t say “YES” to every one of the previous questions, then decline to show your work at this venue.  It is not worth it. 

Trust your intuition. If the co-op or any other venue seems flaky or unreliable in any way, do NOT participate!  Some co-ops may require that you pay dues to become a member, make a financial contribution to the sponsoring organization, or spend time at the gallery/store.  Are you willing to make this investment with your time and money? The operation of a gallery takes a great deal of time and attention to details. Unless the venue has professional, paid staff with an established reputation, good organization, and a great location, I  am concerned you are courting disaster.

Develop your work. All too often, people are anxious to find a sales outlet for their artwork thinking that selling their artwork establishes its professional quality.  Actually, I think it should be the other way around.  Focus on your work, get critical and constructive feedback from your peers, mentors or critique group and take the time to bring your work to its full artistic fruition. It would be better to invest your time in your work and keep searching for a responsible outlet that will invest their time and resources representing and SELLING your work in a professional manner.

Signed,
Harriete Estel Berman


Auctions

 Dear Harriete,

How would you handle the following situation? You have donated your artwork to an auction benefiting a charitable organization (actually a picture of it that invites the winner to visit your studio and pick a similar item) and the director of the auction lowers your stipulated minimum bid without your consent and someone wins your work at that unauthorized price.
Signed,
Auction alienated

Dear Auctions alienated, 

First, let’s clarify a few terms used in your question and related to Fundraising Auctions

  • A “minimum bid” is the starting point in the bidding of a “live” or “silent” auction.
  • The “reserve price” is the lowest price at which the artwork will be sold.
  • The “bid to own” is written at the bottom of the bidding sheet. It is usually full retail. If the bidder decides to place a “bid to own” early in the auction, no further bids are accepted. This is the winning bid.

Second, written documentation should accompany any work donated by an artist to a fundraising auction. The document should include information about the work including artist name, contact information, your website, the title of the work, date and complete description. In addition, state the “minimum bid”, “reserve price” and the full retail price (which is usually used as the “bid to own”). If the fundraising auction doesn’t have formal paperwork, then submit your own paperwork.

In your case, it appears that you did state a “minimum bid” which was changed or ignored. At this point, after the auction, you have a few options depending on your relationship with the fundraising auction and your concern about your reputation. These options are listed below in order from easiest to most difficult.

Option 1.
The simplest option would be to make a note to yourself (in writing) that you will not donate work to this fundraising auction sponsor in the future. Take it as a lesson learned, so next time that you are asked to donate work, ask in advance if they will honor “minimum bids” and your “reserve price”. Make sure that it is clear that you will not donate work to any auction that does not have minimum bids and a reserve price below which the work can not be purchased. Put this in writing to be absolutely clear.

Option 2.
When the auction winner comes to your studio, you honor the donation and hope that the customer will actually buy additional work to offset your loss.

Option 3
You could write a letter to the fundraising sponsor to express your concerns in the most polite manner possible. I would suggest that at least two people proofread your letter to make sure that your concerns are communicated in a professional manner without creating hostility or misunderstanding. State that you participated in the auction with the expectation that the sponsor would honor your minimum bid (attach a copy of your documentation for the minimum bid). Explain that the minimum bid stipulated on the paperwork was changed without your consent and that the winning bid was below the authorized price. Perhaps you might try to work out a compromise.

Option 4
Similar to Option 3, a letter to the sponsor could state that you will honor the unauthorized price this time but you will not participate in their fundraising auction in the future.

Option 5
The most difficult or hard line option would be to send a letter stating that you can not honor the unauthorized bid price. You may offer an explanation that the unauthorized bid price is so low that it creates an unexpected financial hardship (to make your case more sympathetic).

If you do decide to adopt this option, know that it may create bad feelings with the fundraising sponsor – and other people may hear only one side of the story. People do talk and bad news seems to travel further than you think. Your potential customer who thought they had a “winning bid” will be very disappointed and you probably will lose this person as a customer.

RECOMMENDATION
While your donation was intended to be supportive of the fundraising auction sponsor, they allowed your work to be “won” at a bid that you did not authorize, whether consciously or inadvertently. Therefore, I would be inclined to at least tell the sponsor of the mistake as in Options 3 and 4.

If possible, I would honor the winning bid.

ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDATIONS
Read FUNDRAISING AUCTIONS: Issues and Checklist for Artists found in the Professional Guidelines.

This Professional Guidelines topic is intended to more fully inform artists about the impact of fundraising auctions on their work and careers, what questions need to be asked prior to and after donating work, and to recommend how artists can maximize the benefits when participating in auctions. Ultimately, we believe, the behavior of the artists can and should change the way fundraising auctions are conceived and conducted.

This is one of four Professional Guideline documents about Fundraising Auctions, each addressing a different perspective.

Artists need to learn how to be better advocates for themselves and other artists.

Recommendations of the Professional Guidelines Committee

Reserve Price Policy
The Professional Guidelines Committee recommends that the reserve price for work in an auction be 80% of the retail price. The artists (and/or gallery) should be offered 40% of the retail price for the donation. The art organization will receive at least 40% of the retail price for fundraising and the collector has the possibility of receiving a 20% discount. If bidding for work does not reach the reserve price, the work should be returned to the donor.

ADDITIONAL ISSUES TO CONSIDER
As mentioned in the previous paragraph, the Professional Guidelines recommend that the artist receives 40% of the retail price when work is donated to a fundraising auction.

What we did not discuss in response to your question, was how much this particular auction sponsor was offering the artists that donated work.

Often, there is considerable pressure on an artist to donate work outright – receiving no percentage of the winning bid. Only the most generous auction organizers offer a percentage of the selling price to the artists. Since the work offered at auction typically sells well below the retail price, even with a percentage, the artist only receives an amount far below the wholesale value.

Even if the artist is offered the full wholesale value for work donated to a fundraising auction, artwork sold at discounted prices in auctions may affect your retail values elsewhere. Every artist should maintain control over the selling prices of his or her work. Since auctioned artwork often sells far below the retail price, maintaining control of pricing is impossible. The result of this discounted selling price is that the value of an artist’s work and the ability of a local gallery to command full retail prices for the entire body of an artist’s work is adversely affected. (For more information about Discounts read the Discounts document in the Professional Guidelines.)

Signed,

Harriete Estel Berman