Why is there a $50 fee for artists to participate?

An artist recently brought this call to my attention as he knows I oppose most "pay-to-play" opportunities. This particular call really surprised me as it's hosted by the Pulse Art Fair, a for-profit entity, charging artists a whopping $50 per application. Certainly, I understand there are costs to every exhibition. But is it right to charge artists such a hefty fee for an opportunity where they may not get in, not receive feedback on their work, and inevitably fund an exhibition while the Pulse Art Fair has the resources to pay curators and their expenses? Is it fair for the artists who do not get into this exhibition inevitably pay for the show to go on? I wrote to the Pulse Art Fair to ask why this is, where the money is going exactly, and most importantly, if they can amend their call to give feedback to those artists who would inevitably be overlooked for this exhibition. You can see my email to them below. 

Here is their response:

"Dear Sharon, 

Thank you for your thoughtful message. We are always happy to hear feedback on our programs at PULSE and take all comments and criticism seriously. 

This is the first year we have instituted the $50 submission fee for PLAY, following last year's inaugural open call. Adjudicating the open call for PLAY in 2016 was a huge task for the curators as we received over 800 submissions. This year's fee helps to compensate the curators for their time spent reviewing and thoroughly considering each submission and will cover the cost of submittable, a platform which will streamline the process of collecting and reviewing each application. 

Additional revenue generated from the submission fee will be used to promote the PLAY program and the artists selected for this year's iteration both onsite at PULSE Miami Beach, in a month-long exhibition at Project for Empty Space, and through media channels in advance of the fair. 

When we instituted an open call for PLAY last year - for the first time allowing artists to apply who were not represented by galleries exhibiting at PULSE - it was our goal to use the fair's platform to provide opportunities for artists who otherwise may not have the chance to take advantage of the enormous vehicle that is Miami Art Week. That continues to be our goal and the submission fee will allow us to add to that opportunity this year. 

I hope this provides some insight into our motivations. At this point, we are not able to change the submission fee for 2017, but will be sure to take your feedback into consideration when we plan PLAY in 2018."

Really? So, if they received 800 responses this time, that would come out to $40,000 of revenue. Question: is it fair for the artists who will not get into this exhibition but paid the $50 application fee to be fronting the costs for this show and not get anything from it? I think it's disappointing and these old-fashioned calls need to discontinue. The Pulse Art Fair has the resources to raise the money to fund this while many artists do not.

The Pulse Art Fair wrote me again after my response where I informed them that I would be making their comments public, by saying: "I would like to reiterate that we are happy to hear any and all feedback regarding PULSE and hope that you will continue to share your thoughts with us in the future."

So, artists, I encourage you to send your feedback discouraging this practice to info@pulseartfair.com. I would recommend not applying for this opportunity, because the more we participate in "pay-to-play" exhibitions, the more this old way of getting no-guarantee "exposure" continues.


 My initial email to the Pulse Art Fair asking them to ammend their call. 

My initial email to the Pulse Art Fair asking them to ammend their call.