Hopper Prize: bad pay-to-play call

A few friends of mine shared with me the Hopper Prize application and "opportunity." Artists have long applied for and participated in pay-to-play calls for exhibition and prizes. As I mentioned last summer in regard to the Pulse Art Fair call for artists, sometimes they seem to be unethical. I personally do not have problems with artists participating in whatever they want to do, but how about if the venue/organization makes these calls fair? Why do artists who do not receive entry into these exhibitions pay for those who do? Here is the letter that I wrote to the Hopper Prize people. Maybe by making this public, more artists will join me in correcting these practices. Sponsors of these kind of "opportunities" can do better:

Dear Staff of the Hopper Prize Organization,

Hello! I'm writing today in regard to your application for the Hopper Prize "Artists Grant Program" to convey how troubled I am by this call. Your request for high entry fees for each person to submit an application is disappointing for several reasons:

--While I understand that there are costs to run such a program, where exactly do the fees go? What percentage goes toward the curators to be paid and how much are they paid?

--I realize that you will be highlighting 30 artists on your website who made a short list, but what about the rest of the applicants who do not get into this group or who are not selected for the prize?  Are your curators providing any written feedback to these applicants? It clearly appears that they are being paid from these fees whether or not their work is accepted. Please elaborate.

--You also claim that you believe in inclusivity, and yet you have a tiered system of costs per person, which is actually an insidious system: spend more and the artist has a better chance of being selected! You have clearly set up a screening process tilted toward those who can afford to submit the maximum number of images, and I find this part of your call the most troublesome.

--Is your organization a non-profit 501(c)(3) entity? Or is this strictly a pay-for-play and for-profit endeavor? Your organization does not identify itself either way.

--Fundamentally, I'm against these sort of pay-to-play calls and as an advocate for my fellow artists, I am finding myself speaking out publicly against this practice more and more frequently. I think this model of charging an application fee for such an opportunity is outdated and needs to stop. Your organization has the infrastructure to raise money to offset these fees, versus the individual artist who you are asking to pay fees to apply. Even if there is a small fee charged, there is little transparency on your call as to where this money goes, especially for those artists who are not chosen. 

Is there any way you could perhaps do the following?

-- remove the required fee; or if you absolutely cannot avoid this fee, reduce it substantially so that it is manageable.

-- a simple flat fee is much more palatable rather than this tiered system which only favors the artist who can afford such high fees.

-- amend this call to share where the money for the fees goes exactly, to be completely transparent.

-- provide feedback to those who have invested in this process and who are not selected for the top 5 "winners" and 30 people who are secondary. 

Having traveled all over the country and abroad on my conversation tours, I have met more than 8,000 artists and my research shows that this sort of call is extremely distasteful to the vast majority of them. I know that many artists would appreciate your amending your process. It would also set a standard for other organizations going forward with calls like this in the future.

Thank you very kindly for your receiving my inquiries and requests. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

With Kind Regards,

Sharon Louden