Marketing Mondays: Artists' Memberships

Membership in an art-related organization is one of those topics that you never think about . . . until there’s a reason to reconsider your membership or it’s time to renew your dues.

My main question for any participation in a membership organization is this: What will it do that you can’t do for yourself, or that a small group of like-minded colleagues can't do for themselves?  (Museum memberships are outside the discussion, because if you are a frequent visitor, the benefit is obvious—plus you get a discount on books.)  There can be very good reasons for being part of an organization, but I wonder about the organizations that require you to pay annual dues, then hit you up for every event, every exhibition, every project throughout the year. Where does all that money go?
Considering membership?
. Is it open to anyone who can afford to join? Then very likely it’s not going to be comprised of the professionals you wish to meet, so what’s the point?
. Is it a professional group with criteria for membership? Better. Every medium, discipline and academic affiliation has one or more organizations. Your membership in an organization of this type does several things:
... It signals professional achievement and peer approval

... It may confer privileges, such as workshop discounts, or access to specialized equipment such as a printing press or kiln
... It allows networking with others who share your professional interest and level. Online forums or pages mean that you don't always have to convene physically to meet
. Is it useful professionally? Here’s an example: the College Art Association brings together, via an annual conference, art historians, academic curators, art critics, and those who teach the practice of art. If you are looking for a job in academia, membership in the CAA is eminently useful, as there are listings on the organization's website throughout the year, and an opportunity at the conference itself to interview with institutions who are looking to hire. It’s also a good opportunity to meet other artists in academia.
. Is it part of a larger mission? I'm thinking, for instance of the Women's Caucus for Art, which seeks not only to recognize and support the contributions of women in the arts, but provide women with leadership roles and exhibition opportunities, as well as support "local, national and global art activism."

Other useful professional perks might be the option to take advantage of group health or travel insurance, travel, or cross-organization entry to museums or events.

Members Only
Co-op galleries are membership organizations, usually incorporated under a not-for-profit 501 c (3) charter. Typically you must be juried into the membership. In return you pay an initiation fee and monthly dues to become a participating member. This will get you a solo show every couple of years, regular inclusion in groups shows in which you have a reasonable assurance of quality, and access to a community of artists.

I think it's important to say that commercial representation is not for everyone. Artists who are raising a family, or involved in a 9-5 job, or who do the kind of work that is just not commercially viable may be better served by co-op membership. A well-chosen and well-regarded gallery could be a perfect fit (outside of New York City, co-op galleries are more fully embraced).

Relatedly, there are many arts organizations that have formed to give their members opportunities to meet and exhibit. Good! But look for a history of strong exhibitions in good venues with the inclusion of professional artists like yourself. The last thing you want as a serious artist is to be lumped with Sunday painters and hobbyists--a sitatuation that's good for them (they get to show with you) but what do you get? 
If you’re paying money to enter juried shows, even at a member's discount, but the jurors don't have particularly prestigious bona fides, the exhibition venues are not of the quality you expect, and the exhibitions are of disappointing quality, what value is the discount? What value is the show? Indeed, what value is the membership?

Let’s Talk Business
. Memberships typically come with fees.  Do the rank-and-file members have any say in how the membership money is spent? Do you have any idea where your money is going? Do you know how much money is in your treasury?
. Are the organizers accountable to the membership? Do they respond quickly and clearly to members’ questions or do you feel you’re given the runaround when you ask who, what, why? Are you satisfied with the organization's offerings?
. Does your membership come with opportunities to apply for professional development grants or scholarships? For mentorship? For reduced fees in member-run workshops?
. Is your group one chapter in a larger organization? If so, what is that larger organization doing for you that your local or regional group cannot do for itself? Here’s an example. Let’s say 20 members pay $100 each to become members of a group; that’s a $2000 kitty that you give to the larger entity. Now suppose you want to organize an exhibition in your region. When you petition the larger organization for support funding, you get $500. Wouldn’t you have been better off as a small group on your own? 

I understand that we might want to be part of a group that does what we do, but as one who has seen many groups promise a lot and deliver little, I would ask: What's in it for the group? And what's in it for you?  

As artists, we can be stronger in groups, that’s true. But let’s make sure those groups will do what we need them to do. Otherwise membership is not priceless. It’s worthless.
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This is the last Marketing Mondays column of the year, as I will be posting from and about Miami starting this weekend. When the column returns in January it will become Marketing Monthly. After almost 200 Monday posts over the past four years, Marketing Monthly will post on the first Monday of each month. Fewer posts mean I'll be able to offer you longer, more researched pieces. I want to do more interviews with dealers, curators, critics and publishers--people who have a point of view that I don't have--and I want to more fully explore the great projects that artists are doing, ways they are marketing themselves and taking control of their careers. If I feel that I can include an extra extra post in a given month, you know I will.

Please know that your donations make this column possible. If you have not donated a suggested $20 for the year, please consider doing so before the end of the month. A Paypal button is on the sidebar right  and just up a bit. This is not an officially tax-deductible donation as I am not incorporated as a non-profit, but if you consider reading this blog as part of your research as an artist, the IRS may allow it as a deductible expense.Your tax preparer can guide you.


Tamar said...

Another cogent post.
While I'll miss Marketing Mondays, I appreciate all the time you put in over the years to gather the information, as well as the insights you have shared. Collectively, your Marketing Mondays posts are an invaluable reference for artists just starting out, those of us who have been at it for quite some time, and everyone in between. Thanks Joanne.

CMC said...

Another great post, Joanne. It gives an artist a lot to consider.I have long enjoyed your MM, I am looking forward to the longer MMonthly posts as well.

Unknown said...

I love Marketing Mondays, and it has been the most useful publication I read. On my taxes, I list it as an "arts publication" and not as a charitable donation. My tax person has no problem with that.

Unknown said...

MM is my favorite "arts publication." I don't think of my small amount of money that I give as a donation, I think of it as paying for an arts publication. Works for me.

Christine said...

Thanks Joanne for another thought provoking post. I started reading your marketing monday posts a couple of years ago(taking time to read them all) and have since recommended them to many, many artists. I credit them(and therefore you) with opening my eyes to and increasing my understanding of the ins and outs of marketing, from tools for the artist(website, blog research, artist statement) to the perspective of gallerists and curators, to the very important questions to ask oneself about one's own artistic future. Most importantly, for me, is your constant refrain encouraging artists to create their own success, their own opportunities, and your well founded belief in each artist's self determination. I look forward to more of your level headed, reasoned, and well referenced posts. said...

"who can afford to join?" This is so true, and I have said it to myself time and time again. I for one can speak personally to feeling as if I am missing out something, simply because I cannot afford it, and although I know better, the feeling still crops up.

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ofcourse, as an oil imppasto painter i like the work of susan carr very much :)