Saturday, July 30, 2011

How much do you spend on art societies? (Poll results)

Only 44% of those responding to the July Making A Mark Poll spend an affordable sum on art societies.  This post looks at the overall poll results, considers what these might mean and asks three questions about how art societies can become more cost-effective.

The results of the poll are charted below. The original post outlines some of the reasons for asking this question POLL: How much do you spend on Art Societies?

The July Making A Mark Poll - 66 responses

Art Societies will be interested in the rest of the results
  • over 39% spend "nothing"(19.8%) or "not a lot" (19.8%) - art societies might want to think about why they fail to capture much interest from nearly 40% of the potential market for membership
  • while nearly 17% consider that they spend "more than they can really afford" (8.9%) or "too much" (7.9%) - art societies might want to think about whether people thinking this are likely to stay members in the future

The response rate (66 responses) is lower than usual.  One reason for this is that it ran for only two weeks rather than the usual month.  However my interpretation is that this reduced response level is more likely to be due to people who don't belong to an art society at all failing to respond at all.

The Poll was set up very deliberately to ignore specific sums and to rely more on people's perceptions of the relative status of the monetary value of the sum paid over for subscriptions and exhibition fees.
  • Thus if you are paying a high sum but getting your money's worth then you might well describe it as an affordable sum.  
  • By way of contrast if the fees for the annual subscription or entry to an exhibition are perceived to be too high relative to the value delivered then it might be described as "too much".
What was interesting about the poll was that those who saw the money they paid out to art societies as being "more than they can really afford" or "too much" were very fast to respond to the poll.  I'd see this as an indicator that these people are actively mulling over whether they can really afford to continue to spend the same sum in future.  I'd add that this poll was stimulated in part by people commenting to me about the cost of membership of different societies.
The reason I ask (this question) is two-fold:

  • Fees for membership and entrance to exhibitions seem to be on the increase
  • Comments and complaints about the cost of belonging to an art society - or entering open exhibitions - also seem to be on the increase

Art Societies are faced with the same grim context for balancing their budget as is currently faced by many nations.  People have different views about how best to balance the budget - and some are prepared to do down to the wire for their beliefs.  (This post is being written in the context of the USA jeopardising its AAA status if the government defaults on its debt next week)

However, as somebody who spent many years advising others about financial management, I know that increasing fees in a context where people are becoming much more careful about how they choose to spend their money can be a recipe for disaster.  Discretionary spend is always the first casualty when budgets become very tight.

The key to maintaining sound finances in a difficult economic context is being seen to deliver excellent value for money.  If people think they can get a good return for their investment they will continue to invest.  Priorities for any business which asks for money from its customers typically need to focus on
  • the elimination of waste and unnecessary costs and 
  • improved communication of the value given for the £ or $ spent - by showing people 
    • how you spend the money and 
    • what sort return they get (eg exhibition fees offset exhibition costs which resulted in X sales for Y value and Z income to the artists)
Art Society websites are frequently curiously silent on the topic of whether the fees they charge offer value for money and are a good deal.  Others are very quiet about their annual membership fee.  While very few talk about how those running the society strive to make the fees charged to members and those entering the open exhibition more affordable and even better value for money.
POLL: How much do you spend on Art Societies?
My interpretation of this poll is that it's very likely that is some significant scope for art societies to improve and for membership to increase.  However, it's likely this will only be achieved if potential members can see how a subscription or fees charged represents good value for money and is the result of cost-cutting efforts focused on a drive for improving efficiency and effectiveness.

Another way of looking at this is that this sort of action can also be necessary to avoid any decrease in membership.  It's always easier to retain members than attract new ones - but no art society should never ever take existing members for granted.

One suggestion of how to improve value for money

One way in which art societies can improve their cost effectiveness is to differentiate fees charged depending on how members receive their communications.

In other words, there is a lot of scope to reduce both costs - and associated fees - for all those members who are happy to receive all communication as digital files and via email.  This shifts the cost of printing to the member and totally eliminates the cost of postage - not to mention the time spent on stuffing envelopes!

Three questions for you
  1. What would make you spend more of your art budget on art societies?
  2. How do you think art societies could deliver better value for money? 
  3. How can art societies cut costs in ways which you'd find acceptable?
Do please leave a comment and/or suggestions by using the comment function below.



  1. 1. What would make you spend more of your art budget on art societies?
    --Art societies need to stop thinking that if you charge an artist a fee, that the artist is interested in still paying more for juried exhibit entries, etc. Most of the "perks" of being a member of an art society are useless to me.
    2. How do you think art societies could deliver better value for money?
    --Art societies usually forget an "artist level" of membership. We want to get into the museum for less or free, depending on the membership fee. Then, although slightly discounted for members, the entry fees to TRY for an exhibit are exorbitant. For artists, how about more gatherings? How about more "art talks" just for artists, but welcome the public? How about more about art creation, not just appraisal?
    3. How can art societies cut costs in ways which you'd find acceptable? Offer a few less dinners, etc. to the the higher members. Offer "affiliate marketing" to the artists who do join. Give more free-low cost events and less stuffy ones. Make the public want to attend. Accept smaller sponsorship for small event and get creative with who is asked to sponsor (too many believe that it has to be a big amount to become a sponsor of a specific event).

    Thanks for asking!

  2. Great stuff Angeline-Marie - lots to ponder on there!

    Anybody else care to add to this - or echo these views?


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