Arts news: Local artists wary of potential scams

  • Photo by Meghan Ralston
    Studios on High Gallery during August Gallery Hop.
By Columbus Alive
From the November 7, 2013 edition

Imagine the starving artist, eating ramen noodles in a drafty studio, forsaking various creature comforts to funnel energy and passion into a career in fine art. It’s a cliche, but if you know anyone trying to make a living like this, it resonates.

Nonetheless, artists are frequently asked for cash or donations of original work in exchange for “exposure.” Some requests come from reputable organizations; others might stem from something shadier.

As local artist Charles Wince noted, “It takes a long time to make a piece of art, and that’s asking quite a bit.”

“I’m asked at least twice weekly for (artwork) donations,” said artist Adam Brouillette.

As Brouillette explained, he’ll donate to a cause he believes in, such as Columbus AIDS Task Force’s Art for Life Auction. He’ll also pay an entry fee for events where an artist can easily recoup his investment in sales, such as the upcoming Craftin’ Outlaws indie craft fair.

“But other things that ask me to pay money for ‘exposure,’ I ignore,” he added.

Recently some local artists got such a request, in the form of a chance to win one of three cash prizes plus an increased presence on the worldwide web.

On Oct. 21, at least 10 artists with profile pages on the Greater Columbus Arts Council’s website, columbusarts.com, including Wince and Brouillette, received an email through the domain’s contact portal inviting them to participate in the first art contest hosted by galleryhop.com.

“There will be $800 in cash and merit-based awards. Any art you enter will be exhibited on our national site, and you will have the opportunity to sell your artwork,” wrote Michael Couri, a Columbus businessman who is listed as the contact for the website osurentals.com as well as galleryhop.com.

To those not paying close attention, the call for entries appeared to be sanctioned by GCAC and have a connection to Gallery Hop, the monthly Short North event.

In truth the website and Couri have no connection to GCAC or the Short North Alliance, organization that organizes Gallery Hop, according to representatives from GCAC and the SNA. The specifics of the contest have both groups troubled by that appearance.

The posted rules for entry involve a $25 fee for up to two submissions. For comparison, entry into the latest online exhibition contest with prize offerings hosted by international artist mega-site Saatchi Online is free.

Galleryhop.com calls itself “a clearinghouse resource to artists and patrons of the arts” but currently has few listings and little social media presence — in other words, high-profile domain name aside, there’s not much to suggest it offers the kind of promotional value to justify an entry fee.

The contest’s juror hasn’t been identified with less than two weeks until the Nov. 17 submission deadline. The rules also include a confusing passage about a possible show of contest entries at Impero Coffee. As the shop’s artist contact, Michael Murtha, confirmed, there are no plans to host an exhibition connected to the contest.

“They offered the idea and it just wouldn’t work for how we do things,” he said, adding that the business doesn’t charge artists to show work there.

“I will affirm — this has no connection to Gallery Hop or to the Short North,” said PM Gallery owner Maria Galloway, who’s credited with helping to launch Hop nearly 30 years ago.

Betsy Pandora, director of the Short North Alliance, supported Galloway’s statement, adding, “(Couri) did not reach out to us and did not engage in collaborating with us.”

Couri could not be reached for comment at press time.

Wince said that after receiving the email from Couri, he read the rules, noted the fee and checked out the website before deciding, “this whole thing reeked.”

Before coming to that conclusion, however, he believed the message had some legitimacy because it came from a columbusarts.com email address.

“I hope people aren’t feeling badly about us because of this,” said GCAC spokesperson Jami Goldstein, explaining that messages sent to artists via columbusarts.com are filtered through the site to protect their personal email accounts from spam.

Goldstein said that in the future, these messages will have a standard subject line that includes the address of the sender to clarify the origins of good opportunities, or sketchy ones. Or outright scams, such as the one that spread via the GCAC site in August from an alleged art buyer in Germany, a variation on a long-running con that aims to coerce sales-hungry artists into parting with large sums of money.

“Fortunately, we also have the good side,” Goldstein noted. “Columbus Arts is becoming more and more of a resource. We’ve had artists say they made a sale or got a residency through it, so it offsets some of the scams that are the nature of the internet.”