A big pink NO symbol (as in No Smoking) layered over the Boynes Emerging Artist Award. The text in the pink NO symbol reads, "No More Pay-to-Play Art 'Awards'"

No More Pay-to-Play Art "Awards"

There's been a good conversation on Facebook about film & performance festival fees instigated by San Francisco artist Kevin Seaman. Kevin is a trusted colleague, who is also trying to find ways to walk down the pathway towards liberation from systems of oppression and behaviors of domination. The summary of Kevin's position on entry fees is: They are inherently inequitable because they create a pay-to-play system that leaves Black, Indigenous, queer, trans, and POC artists out. I completely agree.

Another dear comrade recently sent me an announcement for the Boynes Emerging Artist Award. It piqued my interest, so I went to check it out. Lo and behold it charges a $39 Early Bird registration fee for submitting 3 images. Needless to say, I am not applying.

I am sick & tired of artist competitions branded as "awards". That this is supposedly for "Emerging Artists" also tells me the class of emerging artists they are seeking entries from. That means it continues to churn out upper middle class (or above) artists. For an international competition such as this, they will easily get hundreds of submissions. At a minimum of $39 a pop (the fee goes up to $45, and they charge $10 / additional image for up to 10 images), they can expect to bring in around five to six figures. They do not mention the award prize (and they only specify a singular award) in the announcement.

This is predatory, extractive behavior that benefits the awarding organization more than it benefits the collective pool of artists who apply. It leeches off of uncompensated labor, demands compensation for recognizing unpaid labor as art, and then only benefits a few, which are decided by those extracting wealth. That is capitalism 101, and it reflects exactly how labor and value work and function in our capitalist system.

This pay-to-play, extractive process is found in politricks, (small) business, public education (see: $$ poured in to SF School Board Recall and pretty much every new "literacy curriculum" purchased by SFUSD Admin), healthcare, oil / energy, social media, mainstream news, etc. If you do not pay, you do not play, which means you never will be at any table making any decisions that affect your material life. The poor, of which I count myself amongst, will never get a grasp on this system by appealing to the system. Instead, we must organize ourselves outside of it and (re)create other systems & behaviors that actively counter extraction through (re)generation.

Ultimately, that is what I am trying to do with both Queering Dreams & Queerly Complex. I am trying to find ways of being that both support my being / self / family materially (I still have to pay rent & bills FFS) and contribute to a collective effort co-creating pathways towards our liberation. One such concrete example of how I am doing this with other comrade artists is the Virtual Artist Salons by & for Immigrant Artists & artists who are there comrades.

The Virtual Artist Salons are part of a legacy of healers, artists, storytellers, elders, and ancestors who hold / held circle. It is also part of a virtual praxis I have co-developed in community with immigrant, queer, trans, poor, rural, and Indigenous artists of all ages, practices, identities, and geographies over the course of six years. And this particular version is co-hosted by Rupy C. Tut, Kiana Honarmand, Han Qin, and Momos Cheeskos. This naming of relations is key to non-extraction. It allows for lineage to be traced and for values (not just value) to be revealed.

Learn more about Virtual Artist Salons.

It reads, "Virtual Artist Salons by & for Immigrant Artists and their comrades co-created byRupy C. Tut, Jason Wyman, Kiana Honarmand, Han Qin, and Momos Cheeskos". Next to the words are a circle with six images around it, one of each artist & one with a silhouette that reads "you". In the center of the circle is a banyan tree. It is all set against a colorful pixelated background.
So what other examples do you have of Pay-to-Play extractive process?
One of the first steps to dismantling capitalism is naming the ways in which it extracts life & labor from us. And the more we name it & the more we explicitly talk about it, the more we can start truly shifting the narrative (and then the culture) towards a pathway leading us towards collective liberation from all systems of oppression & domination.
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