Choosing An Artist’s Representative

By Renée Phillips

At some point in your career you people will approach you and offer to be your agent or representative. Some may work purely on commission on any work sold for “representing" you and your work. Others may charge a fee for their services.

To be honest, if you are just starting out and have not been generating many sales on your own, you may not attract anyone who would be willing to invest a lot of time in creating opportunities or sales on your behalf. The risk is too high for them.

However, when you are exhibiting in established venues and when your art begins to sell regularly, with steady price increases you will notice that you attract interest from people who are eager to participate in your career success.

To the answer most frequently asked by artists, “How do I find an agent?” My response is usually, “Keep showing your work, and eventually they will find you.”

Recently, I have noticed a new growth of artist’s representatives who work for artists for a fee. Their services may include trying to acquire exhibitions or generate sales. For good reasons, you may be tempted to hire them, relieved to be able to let someone else handle your business so you can spend more time creating art.

Whether this person has offered to work on commission or a flat fee, do your homework to make sure you know enough about them and how the business relationship will work.

Here are 16 topics you should consider before making your decision:

1.) What are their fees?

It is necessary to have a clear understanding of how they expect to be paid for their services. If they charge you as high as a 50% commission, this will prevent you from being able to pay a gallery their commission on top of that. On the other hand, in fairness, if they are working on a very low commission scale, such as less than 20%, you should not expect them to provide many services or for you to be the only artist they represent.

If they charge artists an hourly or monthly fee it should be commensurate to what they provide. You should judge their value accordingly. In addition, will they expect you to cover additional costs? Beware that paying an artist’s representative in advance rather than a commission creates less of an incentive to sell your art, much like selling your art through a vanity gallery.

2.) Who are the parties involved?

Is the person you are considering as your representative the owner of the business or are they an employee or partner? Make sure you are communicating with the person in charge who is responsible for making all business decisions.

3.) What is this person's background?

If you were to hire a nanny to care for your children, what would you do? Yes, do a background check. Today it is easy to check someone’s professional background. There is no excuse not to exercise caution. Research their profiles and recommendations on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. What professional organizations do they belong to? What was their previous employment or career? Have they served as a member of the Board of Directors of any high level organizations?

4.) What art-related professional experience do they have?

What are their professional qualifications? Are they educated in art and the business of art? Do they understand your artistic vision? If they claim to have made sales of other artists’ work, ask for specific examples. Does their background include working in an art gallery or museum? Are they an artist or art instructor?

You have the right to ask for references. Contact current or previous artists who have served as their clients.

5.) How do they talk about your art?

This may be so obvious, yet perhaps ignored, so it is worth discussing. You will want this person to be an expert about your art. They should speak about it with respect and knowledge. They should be articulate and enthusiastic. They should know how your work relates to art history as well as the contemporary art market. They should be able to immediately identify your signature style and special “brand”, discuss the best attributes of your work, and recognize your ideal customer profile and best market venues.

6.) What is the scope of the representation?

It is important to avoid conflicts and complications in your relationships among more than one agent, dealer and reps. It is advisable to ask: What is the duration of the contract? Is it for a fixed term? Is it contingent on sales? Does this person want exclusive representation in a specific (or all) geographic region or specific (or all) of your works of art?

How much art do they want to represent and for how long? If you want your artwork returned, how much notice is required? You want to be sure you can end the contract if the business relationship is unsatisfactory.

Does this representative extend discounts to buyers? How much? Will the discount be shared between you both or will it be deducted from their share of the commission?

7.) How will they inform you of their progress?

It is important, especially if you are paying them a fee, that you agree on how they will notify you of their activities. Will they provide weekly progress reports? Strive for good communications on a regular basis in order to ensure team effort and synchronicity. Open communication will also help you avoid overlaps in activities and scheduling.

8.) Does the “artist’s representative” have conflicts of interest?

Look for possible hidden agendas or conflicts of interest when the prospective representative is advising you or making decisions on your behalf. Be wary of their intentions if they suggest vanity galleries or pricey advertising vehicles. Are they trying to convince you to hire a web designer they know or try to sell you other services? If they seem adamant about trying to sell something to you rather than trying to sell your art, you should see this as a red flag and pay attention to the warning signs. They may be trying to lure you into a scam.

9.) What art venues do they offer?

Having the ability to exhibit your work is an advantage. Does the person own a brick or mortar gallery or have any connections with them? Have they been involved as a curator of exhibitions? Do they have contacts with any prominent non-profit exhibitions spaces? Will they be promoting your work on their own website, blog or other online galleries? Are their connections regional or do they have connections with or are willing to expand your exposure to exhibition venues in major cities here and abroad?

10.) What business contacts do they have?

You want to know what levels of contacts this person has and whether you want them to work on your behalf. Do they have excellent people skills? What types of business relationships do they have? If they claim to have relationships with curators and members of the press follow up to verify such claims. Do they have many valuable long term business relationships? Are the art buyers they cater to the types of collectors you want to reach?

11.) What other artists / art do they represent?

Check out the other artists they represent and compare. Is this group of artists a good fit for your work? Are you in direct competition with any of the other artists? Ideally, you will want to be represented by someone who represents artists of the same quality level.

12.) Will they rely only on your contacts?

A good representative will not have to rely exclusively on using your database of contacts and networks — they will have their own. Before they earn your trust, I would warn you against turning over your entire database.

13.) How will they pursue new opportunities?

You will want a representative who is good at networking. They will be actively building business opportunities and relationships on your behalf by attending local business and social networking events, both in person and via Social Media. Their goal will be to continuously expand into new contacts and develop leads for increasing exhibitions, sales and exposure.

14.) What are their marketing and promotion strategies?

You should be comfortable with the business strategies they have planned for you. Make sure they understand and are in sync with your creative, career and financial goals. Do you have compatible business philosophies and follow the same business ethics? Do they expect you to step outside your comfort zone?

15.) Will the person release any marketing and promotional materials on your behalf?

Yes, it is appealing to have someone handle the writing and distribution of your marketing and promotional materials. However, make sure you exercise your right to read and approve any written information about you before it is distributed. Get this arrangement in writing. It will be too late if inaccurate information about you and/or your work is shared in press releases that are distributed internationally.

16.) What insurance protection do they provide?

What insurance coverage does this person have for your work? What are the terms of the insurance policy? Does it cover the full retail value of your work? Is your artwork protected in-transit, on-site? Has this person agreed to take responsibility – in writing! – for loss or damage of your artwork from the time it is received until it is returned you? If your work incurs any damages who will choose the restorer? How will you be compensated?

So, whether the artist’s representative who enters your life is an individual art consultant, agent or an owner of a gallery, your first priority is to protect yourself and the art that you worked so diligently to produce. When the time is right you will have these 16 principles to refer to and hopefully they will help you make the best career decisions.

Renée Phillips, “The Artrepreneur Coach,” provides career direction for artists worldwide and is the creator of the new “Artrepreneur Success Program.” She is the author of Success Now! For Artists: A Motivational Guide For The Artrepreneur, and Presentation Power Tools for Fine Artists and the Director of Manhattan Arts International. Join her group Manhattan Arts International on LinkedIn, follow her on Twitter @reneephillipsny, and join her Facebook group, www.facebook.com/ReneePhillipsArtCoach. You can also follow her blog at http://bit.ly/reneephillipsartcoach.

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