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Tip: Pop-up galleries should charge 30% to 35% commission

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With renowned art galleries in Detroit like Whitdel Arts and Detroit Artists Market booking shows one to two years in advance, it is no surprise that more and more artists are opting for pop-up galleries, which are temporary galleries, usually for one night only, at venues that are not primarily meant as art galleries. One topic that is very likely to come up in planning a pop-up is how much the gallery should charge in commission. That is, unless the pop-up is a solo show at a venue the artist owns, or if none of the art is for sale.

Although there are fundamental differences between permanent and pop-up galleries, it is a good idea for pop-ups to look at what permanent galleries do. Most permanent galleries in Detroit charge, on average, a 33% commission, with some going as low as 30% and some as high as 35%. One notable exception is the Red Bull House of Art, which charges no commission at all. Most art galleries, let alone pop-ups, don't have the support of an international conglomerate, and thus the issue of how much to pay for the venue is bound to be an issue.

There are other expenses associated with any gallery. Crackers and cheese are not terribly expensive, nor is wine (or at least it shouldn't be), but they're not free. Pop-ups face the possibility of higher expenses in certain areas because they may lack the resources available to permanent galleries, like good track lighting and connections to media that may advertise the show.

However, 50% or higher is an unreasonable commission. Exactly 50% implies a coauthorship between an artist and a gallery, while higher commission percentages imply that the gallery is going to put so much effort and resources into advertising the show that sales are guaranteed. And with low rates like 10% or even 20%, the artist may feel the gallery does not have enough of an incentive to make the show a success.

The perfect happy medium between these excesses would seem to be 33%, except that it does not lend itself readily to mental arithmetic, and if the artist is paid in cash, coins would probably be necessary. With 30% or 35%, the mental arithmetic is straightforward, and the gallery and the artists can feel that they are getting a fair deal.

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