Monday, August 10, 2015

Art Fairs – Should the Artists be Taxed?

As I continue to enjoy art fair season in NW Ohio/SE Michigan, I’d like to pose a question that I think might stir up a bit of debate: Should exhibiting artists be charged tax on the sales that they make in a ‘street fair’ venue?

I ask this from the perspective of the artists’ advocate that I am at heart. To clarify, when I use the term ‘artist’ I am referring to those working in any fine art medium including photography, ceramics and sculpture.

Think about what a great art event does for any community. It attracts tourists and brings out the locals, creating a lot of energy and excitement along with a great boost to the local economy. Without the artists, there is no ‘boon’. The artists themselves can have a great show or can walk away with absolutely nothing. The local stores, restaurants and hotels benefit no matter what from the artists’ presence.

I often think about what an artist has to go through to exhibit and participate in such events. First, there is the process of creating and presenting a body of work to be juried into the show. Generally, there are non-refundable application fees that must be paid for this consideration. Then, there is the expense of the venue itself (that can run into the thousands) for which most artists also have to provide their own tents. And then there is the cost of travel, the cost and labor of transporting the work to and from the show, and lodging. Now, if Mother Nature is feeling kind, it can be a guilty pleasure to sit outside, talk to buyers about one’s art and call that ‘work’ but that kind of luck can be rare, especially here in the Mid-West where high heat, summer storms and humidity can truly make one ‘toast’.

Terry Abrams booth at the Ann Arbor Art Fair

Here is my point: Professionals of any kind make what they do look easy. We don’t see the back-story, only the result - the beautiful presentation. The exhibiting artist goes through so much to bring this joy and excitement to our communities. Why, on top of all of this, should they be taxed on the sale of their work?

I posed this question to a couple close art loving friends (one a doctor, the other an attorney) on a recent evening walk. Being great friends, I can always count on them for lively debate. Here’s the counterpoint.

When a city hosts an outdoor art event, there is a tremendous amount of investment, planning and other logistics that insure a great experience for both the artists and the public. It’s the city’s obligation to attract the best possible audience for the artists, giving them maximum exposure and opportunity to be discovered and sell their works, so a great promotional effort is necessary. The city also provides safety and security services, requisite sanitary facilities, coordinates parking and volunteer efforts, and blocks off streets for the exhibitors.

I hadn’t even considered those realities.

However, the question in my mind still remains; do the taxes from the sale of the art make a significant dent in an event’s budget? Is it really worth making an artist’s work that much more expensive for the buyer? Should street fairs be an opportunity for buyers to choose great original art at the lowest possible price without the discount coming out of the artist’s pockets, given what they’ve gone through to be there in the first place?

I would love to know what you think!

Laura Jajko is President of American Frame and longtime contributor to  ‘A Good Frame of Mind’.  Here, she delights in bonding with others over her love of art and framing. With more than 40 years of practical experience, she brings a unique perspective in a straight-forward style that she hopes will spark lots of interesting and relevant dialog in our online community. Connect with Laura directly here on the blog or follow her on twitter @LauraJajko.


  1. No!...and here's why. I'm assuming that you are referring to the local municipality charging the tax? Despite the expenses the town incurs, art events bring tourism to the town generating additional revenue from parking to hospitality not to mention what brick & mortar retailers are benefiting from the consumer traffic. Fees to the municipality should be paid by the promoter who is charging the artist for a booth fee. The artist is already responsible for any applicable sales taxes on their product, booth fees and business expenses. How much more can you squeeze out of your profit margin?!

    1. Thanks for sharing your opinion Mark! It does seem to be a little excessive, all the fees that working artists are required to pay.

    2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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