Art Fair Insiders

Call for Artists, Making Money at Juried Art Fairs, Craft Shows and Festivals

Can you survive financially from your art fair income alone?

The biggest unspoken question (and among friends often spoken) seems to be, "Is anyone making money out here?" Did you make a killing at St. Louis? Did Milwaukee's Lakefront live up to expectations? Is St. James worth the time? Will you return to Ann Arbor this summer?

How are you doing? If you've been at this for some time are the art fairs still working for you? If you are new to the business, how is it working out?

It is time for a reality check from across the country. With 1000+ members on this forum, oldies and newbies alike, you have got to have some information that will be helpful to the rest of us.

Tell us, how do you do it? We are waiting for your answer.

Tags: art fair business, art fairs, making money at art fairs, surviving at art fairs

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I have been doing this officially since June of 2006. I have to say that the art shows I have been doing so far leave me struggling. I am barely making booth and not covering expenses. The only show that I did well at no longer allows it. It was a small art and craft show put on by me to benefit the employees at a local state hospital. I live in a dead zone when it comes to art shows and have to travel at least 2 to 3 hours to reach a major metropolis. I would like to know about more shows in my area. I can not afford to travel to far from home. Besides these other challanges I am also disabled.
I appreciate your website and the insight that I get here.
I am brand new... and I mean BRAND new to the art fair world. I have done one artist market, and will be in my first juried show this coming weekend. I took the dive purely for the love of art, and from constant prodding from family and friends. I don't expect to be able to quit my day job, but if I sell a few pieces throughout the summer I'll be happy. I guess we all have to start somewhere. I'd love if anyone would check out my blog, and leave me comments, tips and advise! http://cathy-weaver.blogspot.com
It will be extremely interesting to hear the comments on this one!
I got back into photography after heart surgery five years ago when my doctor said I must remove myself from the stress of 30+ years as a mechanical engineer. The huge drop in income was immediately tough, but I attended art shows, developed a website and found a local gallery in our summertime tourist town to sell my images. I've been doing photography since I was 8, attended college classes and seminars all my life and it's basically a natural for me. Tourist sales have always been high from June thru September. Last December my husband lost his engineering job as his company sold to a company in France and closed engineering here. We had always intended to expand on the art show schedule after he retired (he is now 61), so we had a well developed plan in place - it just all happened a few years earlier than expected. So in January we began scheduling shows most every weekend thru end of October and will do Florida shows Nov thru March. In past years we only did 10 or so as his job put limits on our travel. The earlier shows in May have been smaller ones and met with our expectations of $800 to $1800 per weekend. We begin our larger show with Edina this weekend with hopes of our typical $3,000 plus weekends. The local shop and the website help greatly. We have yet to experience a full year solely on the art income, but at this stage in our lives (children out of college & on their own), it has already proven to be financially do-able. I think the main focus for those completely relying on their art as sole income needs to address the reality of it being a full time job needs to be taken seriously. It's quite a bit of work. At the same time, we very much enjoy the freedom and the flow of the lifestyle. We receive no retirement and won't get social security for four years. I think any artist who wishes to completely rely on income from their art successfully need to have a fully developed financial plan, attend many shows annually, but must also have a local gallery or place they can home base from AND develop a website. I should mention it is imperative they have no car loans or credit card bills. We still have a rather high mortgage payment, but that is subsidized by the tax deductions resulting from the business.

Sure hope everyone comments on this topic Connie. Knowledge shared is knowledge gained!
It is a good question to ask Connie, but I don't think it is THE question to ask. I think what many of the posts on your site have been about are on the right track: how to get the shows, and promoters, to pay attention to what they are doing and do everything possible, and get it right, to make shows work. They used to work. Are we now going to throw up our hands and concede ourselves that it is ALL the Economy? Not me.

This is not the first downturn artist have experienced. Many talk about back in the 80's, also in the 90's. Would be helpful to have many of the veterans voice their experiences here. Unless each time this happened artist bailed in big numbers, it should be able to be survived. But not if shows and promoters don't do what THEY need to do. Again, they are making all the decisions about the shows. If they don't do it right, nothing else much matters because we, as artists, have so little input. We pay and show up. Not many ask our opinions, advice, insight, experience, etc. etc. etc.

Also, if this turns into a part-time, hobbyist type field, how will the quality be maintained? Most of the long-term artists are good artists, don't you think Connie? Who is going to replace them, in body of work, powerful works, works the public likes? I think quality is likely to sink like a rock if veteran artists bail. And as quality and diversity goes down, won't buyers go away? How do you stop that? And if that happens, will that not be the death of the shows, like positively the death of shows?

Besides, what are artists in the late 40's on up going to do if these shows no longer work out? Throw out some ideas here. What are they qualified to do? Their resume is fairly limited in scope, regardless of how good they are. And can they then find a job that pays all their expenses (including health) locally, where they live? Are now do they have to relocate somewhere? Can they sell their house to get there? It's that onion-thing: layer-upon-layer of problems.

That's among the more important reasons why, to me, the shows have to do everything possible to make their events work, keep them strong but more importantly, grow them.

That's my 2-cents worth. Thanks for asking!
I have items prices from $10-$300. Right now it seems that the less expensive items are selling better so that's what I'm concentrating on making the most of. I do Michigan & Florida shows, Last summer in MI was fine for me and FL. was ok last winter. I've been doing shows full time for the last 11 years. The most important aspect for me is productions costs which I have kept to the bare minimum by using recycled glass as my medium. When I was changing mediums 11 years ago I knew that I wanted to do something that was environmentally friendly and from recycled materials to keep my costs low. It's worked for me even in this economy. I don't have a husband, boyfriend or partner to rely on for extra income if I have a bad show, so I always try to think positively and remember that those $20 sales add up. Also to keep show cost low, I sleep in my van at the show, and in the summer for 4-5 months I live off the grid in MI so I only have one set of housing expenses in Florida in the winter. Kate
As stated before, I did not have to rely on my potting for a living. I was a full time art teacher in a high school. However, my pottery did buy me just about all my pottery equipment, camera equipment, art supplies and computer and it's supplies. Yes, from time to time I withdrew from its earnings to help with minor house expenses, as well. Technically, running two businesses simultaneously was a lot of hard work. Once I had my gallery I did not teach any longer but had retirement income. Eventually, physical condition dictated retirement from even the potting. Hard work, yes, but enjoyable and mind expanding.
I'm a newbie to this forum, and a relative newbie to Art Fairs. My first major show was October 2007. Starting with October 2008 I have seen a general decline in sales. Talking with others at shows around the Eastern Virginia area, they see the same trends. The larger priced items are selling a lot slower, or not at all, and there's been some decline in lower priced items.

Art Fairs/Art Shows are still a part time venture for me. My main goal right now is to break even at the shows and to pay for some camera equipment. So far that's about what 2009 has brought me. I've covered the show fees, the printing, matting, framing, and bought a little camera equipment. My secondary goal is learning, and that's still going well.

Out of 5 shows this year, I've only had one (Chincoteague Easter Show) that I considered a loss. That would not have been a loss if I'd only stayed in a motel one night, instead of two (and if I didn't add in the cost of gas!).
Charles Bingham said:
2 years ago I could consistently make $2500 - $5000 each weekend without much effort.
The last year's sales would max out at about $2500.
So far this year, with a new display, large mailing list and reading numerous
books on 'closing the sale', I have to really work to get $1500 to $2500
a show. (gross, not net)
It's my commission work that has kept me alive. Without it I would be in
pretty bad shape... possibly considering leaving the art world for a while.
I don't see the economy turning around for another few years, and even then
sales will require excellent selling skills and having very unique and appealing
work that sets you apart from the crowd.
I have a feeling that I will be able to make it, but it will be a steep uphill climb.
I found that you have to sell yourself more than your work. How enthusiastic am I? What is my knowledge about my work? How dependable am I? Am I inventive? What makes me, as well as my work, different from other artists? Can I expound in layman's terms what I do and how and why I do it?
If you can show your love for your work it can be infective. Customer's use this info to describe you to their friends, who may become customers.
Aspects of your comments I totally agree with Ron. However, this is an important question nonetheless. Perhaps too many are relying on the upper tier highly promoted shows. To survive entirely on this income any artist must be in tune with where/why his customers buy. Every show I enter is juried but some of my best weekends ($8,000+) have been at the smaller, non professional promoter ran shows. The attendances at these shows have only been in the tens of thousands AND were not attended by what I would consider highly affluent patrons. Granted, I have done fine at both, but the attention/appreciation of the artist is just not their at most professional promoter ran shows. The show vetrans who are experiencing frustration and are not having banner years anymore need to rethink their strategies and be open to shows they have not thought of in prior years. It's up to the artist to find his success. Economy is not an excuse and if a specific promoter or show is not living up to expectations - don't return. That show may eventually die off, but there will always be another one to take it's place. And don't think for a minute the veteran's have all the talent. I'm into my late 50's, been involved with art my entire life and especially in the last 10 years have seen some brilliant newcomers on the scene. Cream always rises to the top. The good ones will always be there - always have been throughout centuries.

Ron Mellott said:
It is a good question to ask Connie, but I don't think it is THE question to ask. I think what many of the posts on your site have been about are on the right track: how to get the shows, and promoters, to pay attention to what they are doing and do everything possible, and get it right, to make shows work. They used to work. Are we now going to throw up our hands and concede ourselves that it is ALL the Economy? Not me.

This is not the first downturn artist have experienced. Many talk about back in the 80's, also in the 90's. Would be helpful to have many of the veterans voice their experiences here. Unless each time this happened artist bailed in big numbers, it should be able to be survived. But not if shows and promoters don't do what THEY need to do. Again, they are making all the decisions about the shows. If they don't do it right, nothing else much matters because we, as artists, have so little input. We pay and show up. Not many ask our opinions, advice, insight, experience, etc. etc. etc.

Also, if this turns into a part-time, hobbyist type field, how will the quality be maintained? Most of the long-term artists are good artists, don't you think Connie? Who is going to replace them, in body of work, powerful works, works the public likes? I think quality is likely to sink like a rock if veteran artists bail. And as quality and diversity goes down, won't buyers go away? How do you stop that? And if that happens, will that not be the death of the shows, like positively the death of shows?

Besides, what are artists in the late 40's on up going to do if these shows no longer work out? Throw out some ideas here. What are they qualified to do? Their resume is fairly limited in scope, regardless of how good they are. And can they then find a job that pays all their expenses (including health) locally, where they live? Are now do they have to relocate somewhere? Can they sell their house to get there? It's that onion-thing: layer-upon-layer of problems.

That's among the more important reasons why, to me, the shows have to do everything possible to make their events work, keep them strong but more importantly, grow them.

That's my 2-cents worth. Thanks for asking!
I think that this discussion is going off topic. I would like see some answers to Connies original question. Can you survive financially from your art alone? I know I can't, though I am trying. I am new at this and would love to hear how you make more than booth.
When the crowds return to the numbers that attracted the department store merchandise that fills so many art fair booths, but that ironically drove those crowds away, then all will be cool and stuff.

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