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Artisphere, Greeneville SC--Small show with killer sales

I put this show among my top seven in the USA.
Only 130 booth spaces, with more than a thousand artists applying.
This was my third time in. It was also my best one there, although it started off scarey.


First, a little history.
In the eighties, when I started going away for five months to do shows in the Midwest, I always stopped in Greenvillle.
I had a solid glass artist buddy named Loren Marshall who lived there.
In those days I was lugging a 21-foot travel trailer behind me, my home and studio on wheels.
I would pull in and park the rig at the Huddle House restaurant, just next to Loren's house.
For the next three days we would kayak the Greene River and hike the mountains.
Back then downtown Greeneville was no-where's-vile. Nothing but shuttered factory buildings and maybe three restaurants which were not very good or exciting.


I remember us going to a Mexican restaurant there and ordering margaritas.
Back then SC had quirky liquor laws. All booze was sold in those one ounce nip bottles. Bars would have big slotted racks with nips piled on top of each other.
So that nite we were celebrating, I bought three rounds of Rita's for the four of us.
When I got the bill, I about shit in my pants. It totaled $148.
See, each Rita was made with three different bottles of booze, and each bottle cost $4--which made each Margie a $12 drink,
I kept visiting Loren over the years but I never ordered a round of Margies again.


Then in the early nineties Greeneville changed for the better. They got great retail and restaurants to come, high rise condos got built. BMW relocated a plant here, complete with high spending Europeans on their staff. They had expensive appetites and Greeneville stepped up to the plate. Then General Electric put up a big plant.
Pretty soon Greeneville became known as a community where pioneering automotive industries relocated to.


As the town grew and prospered, the local arts scene saw equal opportunities. Hence, Artisphere sprung to life. It was a winner from the get go.
They were smart. They kept the show small, they looked for real creative artists and crafts persons to fill the booths.
The patrons responded. This was their art show and they really supported it.


Last time I was in was four years ago.
I did real good. It was a $5K plus show for me and most others.
When I returned this year I was amazed by how many new restaurants had sprung up, and they were all filled.


I took my time getting there. It is a three day show and we all set up Friday morn and the show opens at noon.
So I made it to Fernadina Beach Wednesday and stayed at my buddy Aileen Moore's house.
Just a four hour ride from Tampa.
Thursday morn I headed to Greeneville, a six hour trip. Made it into town just in time for a late sushi lunch at Tsunami, on North Street.


That nite the show hosted a Gala for the artists and patrons at the downtown Embassy Suites hotel. All food and booze was catered by the Ruth's Chris restaurant there.
Everything was free.
They had Makers Mark, Titos and every top shelf liquor you could think of. They had killer red and white wines, even Champagne. All you wanted. I carefully paced myself. In three hours I had one Makers and two glasses of red. I was staying the night on the interstate at a Red Roof. About a twenty minute drive.
The food was was equally impressive.


Waiters had trays festooned with mushroom and beef Tartares. There was roasted brisket with good horseradish. There were trays of tuna tartare, tons of iced, fresh shrimp. There were at least ten other eating options. They even had oyster-vodka shooters, and of course there were amazing desserts.
The place was packed with patrons, most of them young and stylish, wearing amazing colors and jackets.
Thank God most of them showed up to buy at the show,


Oh yeah, there was an art show.
Wanna hear about it.

We thought you would never get to it. Just keep rambling about Makers and Titos.
On with the show.
I was worried about my space location. I was the third booth in at the beginning of the show.
This was very worrisome.
People tend to gallop right into a show. They do not want to commit right away. Too much art still to see.
Then, on the way back out, they are done, they want to get the hell out of dodge.
Bottom line, I figured at least 50 per cent of the patrons would never see my work.


Then let me tell you about my booth area.
The show gives everybody a 12x12 area, which means you have two feet for rear storage and room on the sides. Not bad,Main Steet Fort Worth, are you listening?
Most spaces had ample room behind them and artists used the spaces well.
Not me.


I had a solid ten foot construction fence behind me. Two feet for storage and a wall. Also the street was a hill. So my booth tilted downward right to left. Oh, we were also on a crown so the booth sloped downward fron front to rear.
When you get a spot like this you know you might be spending some serious time with a "chiro" afterwards.


I got set up in three hours and collapsed into my bed at the Marriot Courtyard right by the show.
I thought the show began at one, not noon, my bad.
I woke up at 12:30 and scurried frantically to the show. By that time there were five posts on Facebook wondering what happened to me since my booth was not open at noon.


Jeez! I remember the early days at shows where we sat in our vans, at the beginning of the show, and smoked big numbers. Then we get out, laughing and giggling, and got to
do biz. Now, Big Brother, social media, is on your ass if you are a minute late.
I guess it is nice to know people care, they are concerned for my wellfair, so God Bless, social media,anyway, I can withstand the storm.
After ten thousand piercing arrows in my back from the "Pufferfish affair at Pensacola", I can withstand anything.
Jeez Nels, screw the Pufferfish, tell us about the show.


Thought you would never ask.
Well, my goal for Friday was to do $2500. This was a realistic goal for a show like this. Do not forget I was only up against about ten other photographers, and I had a lock on the humor market, the rest of them did serious, arty work, and it was seriously good work. But it gave me niche to exploit.
Well I exploited, but I was not seriously anointed.
I barely did a grand. I was not a happy camper.
I ate very slim sushi that nite. Still had a great bottle of red.


Saturday, we awoke to crisp temps and an overcast sky with a slight chance for rain after noon.
A perfect day to make serious moola.
It only slightly happened.
I saw mostly small packages go by my booth, no really big ones.
I only sold four 16x20 frames, priced at $150, the whole day. The rest were precious prices of paper out of my browse bins.


The crowds were steady and well-dressed. Most carried no art in their hands. Lots of them had little cups of wine or big glasses of beer in their hands. They were exuberant, but not many sales came out of it.
I saw lots of serious eye candy all day long. The Carolina women are an eyeful.


That nite I ate slim fish for dinner. I felt like I was at least 50 per cent off my expected goal.
I always set a goal for a show. After doing this 42 years I have a pretty accurate gauge for what I will make, especially at a great show like this.
So I was under $5K and seriously worried.
I drank some more great red and went to bed.


Sunday dawned brightly.
I got the van out of the Marriot lot and got it parked in "position A" ready for tear down.
I found the Starbucks, grabbed a NY Times and scampered off to breakfest.
I was at the booth two hours before the show opened.
I made some quick sales and felt slightly emboldened. Like, maybe I will kick some serious ass today and make serious moola.
Between eleven and two I averaged $350 per hour. That was a good sign.
Still, I was only selling out of the bins.


Between one and four all hell broke loose.
I did $5K. Actually sold four big framed ones, ended up selling about 17 16x20 frames.
It was Mothers Day and everybody was well dressed and buying.
It was not just me.
My neighbor who sold custom made bird houses for $160 each, sold out.
The guys two booths away with homemade barbecue grills sold out.
I saw big framed pieces go by my booth all afternoon.


Guess what folks? This is a Sunday show.
I ended up pleasantly exhausted and very rich by six close. I was packed and out in one hour.
That nite I ate very serious fat sushi with copious cups of primo sake.
I awoke Monday morn and was home to Ybor in nine hours.
Got a big kiss from my sweet Ellen.


Life is very good.
This Sunday we leave for five months to live in Saugatuck. We got Columbus and Des Moines in the near future.
Oh in case somebody out there is thinking of robbing our Ybor house, I got news for you, my neighbor Joe watches it night and day, and he is just itching to use that shotgun.
Also our eight backyard feral cats are karate canine trained.
Saugatuck, here we come.

Views: 670

Comment by Joan Glover on May 17, 2017 at 5:38pm
I guess what really bugged me about this show is over 1,000 true artists applied and a bbq pit/small commercial company gets in? Don't get me wrong, these guys make cool fire pits, and are great for neighbors at shows, but.......guess I'm just jealous that I've been turned down 3 years in a roll?
Comment by Connie Mettler on May 17, 2017 at 11:23pm

Phew! That was one mean stream of consciousness bit of writing, my boy! Hope you don't mind if I punctuated it ... of course, if you don't like it, go in there and take out all those spaces.

It feels like I was there! Great descriptions, and that gala!! Wow! They must have some great sponsors to host that one. Sounds better than any I've attended. 

Bet you weren't feeling so great on Sunday morning ... who knew people bought art on Sundays? I always figured if they weren't hitting pretty hard by the time church was out and brunch was over the show was done. But, not in Greenville. Will you apply again? I used to see lists of the prizewinners for this show. Who won? Bet there was some very good art at this show.

See you in Michigan again this summer, Nels.

Comment by Lawrence M. Sawyer on May 18, 2017 at 2:39am

Where's the "Like" button? Thanks for painting that picture. I shall add this one to the bucket list. 

Comment by Nels Johnson on May 18, 2017 at 7:23am
I wrote it at lunch at Bernini's in Ybor, it was a one top shelf Margie and two red wine glasses blog.
Sometimes I just get spacey in the writing, but. I try to give the reader a sense of what it is like.
Btw, these last two shows( remember Ft. worth) have brought me more sales volume then my last 12 shows going back to November.
Florida shows suck, because there are too many of them and we are dealing with jaded patrons.
Comment by Connie Mettler on May 18, 2017 at 10:23am

Lawrence, take a look at our survey of Best Art Fairs in America .. Artisphere is always there. It is such a genteel place and people learn early to appreciate the arts.

I suspected that, Nels. Aren't you glad to live in such a nice place as Ybor and then get out to see these other great places in our country? Wish I could deliver some good news for Florida, but no one is sending me anything new, except did you see that call for artists last year for a show at the Palm Beach Armory? I think it was in the fall ...

Comment by Barry Bernstein on May 18, 2017 at 11:19am

I always blew off trying to get into Greenville because of all that driving. I mean, Florida, then Texas, and then back to South Carolina? I see it is worth it. If I work it right, I can rest and replenish from Artisphere to Des Moines. Btw, see you in Des Moines. I think we are getting together with Munks.

Comment by Alison Thomas on May 18, 2017 at 12:00pm

This was my second year at Artisphere and my first year I had much the same experience as Nels.  Friday was $600 and I was concerned and Saturday wasn’t much better but wow Sunday they bought.  Enough to make it my best show ever until Alexandria in the fall.  This year was a little more even but the patrons at Artisphere still seem to take their time making a decision and there was a last-minute rush Sunday afternoon.  I don’t think I sold to anyone who hadn’t been to the booth at least twice. 

I had a great show and topped last year by a few hundred.  I am just now getting caught up sending out orders and still have a couple images to frame.

I stayed at the Marriott this year and it made life a lot easier.  Line up for setup is right outside the door and I could have parked my van and walked to my booth although I was at the very end of the show so I didn’t.  It’s a nice option to have since parking is a bit of a walk away.  I did get a roommate at the last minute and that made it affordable as well.

Comment by Nels Johnson on May 18, 2017 at 1:42pm
Way to go Alison, I saw you in the lineup.
It is a shame that the commercial barbecue guys got in, but, it seems they are regulars, in a number of years in a row, obviously have friends in high places.

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