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Great Lakes Art Fair - Novi, Michigan - Great Show!

I've been doing this show for many years. Its a show that many of us midwest artists want to succeed. Why? Because its the first show of the season for many of us in these parts. Its indoors, so weather is not a factor. Its in a great venue and its easy to do. By this time of the year a lot of us artists are running on empty. We need some money to pay the next batch of booth fees and an early April show that can pay some of the bills is very welcome.

It turned out that way for me, but, unfortunately, not for everyone. In a casual audit of artists around me, it seemed that about half did well, or OK, and the other half were disappointed. I sold a bunch of artwork, and also came away with best of show ($400 plus a free $400 booth for nest year). And I really needed a good show after two bad ones in a row at the end of my Florida stint. I've also got a crew renovating my new gallery space in Douglas, Michigan (opening on May 6) and, darn it, they want to get paid. So, I came home, relieved, with a nice paycheck.

The show takes place in the Suburban Collection Showplace, a big convention center in Novi, Michigan (near Detroit). Yes, its an odd name for a convention center, but its a big place and its growing. There's a big hotel attached, and this year, there was a circus happening in another part of the Center. Some exhibitors were surprised to see elephants and horses going in and out of the building.

Setup was scheduled for all day on Thursday. There were no set times for each artist, but the place is big, so we were able to drive our vans or trailers right into the center to unload right at our booth. A 10-foot deep by 12-foot wide booth costs $400, but a double booth is only another $200, so I took advantage of that discount and had a space 10-feet deep by 24-feet wide. There is an 8-foot tall black curtain separating the rows and there was a lot of space in back of the curtain for storage. I unloaded my van and parked in the free parking right outside the doors. I took my time setting up, and I needed it. I never use a double booth and I really don't have enough propanels to fill up that space, so it took some creative arranging to make the space work. It always takes me a long time to set up. Normally five hours will do it, but this one took me eight hours. Marcia stayed home, so I was on my own on this one... one of the reasons it took so long. 

The show opened at 1pm on Friday so many artists set up on Friday morning. The only problem with Friday setup is that vehicles are not allowed in the building on Friday, so artists had to dolly in. In the center of the show the convention center had a full bar and a food concession. Soups, sandwich wraps and a nice salad bar were available. The show ran until 8pm on Friday. As usual (for Friday) the turnout wasn't very big, but lots of people were walking around with wine or mixed drinks in their hands. I just made my booth fee on Friday and hoped for better results Saturday.

For patrons, parking was free but there was a $7 entry fee for each day. I did have one buyer who saw my work on Saturday, then talked her way back in on Sunday for free just to buy my work. The staff here is good that way... flexible and responsive.

Saturday was a good day for me. The show went from 10-6 and I sold lots of stuff, including three large canvas prints (I'm a digital artist showing surrealistic imagery on environmental themes on canvas and paper). There was a free artist's dinner and cocktail party right after closing on Saturday evening. It was well attended and exhibitors had good things to say about the food and drinks (I didn't stay for the party).

Sunday was open from 11-5. I had a nice surprise when I arrived when I heard that I had won best of show. I kicked myself for missing the Saturday party, but happily accepted the award. Sales were OK on Sunday but not great. Looking at past years, my sales for this show have gone up every year for the past three years. In 2015 sales were $2100. 2016 sales were $3600. This year sales were $4800, making me glad that I've stuck with this show.

I'm not sure if this show is for everyone. Like I mentioned earlier, some artists were disappointed. But the show can produce results, and it can sure use more fine artists. Like all shows, if there is good art, the people will come, but its a chicken and egg kind of thing. The artists won't come if the people aren't there. But, anyway, I recommend this show to artists looking for an early spring paycheck. No guarantees, but I think its a risk worth taking. And the staff and management here are terrific!

Views: 379

Comment by Barrie Lynn Bryant on April 10, 2017 at 12:10pm

Very nice review, and a big CONGRATULATIONS! to you, John. WOOHOO!

Comment by Connie Mettler on April 10, 2017 at 3:28pm

You made my day, John! So glad to hear you did well AND that is a very nice paycheck at this time of the year, especially since the expenses are low. 

I consulted with this show when it was started and we had high hopes. The staff is terrific to work with and the owner of the Center is a great guy who treats his staff well, resulting in good working conditions for artists. Way too often it is hit with the first nice weekend of the season, so getting people's attention to come indoors when the weather is beautiful is tough. 

Thanks for the report. It is only proper that you got an award. Good for you. It seems like you may be creating a following also. I agree, April is a tough time to make money in the North as the winter drags on and many artists are ready for a cash infusion at this time. This show is easy, affordable and if you strike it right a decent payday. 

Comment by John Leben on April 10, 2017 at 3:58pm

Yes Connie, I know you have believed in this show for many years and encouraged artists to try it. Who knows... maybe its finally hit its stride and can begin attracting more and better artists (and patrons). I hope so!

Comment by Vera Foley on April 10, 2017 at 7:08pm

Thank you John for a great review!  I also appreciate you giving insight into your earnings for this show after all, that is the bottom line.

Comment by Craig Roderick and Sara Beck on April 11, 2017 at 9:23am


It was great to finally meet you, and your booth looked wonderful so all of the hard work was worth it. We got in at the last minute after making a phone call to the organizers. We were unable to apply through the normal process due to my daughter's last minute scheduling of a family event. When that event moved to a different weekend I made the call and learned they had an open booth so we took the chance that it would work out for us and it did. Our family lives in the Detroit area so we combined a visit (no hotel bill) with the show. Because we got one big special order we did OK. I think the 70 degree weather on Sunday drastically cut down on the crowd. It was too nice to be inside. There really was a lot of good art there mixed in with some other stuff. What I liked was that the sponsor booths selling mattresses and the like were clearly separated from the artist's booths. What was really strange was the reactions of many of the folks to our photos of abandoned Detroit buildings. At the other shows we have done in the area the reaction is very positive and sales follow. At this show, many said they made them sad. Just for the record, if your work makes someone sad they generally will not buy it. At any rate as a first timer here, I would definitely recommend this show as long as you are not travelling far. It is easy to do, the folks running it are great to deal with, load in and out was a breeze, and there are no weather concerns. On top of that we got to see the fam and made several new artist friends and became re-acquainted with others. Overall a good weekend for us.

Comment by R. C. Fulwiler on April 12, 2017 at 3:43pm

I'm happy to hear you had a good show in Novi.  I remember the frustration at Bonita Springs.  I'm looking forward to visiting your Gallery and I thank you for the invitation to exhibit with you.  See you in early May.

Comment by Jacki Bilsborrow on April 18, 2017 at 10:52pm

Great review and how lucky are you winning an award and growing your sale with each year?

This sounds like a great show and a great fit for you.  Thanks for sharing.

Comment by Jen Burgnon on March 20, 2018 at 6:00pm
I am so grateful to have found this forum and your discussion John. I am pretty new to the art fair world (last year was my first full effort at them). I am attempting to move up from the $100-$200 shows (West side of the state) to the $400- $700 shows (East side of the state) and feeling overwhelmed with costs and not knowing what to expect.
The Great Lakes Art Fair is the first that I will be attending for the year and $450 for a early Spring show on the other side of the state is a big gamble for me.
Your positive feedback has eased some of my concern. Hoping that as a fine artist I get back what I put into it, in terms of show quality and attendance.
Comment by Connie Mettler on March 21, 2018 at 12:01pm

It is scary, Jen, to do that move up ... nonetheless, worth the effort. This is a comfortable show to do with a quality exhibition hall, lodging nearby and a very supportive staff, and you'll meet John who is from your part of the state and who is very generous in the mentoring department. You'll meet other Midwest artists, compare notes and start planning for your next step up. Best wishes. 

Comment by John Leben on March 21, 2018 at 12:11pm

Good luck at Novi, Jen. As I mentioned in the review, all artists aren't successful there. Like all art fairs, it depends on the clientele, and whether an artist's work appeals to that clientele. I've stuck with this show for several years because I need the revenue it generates in these lean months before the summer shows. It paid off last year, but, this is a fickle business. Who knows what this year will bring. The public has been embracing this show increasingly over the past few years. Lets hope that continues.


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