Art Fair Insiders

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

Okay, I know this will never happen in any big way, so don't sweat it, and those of you who disagree with my rambling musings, it's just a thought, I was thinking.

Recently got back from the Fountain Hills Not So Great Fair and whilst I was standing around freezing and waiting for the occasional buyer to manifest I had a thought. Occasionally I have more than one but I did have this one...Booth fees are way out of control and my first experience with shows that charge a commission was in California 7 years ago. At the time I was incensed. ( Yes, I am fully aware that I signed up with the knowledge that I had to pay a commission but to mention that would ruin my diatribe) "How dare they charge me a __% commission on my sales on top of the already over inflated booth fee! The nerve of those guys!" As it turned out the __% commission I was to pay them amounted to about $26.45 and on the way out of the flea market grounds the collector of said funds said, "keep it for gas money", was that meant as an insult?

I digress, so the thought I had at the previously mentioned show was; what if more shows actually DID charge a commission IN LIEU of an over inflated booth fee. Those that sell a lot pony up what would only be reasonable if they did well and those that didn't do so well would come out with their skin still intact. The Festival of the Arts in Oklahoma City is one such show with a model that I will use as an example. First, they charge a nominal booth fee, if my memory serves me, of $150. Second, if you make a certain level of sales the booth fee is credited back to you and you pay a __% of your sales to the show. How can that possibly be in the artists favor? The show is sharing the risk with you. How? Well, they have the responsibility of delivering actual buyers to the show, they want you to do well so that they can do well. Win-Win don't you think? Of course this show will only consider you for future fairs if you reach another pre-determined sales level but that's their prerogative, they have to make their expenses and fund whatever projects that they fund.

Okay that was just an example but the point I'm trying to make is this. Booth fees are going up astronomically. Just got an email trolling for artists for the Cherry Arts Festival and they want $600! Remember when booth fees went to $100 and artists got incensed? What warrants this kind of highway robbery? The show is only in its third year and the reviews that I read of the previous years were not blindingly brilliant. What if instead this show did a low booth fee, took a commission and the promoters actually worked to deliver buyers? It is in the best interest of the show that you do well but if you don't? The risk is shared, and you don't have to mortgage your house for the second time!

I guess another point that I'm getting around to is this. How many show "promoters" are actually promoting with the intent that artists benefit from the experience? Locally, I've participated in one show where the promoter really does his homework and delivers the buyers! I can think of another one that I signed up with that may not necessarily have had the artists interest at heart as the show was held in the back of a shopping center with heavy road construction going on nearby. I bet he'd work real hard to get people in there if it were a commission show and he had something at stake.

Yah, I know, there are no guarantees of ever doing well at a show but at least I'd feel better about it if I knew that the show was really working for the artist. Ultimately, our participation is voluntary. No one twists yer arm and says you have to do any particular show at all but, wouldn't it level the playing field a little if the show had everyone's interests in mind in addition to their own? Just say'n.

Views: 688

Comment by S Brian Berkun on March 6, 2017 at 4:33pm

In a perfect world right? If the idea were successful they'd just start to raise the commission!

Comment by Barrie Lynn Bryant on March 6, 2017 at 6:09pm

Cherry Creek in July is $800 for the basic booth fee. So Cherry Arts is using the summer show reputation to charge for the September event, maybe? And neither show has monetary awards. NONE! Go to Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival in a week and you'll see 'em divvy $72,500 between 63 artists who've paid only $475 for the booth.

I don't completely agree with the argument that shows charging a commission will deliver customers better because they want to make more money themselves. Sometimes the quality of art suffers because artists want to sell more than the next artist. Artists will streamline so they deliver products that appeal. There's nothing wrong with selling. I have to to survive. But you can't say that the show is better because everyone is selling. You can't say that the art is better because it sells. And I don't always care if I make a monetary profit during a show. Money is not my sole purpose for doing art. And making money from everyone shouldn't be the sole purpose of a show.

Comment by Savina Francisco on March 6, 2017 at 7:33pm
Barrie, many of us who do art fairs support ourselves through them, so I'm curious what other motivation you think there should be for paying $150 & up for a booth, paying more money for hotels, travelling sometimes hours to get to a show and spending hours setting up and working the booth. The absolute main purpose is to make money at a show - unless you're a hobbyist.
Comment by Barrie Lynn Bryant on March 6, 2017 at 8:42pm

I have supported myself since 2003 with outdoor art fairs. What I mean by what I said upthread is that I consider the profit or loss at the end of the year rather than thinking that every show should turn a profit. I endeavor to make a profit at all shows, but sometimes I go to a show just to keep my work in front of collectors who I don't suspect will buy from me. I'm just keeping them notified and in my booth. There are other reasons for doing a show, like investigating an area, without thinking that selling at the show is the main reason for being there, too. The show is the ticket to that investigation.

Comment by John Leben on March 7, 2017 at 9:41am

Brian: I like your thinking! If the promoter or organization that runs the show has a stake in how well the artist does, I agree... its a win-win for both the artist and the promoter. But, how to sell this concept to the people who organize art fairs? 

Comment by Sandra J. Atkins-Moran on March 7, 2017 at 10:13am

Great comments here.  I've been doing this full time for 45 years (giving Nels a run for his money, here) and have had the gamut of experiences.  Yes, we make art because it is in our souls and hearts, but we stay with a good business model because we like to eat.  If expenses outweigh profits,the latter doesn't happen.  I applaud the fortunate artists who are sailing in solvency right now; so  many artists are not because of incredibly increasing expenses coupled with public apathy and reluctance to purchase.  It would help if there were some promoter responsibility for a commitment to providing a decent venue with proper advertising and attention to artists' needs as well  profits for the show organizers themselves.  Just sayin'.

Then all we have to do is get the public heads out of their cell phones and their.......

Comment by Len Jagoda on March 7, 2017 at 10:21am

I am a strong believer in the commissioned show concept. I also believe that those who think that the commissions will go up as the shows succeed are very wrong; business people know that raising a commission results in raising prices (unless the artists like lowering their net - duh!). Reality in business is you can easily price yourself out of the market and nobody wins. Skin in the game (risk sharing) puts both the promoter and the artist in synch with the same incentive, to make sales. The promoter must know what will appeal to the buyers (price, style, genre) to jury the artists. You might be Leonardo DaVinci but if the audience wants something else be glad you were not accepted. If your work doesn't sell you won't be accepted the next year and they will find someone else. The concept is just real good business and I wish I could find a show like this within a reasonable distance in which I "fit".  There is a 3 day wildlife art show that is indoors that applies this approach and has a phenomenal, long running track record. It is high quality, fine art. If your art is priced too low then you are taking up space for peanuts and if your price is too high, it won't sell. Those high booth fees only mean that there is little or no interest in the artists making sales - what do they have to worry about?

So John, perhaps this forum might be one way to sell the concept to promoters. I wonder what would happen if Connie had a list of artists who would participate in a model program that is outlined with the parameters and sent it to show promoters?  You would need to be prepared for the one obvious promoter concern - control. They would need to have a way to make sure that the artists don't have a way to "side step" the sales. A legitimate concern. Some unethical artists do this to galleries and promoters know that happens. This is more easily controlled when the show is indoors and they handle the sales.  

Barrie (BTW how've you been?  Haven't seen you in while.) Prize money is wonderful, when you win and a nice peripheral hedge to a show but this concept is conducive to bringing revenues for every participant. Sure there are no guarantees, but the promoter and the artists are rowing the boat in a cooperative effort driven by a common goal.     

Comment by Sandra J. Atkins-Moran on March 7, 2017 at 10:36am

Well said,Len.  I'd love to see shows eliminate prize money and out their efforts (and money)into advertising.  This benefits all the show participants and not just a few.

Comment by Peggy Crago on March 7, 2017 at 12:07pm

Promoters need to be more accountable for how they spend the fees they charge the artists.  Too many of them run shows that are consistent duds for the artists, but they rely on a long list of us who apparently are desperate and willing to put up with supporting the promoter but losing money ourselves.  We need a voice and some clout - besides voting with our feet.  Our vote must not be very effective because the promoter is able to keep filling their show.

Comment by S Brian Berkun on March 7, 2017 at 12:35pm

@Len, not so hard to incorporate accountability or "control" into the formula. OK City does it through receipt books that have 3 or 4 carbonless pages. The artist fills in the sales info and gives the copies to the patron who then takes it to the (not so far away) sales booth where tax, donations, etc. are added in. The patron then takes the receipts to the artist who releases the paid for piece. I know, a lot of foot work for the patron but if the show is small enough or well run enough it is not that great an inconvenience. By-the-by OK City does a great job of getting the artists paid in a timely manner as well. Also a concern and an area that could be abused by nefarious show promoters!

You made another good point about promoters knowing what will sell in a market! Sure there may be some exclusionism going on but hell, I'd rather be excluded from a show where my work wouldn't typically sell vs driving 2000 miles, paying an exorbitant booth fee, food, gas, lodging, etc. only to learn that for myself! That seems to be the case with lets say, un-named show where taste is in some way fed to the audience.

@Peggy, you vote by not applying for a show. Word seems to get around if a show is not doing it's job. Example: a show on the western slope of Colorado is no more, real artists stopped showing up.

@Sandra, I don't believe that advertising alone is the answer. Some shows do a great job of having patron parties, pre-pledged dollars that will be spent, etc. That's also a good use of "advertising" money.


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