Call for Artists, Making Money at Juried Art Fairs, Craft Shows and Festivals
Sanibel Island is a beautiful place to visit: semi-secluded, free of big-box retailers, and filled with seasonal residents vacationers who (mostly) have deep pockets.
The good folks of the SanCap Lions have been putting on this event at the Sanibel Community Center for over two decades, and it's been a staple for artists, crafters and vendors (yes, vendors) who have built a repeat market for their work. But as one long-time artist said to me as we unzipped the flaps on Day 2, "The hell of this show is that when the weather's good, the attendance sucks and we're pretty much screwed." Which turned out to be pretty much true. The weather was a bit toasty for a show but Chamber-of-Commerce brilliant for the beach, with the result that although some exhibitors eked out decent sales, many were shaking their heads at the slim crowds (somewhere in the 2,000 range, we reckoned), hot temperatures, and dusty environs.
This was an unusual Friday-Saturday show, with setup on Thursday between 10 and 8 PM. You were asked to drive in, unload, park, and then return to set up. But by the time I arrived around 5 PM, many exhibitors had set up and left, so I could pull right in next to my space and park until I was done. Easy. You could also set up between 6 and 8 on Friday morning if you preferred.
The show's a bit unusual in that some indoor exhibitor spaces are available, too. Although it's a bit cramped, the air conditioning works blissfully well, and you're within a few feet of the, um, facilities. Though you'd probably want to bring your own lighting.
The show opened at 9 AM each day, which I unfortunately forgot about, so I was a bit unprepared when the gates opened and I had yet to put out my browse bins. But it didn't matter much: Friday's crowds were light, and after a bit of buying energy in the morning, the mercury rose, the overcast skies yielded to a bright sun, and crowds quickly disappeared. Saturday was more of the same, though without the early-morning burst of sales. Most exhibitors I spoke with said they did better on Day 1. Although my visitor and buying customer counts both dwindled on Day 2, I had several "be backs" and moved enough large pieces to eke out a decent sales total. Being local (and having had 3/4 of my booth fee comped thanks to last year's award) my expenses were minimal, and that made it an OK show for the bottom line.
One tip: Sanibel homeowners and vacationers tend to rent by the month, and this is an end-of-the-month show. So make sure to have shipping options available. It'll save you some sales!
The quality of work, and mix of exhibitors, was not first class. 2-D artists were mostly purveyors of "island art": fun, appealing to a vacation/island crowd, and certainly appropriate to the venue. There was a very high percentage of jewelers, and many were excellent: this is a great market for them. And there was lots of manufactured buy-sell: personalized ankle bracelets, sloganed t-shrts, and art-on-a-stick.
There were also awards: my neighbor Gloria McAndrews, of Tennessee, won Best of Show and a $350 check for her beautiful yarn wall hangings. Gloria has had pieces accepted by the Smithsonian Museum's Renwick Gallery, and she and her husband Jim are deserving, delightful people and know how to run a business. Other awardees received no checks, only varying discounts on 2012 booth fees, should they choose to apply.
The load-out was pretty much an every-artist-for themselves affair, as the Lions quickly scattered not long after the show closed. Which is too bad: The 4:30 PM close meant that artists were attempting a left-hand turn into the show site into the teeth of bumper-to-bumper traffic on the two-lane road. Yes, drivers on the island tend to slow down and give you a break, but there is an endless stream of bikers and pedestrians on the adjacent bike path who aren't paying any attention. It would have been nice had the Lions either manned the entrance or had the Sanibel police do so (as the San-Cap Rotary did at their show last month). I ended up playing traffic cop for 20 minutes after the aforementioned sloganed t-shirt artist cluelessly pulled her van next to her tent and blocked other artists who were trying to leave.
This is a great show to do if you've already been doing it and you've got a clientele. It's not a show I'd travel any distance to attend. Or if I were a fine artist. Or if I needed back-space for inventory. Or if I had work that I wasn't willing to spend a day cleaning of sand and dust. Bottom line, I'd rather have been in Naples. And God (and the jury--hmm, is there a difference?) willing, that's where I'll be instead next year.