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

Sanibel-Captiva Lions Club Arts & Crafts Festival (March 26-27)

If you work the Art Show circuit in Florida, you no doubt know about Sanibel Island. Located across a 3-mile long, $6-toll causeway from Fort Myers, Sanibel owes much of its charm (not to mention its high cost of living) to its relentless commitment to preserving an island paradise without big-box retailers, development, and asphalt.

As a result, there are few big outdoor shows on the island, The Sanibel-Captiva Rotary Club holds one at the same location--the Sanibel Community Center in mid-island--in early February. But I was booked elsewhere, so I jumped at the chance to be in this well-established show sponsored by the San-Cap Lions Club As a bird/wildlife photographer, I thought that this location (only a block away from the road that takes visitors to the famed Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge) would be perfect for me.

Setup was on Thursday afternoon and evening, and according to my niece Audrey (who set up my tent for me while I was in Orlando giving talks at Photoshop World), things were hassle-free. Space is at a premium on the island, so the layout is a bit convoluted, but manages to take advantage of every available square foot of real estate.

In addition, some of the artists are set up indoors, in the community center building. Artists could request first, second, and third location choices when they applied...an interesting concept. It's possible that that's what contributed to a bit of a ragtag layout: Photographers were next to and across from photographers; jewelers the same (and, as several customers mentioned to me, there was LOTS of jewelry.) And it seemed to me that most of the traditional 2-D artists were clustered inside, or next to, the building.

Toss in a bit of buy/sell, a group of friendly volunteers from the Lions Club, add a few food vendors and a mobile brass band, and the net effect was a small, informal show with a community feel. Just what the Lions, no doubt, were after.

The bad news: Outdoor spaces feature sand, sand, sand...the fine grained "sugar sand" that, when wet, locks itself tenaciously into proto-cement and, with evil intention, wedges into your shoes, artwork, tent, and poles. And unfortunately, Friday morning dawned wet and soggy. By the opening of the show at 9 AM, I'd already pulled up my half-buried outdoor carpet and stashed it in the van. (I'd have simply put it behind the booth, but there wasn't any storage space to be had for rug or extra inventory.)

The sun finally broke through around 11 AM Friday, but it was already clear that the few show-goers who paid the $4 entry fee (all proceeds went to Lions charities) were largely retirees and vacationers who were there to browse, not to buy. However, artists with unique work, and those with a committed local following, still did quite well. An artist from New York who demonstrated how he made beautiful 3-D creations from wire mesh had a fairly steady crowd and many buyers. A local favorite who made colorful, whimsical metallic garden sculptures was busy, too. But I had only a few hundred dollars in the till at day's end. Only my second-place ribbon in the 2-D category (and 75% of the show fee for next year's event) and a couple of wonderful neighbors (fine art jeweler/metalsmith Christina Paluszek and glass designer Beth Collette) made it a happy drive home

We were all looking forward to Saturday, when the year-round and seasonal residents would descend en masse ...or so we thought. But it never really happened. The weather was so beach-perfect that the sun-starved snowbirds headed there instead to get their tans on before flying north. As the day grew longer and hotter, I mentioned to neighbor Christina that I'd need a "4:30 miracle" to save the show. Which I got, when a customer came by after I'd already packed up the price tags and bought a show wall's worth of canvases.

So...it all worked out the end...for me, at least. And I'll be back-- it's a local show, and I've got money in hand for next year, thanks to the ribbon. But I'll also be hoping to jury in to the Rotary show next February in the same space. It should be an interesting comparison.

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Comment by David and Barbara Downey on March 29, 2010 at 11:41am
Rotary in Feb - not Kiwanis..... LOL
We too were at the Sanibel show and had quite a good show. We had not done the show in about 6 years and were surprised by some customers that said they actually missed us. That is a compliment, especially when they also buy.
Comment by Geoff Coe on March 29, 2010 at 12:03pm
Thanks for the correction, David/Barbara...and for reading the post! :-)
Had the Feb. show sponsor right in the first paragraph; fixed in the last.
(One outta two ain't bad, right?) ;-)

I'm glad you had a good show! It does seem to cultivate a loyal following!
Comment by Connie Mettler on March 29, 2010 at 5:12pm
Nice report, Geoff. I too, after a visit today to your website, would have thought this would be a home run event for you...and a good place to make connections with the Ding Darling people. Sanibel seems tailor made for your subject matter.

Personally I loved the Egret Dance. Excellent photo.

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