Call for Artists, Making Money at Juried Art Fairs, Craft Shows and Festivals
To quote Billy Joel: Sometimes, I've found that just surviving is a noble fight.
That sure was the case at Kipona, a three-day festival along the east shore of the Susquehanna River in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania's (bankrupt) capital city.
I'd chosen this show for the three-day weekend over potentially more lucrative shows on Long Island and New England because of a chance for a free stay in nearby Carlisle, my college hometown, and visits with friends. A relaxing respite in a long road trip, I thought.
But fate had other plans. On Wednesday evening, my 1997 Dodge Caravan spewed its last drops of oil all over a dirt road in the aptly-named Great Dismal Swamp somewhere along the Virginia-North Carolina border. An emergency case of Quaker State got me and my cameras back to an Enterprise car rental place near my hotel, where I rented and loaded an Econoline, drove it to the Harrisburg area on Friday morning, dropped the van at an Enterprise sales store, and paid cash for a 2011 Ford Transit XL.
Another weary load transfer later, I arrived at Friday setup and managed to get the tent and walls up before sunset. I can't say I've ever worked so hard just to get to a show.
Was it worth it? Barely. Although the show is sponsored by the Greater Harrisburg Arts Council, and there are plenty of fine artists and craftspersons plying their trade in central Pennsylvania, the crowd just didn't have deep pockets, and the $5-for-the-weekend admission probably pared it even further (though I'm not sure it thinned actual buyers, given the show's location along a popular recreation trail). The humid,overcast, showery weather Harrisburg is known for paid a prolonged visit, which didn't help. During most of Saturday, the crowd was surprisingly light, but my eagle photographs sold briskly in this hunting-and-wildlife-savvy area, giving me a modest $600 gross for the long (10 am to 7 pm) day. (Note to organizers: What's the point of staying open past 5? There weren't 200 visitors to the show after 5 pm).
A brisk spell right after the show opened on Sunday (at noon) saved the show for me, but the late-day visitors were browsers, not buyers, and I wound up doing only a few hundred dollars better. Monday, like Mondays at most 3-day shows I've done, was barely worth raising the tent flaps for: I sold only a few prints, tallying around $200.
I didn't walk the entire show, which runs nearly half a mile along the river bike path. But my count of 60 booths closest to me tallied 30% jewelers, 25% photographers, only a few painters and mixed-media artists, and a smattering of furniture makers and "country craft." The quality was decent but, according to those I spoke with, not on a par with the region's better-known shows in Longs Park and Mt. Gretna. And among the dozen or more artists and fine craftspersons I surveyed, only one, a hard-working, customer-focused potter, had a gangbusters show. Several jewelers with low price points said they did OK; a high-end jeweler I spoke with, not so well. The others reported mediocre sales at best.
There are some good aspects to the show: A friendly volunteer staff, very good security, ease of pulling in right behind your booth for load-in and breakdown, free parking on the nearby streets, and some decent food vendors at the show where you could use a $5 voucher provided by the show. And of course, a pretty tree-lined setting.
The show gets marked down for spotty booth-sitting service (promised, scheduled, but often not delivered); and booth spaces put in locations that were potentially muddy when the rains come, as they always do, or in spots that were unworkable because of tree branches extending six feet off the ground (see picture #2, below). I'm not a big fan of the irregular hours (Sat 10-7, Sun 12-7, Mon 10-5) either.
Bottom line: If you are a regional Pennsylvania artist with lower-to-middle price points, and especially if you do functional art and country craft, you could find a market here. If you are a 2-D artist, I'd skip it, and maybe consider the Longs Park festival in nearby Lancaster, which takes place on the same weekend.
As for me, if I didn't have so many friends in the area (and free lodging, always a nice break in the middle of a four-week road trip) this show wouldn't be on the schedule. Next year, I'll try Long's Park myself.
Above: Kind of a pretty location for a show, though muddy at times.
The fact that this pic was taken on mid-afternoon Saturday should give
you an idea of attendance.
Below: Booth #112, right next to mine. Might have had a bit of trouble
raising your roof on this location.