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

This is a huge show held on the streets of a grassy mall and also on busy city streets right in the middle of a trendy-millennial shopping/drinking area.
You have 300-plus booths plus another outdoor show (Powderhorn) going on.
Lots of competition for a slim number of buyers.
There are tons of people attending. They are well dressed,many are tattooed, some are pierced, too many have their faces in the screens of their smartphones.
This is a long running art show, but too many attendees treat it as an event.
Meet friends, drink beers and occasionally look at some of the work in the booths.
Employment is pretty full here. They have mostly traditional tastes for their art.
Example ( since I am a photographer). The landscape photographers with nature shots and lake shots outsold niche photographers like me.
I am a Floridian. I sell highly colorful images from the gulf, the keys and the Caribbean. I also sell hand-colored black and white images of cult figures--think Christopher Walken.
I do best when I get in a big show like Des Moines. Only a handful of competitors and I have a lock on my niche.
So, I know that going into Uptown.
I have done this show since the eighties. Always with my booth down on the end of the mall.
In old days this was a solid 6-8K show with a 350 booth fee. Everybody went home happy.
Flash forward past 2008. This show has gone south for most of us.
You do not see that many good shoes people as we used to see.
"Be-Backs". What is a be-back?
I only saw three the whole weekend.
Sales tended for the most, to be low end. I saw very few big pieces go by.
Understandably, really big sales are delivered to the client's home.
Just wanted to take a minute to tell you how I come by these conclusions.
Hopefully, it will be illuminating and you will profit by reading it.
I know lots of great artists, this includes the crafters who are also great creators, and can talk to them frankly. They will review certain truths to me which I am duty-bound not to reveal. Like actual sales figures. I am OK with that. I just want a sniff of where they are at.
Two. I watch and observe sales patterns during a show. I keep an eye on packages and their comments.
Three. I have done this for 42 years. I have done more than 1400 art shows. I have participated in every biggie except Cherry Creek, Sausalito and Bellville.
So I bring an unbiased view to things. I call them as I see them and usually I am spot on.
So I talked to about 40 artists and crafters this weekend . Overall, they made a living, not a great living. Their were some big sales. My neighbor, a painter, sat skunked nail Sunday and then sold a 5x8 foot piece for mega bucks. A Michigan landscape photographer did more than $7K. Clay people with quirky sculptural pieces did better than $5K.
So here is my final conclusion.
For too many of us, we are getting ripped off by a high art show fee which does not deliver the sales.
It is more an event then an art show. Only the strong will survive.
I want to end this blog on a high, happy note.
So here goes.
At the very end of the show this lithe, comely beautiful young woman comes into my booth.
She grabs my photo of Prince and nestles up close to me. Now nobody but my wife does things like that, especially in my booth. That is another story for another time.
She coos in my ear, trying to get me down on the price.
I am deeply conflicted.
I want her to keep on cooing but I also want the sale.
Finally she gets me down on the price. I give her a $50 photo for $30. It is the end of the show and that money will cover my bar bill later with Andy Shea.
Then she shoulders up ultra close to me. I can smell her perfume. I can experience some of her bountiful bodily assets.
She looks me in the eye.
Then she says, "I was proposed to by two different guys today . I turned both of them down."
Here I thought it was my magnetic energy coupled with my dynamic images (thank you Kyle Spears) .
I said, " I am going to give you a way to say yes and make your day."
She looked at me very shyly and said,"how?".
I said trust me.
I then went down on my knees, her name was Serena.
I said, "Serena, you will you NOT marry me.
She said ,"yes".
She gleefully kissed me on my cheeks and skipped out of my booth.
End of story.
End of post.

Views: 645

Comment by Robert Wallis on August 10, 2016 at 1:23am

Geez, you lucky dog! Last time I was there back in the early 90's,  a woman broke down in my booth and started crying. Asked her if she was okay and she told me how one of my photos with poetry made her realize a ten year relationship was done. I commiserated with her, which is legal in Minneapolis, but she didn't buy the print. End of the show I was crying myself as they had moved me from a prime spot under the overhang of the Uptown Theater to a side street with only myself on it and about 50 feet away from Hennepin. The show wouldn't let me move closer to the main drag and damn near nobody came in the booth. Got skunked and sold Nada. Yep, nary a nibble. Got home a couple weeks later the show staff calls and tells me my booth fee check was lost and could I send another? Sure thing, check's in the mail. They're probably still waiting for it and the first check never did surface. It was a good show if you were in a good spot and the work was quirky enough to appeal to the north woods folks. After the screw-over on the relocation, I wasn't going back and the non-replaced lost check sealed the deal.

I also recall the show as having the highest numbers of yokels walking in and saying to each other,"Hell, Bubba, you got a 35mm camera, you can somethin' like that." It pissed me off enough that I wrote an artist statement on a piece of parchment paper stock I had and posted. I'll be damned if someone came into the booth and liked it and asked if it was for sale. (This was the year before the move to Frostbite Falls). After ten microseconds, I said yes and sold a sheet of paper with my handwriting on it for $20. I scurried down to the Kinko's about three stores down the sidewalk, bought a felt tip calligraphy pen and redid the statement and had 20 copies made on marbleized resume stock. I sold 15 of those little suckers by the end of the show. 

Yep, it's a strange show and I had some interesting experiences there, including giving  a humorous GI Joe photo to the college kid manning the beer kiosk in the street out in front of me and him keeping me in free beer for the duration of the show :-) I did it for either three or four years, but my brain cells have reincarnated into someone else's body as I can't recall the exact number of times and the precise years. Sorry to hear the show was doggy for you :-(

Comment by Nels Johnson on August 10, 2016 at 7:48am
Did not say it wa a dog for me. Actually, I never mentioned how I did.
I did ok, nearly $5K.
Comment by Robert Wallis on August 10, 2016 at 9:03am
Okay, glad to hear you did alright :-) The show did well for me when I was next to the theater but the Mall was the place to be for better sales. Sounds like it hasn't changed after all this time.
Comment by Wallace Fuller on August 12, 2016 at 7:19pm

Nels, the next time we see each other ask me about my experience at Uptown the first time I did it for Lu. Had to be sometime in the 70's to long to tell on here.

Comment by Kathleen V. Smith on August 17, 2016 at 12:44am

This SO sounds like Minnesota. We are so glad we moved to Chicago!  The 3 things you will always hear HERE more than anywhere...1. I'll be back 2. Where will you be next? 3. I really don't NEED any more jewelry (or stained glass) or whatever my neighbors were selling-everyone got those 3 comments. I have heard only 1 be-back in Michigan, & they WERE BACK!  What always sells best there are fine crafts & Art (IF it's a good deal or they can get you down in $$$ however they can-LOL! All my fellow Artists who have moved from there say the same thing. One thing tho, at Uptown especially, if they know you are from OUT OF STATE-that impresses them to no end, but if you're JUST A LOCAL, they will ask for your card as they say they can get it from you anytime because you live here. I won't do it again because I would have to reduce all my prices too much EVEN if I am from out of state!

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