Art Fair Insiders

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

I was at the Krasl Art Show in St. Joseph Michigan this July on a hot day. Looking down from the bluffs I could see the children playing in this wonderful water park that is pictured above. Most of the time, little bubbly waterspouts would pop up in many spots around the surface, but about every 15 minutes the water would recede and the children would run to the center in anticipation of what would happen next. I could see them dancing and fidgeting with excitement. All of a sudden the water cannons on the outer perimeter would let loose their spray to the delight of the children. They were addicted to the gushers.


I too am addicted to gushers but of a different kind... art show gushers. As an artist there is nothing more invigorating then participating in a show where folks are excited about the art and buy it. Regrettably, unlike the predictable gushers in children's water park, art show gushers are more random these days.


Does the unpredictability of art shows these days have anything to do with show organization, patron participation, or weather? Some would say it's the economy. All these can be factors, but I don’t think these are the main factors. The main factor is that we are experiencing a glut in the number of artists (part-time and full-time) entering the field and competing for art shows. This wouldn't be all bad if the number of art shows remained constant, but the increase in artists has result is an unrealistic and unsustainable growth in art shows across the country. Any affluent geographic market that demonstrates potential will soon have an abundance of art show options, which in turn dilutes the market. No longer are art shows perceived as special events to a community. If you miss the show this weekend you can catch another in a few weeks. The art show model has changed ... it can no longer sustain the number of artists and art shows that have proliferated over the last 10 years ... there just isn't enough cheese to go around, making art shows all too unpredictable.


To the growing number of show organizers, the large pool of artists is a good thing… let’s create a new show to increase profitability, but to the artist, it becomes a very risky proposition. There are no guarantees that enough eligible buyers will attend a show on a given weekend. It's not that the show is poorly managed, it's that there is a glut in the number of shows being offered, each being filled by a glut of artists wanting to participate.  Every promoter is in the process of increasing the number of art shows they sponsor and many show organizers are looking to increase the number of artists they invite, why, because they can. In this forum alone 5,500 members have register. If I could search on number of years in the business, I'm certain that I would find that most artists on this board had entered the profession within the last 6 years (myself included).


The testimonies I have heard from artists this summer have been heartbreaking. Homes and retirement funds have been lost; successful artist of 30 years have seen their annual revenue dry to a trickle and the business model that served them all these years is no longer sustainable.  I spoke with an artist who added Florida shows to his schedule this year to try and make ends meet. He spent the month in Florida sleeping in his 5X8 trailer to cut cost. There are so many artists living on the edge of financial ruin. Many are scrambling for an alternative revenue stream. What happened? Who moved the cheese?


You have probably read the book:  Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson published more than a decade ago. Recently I decided to reread it. The book tells the parable of four characters who had to deal with change. You can easily find a copy at most libraries or used bookstores. Though simplistic, the book sheds light on the changes that many artists are facing in art show sales … the cheese in station C is gone. Many would like to believe that once the economy turns to positive that the art show model will again be solvent. Surely it will be better, but no one believes it will return to what it was like 10 years ago... too many artists, too many art shows and not enough cheese.  Time to find new cheese. What are your thoughts about this?

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Yes, that's fairly deep for a morning conversation.  On the other hand in Australia I'm about to go off to bed, so not so disturbing ;)


Perhaps art shows in the US have run their course  (they never really developed down here!). 


Due to all the factors you've mentioned, maybe the whole system needs an overhaul - the organisers have to get back to basics and be creative in drawing crowds in, the artists have to refine their work, try new things and generally up the ante in their sphere of art. 


Perhaps with a harder selling atmosphere those who are doing it thinking its easy money (rather than from a need to share their passion and creativity) will drop off and go to something else.


Perhaps its a cycle that has come to the end and needs renewing.  This could mean a lot of upheaval and disappointment for some, but in a new incarnation maybe it will be better.  Different but better.  


Are you ready for the storm of change?


And on that note - goodnight!

The thing about change is it does not go backward. The good news is that we are creative, innovative and tenacious. We can find new cheese. ;o) Nice to hear from someone across the pond. Cheers, LC
I really like how you set up the premise of this post Leo.  Very good imagery.  This is the same thing that has been on my mind all summer.  I will go get the book you mention and read it.  Thanks.
Glad you enjoyed it, thanks Darby.

Leo, I think you are right on the money.  Maybe that is why some of the smaller shows, where a community only has one show per year,  are just as good if not better than some of the large well known shows.  So with so many art shows and so many artists, how do we get more customers.  I've had this theory for years that, for the most part.  the very rich don't buy art at art shows.  They buy it at galleries and often send their decorator to purchase their art.  How do we get these people to buy at art fairs?

Pat, thanks for your post. I am working with a decorator now who I met in Ann Arbor, she has the wealthy client... very few collectors go to art shows these days. However, they can make your day when they are there. 


I too have been wonderfully surprised at many smaller community shows.

Some of the cheese has moved online.  There are so many places to sell your art and crafts on the web: Etsy, Artfire, Ruby Lane and on and on.  This surely is having an impact on how much is sold at art fairs.
Good post Sheila, you are correct there are new alternatives for selling and I think there are things that we haven't even thought about yet.

Too many shows, you hit the nail on the head! It seems that every time I turn around a new arts/craft market or show has started up.

I dont know how to stop that trend, show producers get their money if the artist sells or not.

As long as there are enough people willing to pay the booth fee there will be more shows.

You are right, If a customer misses one show there bound to be another just around the corner.



Sabine, thanks for your post. You are correct, you can't stop the trend. "Change happens, keep moving with Cheese" Spencer Johnson
I love that book and have given it to several people in transition to read.  I, too, have entered this market within the last six years.  In addition to everything that has already been said, we live in the "walmart" world where consumers expect things very inexpensive.  They want to make a decent wage but do not understand how that translates to art and handcrafted, made in America pieces.  Also in the craft market, you have many hobbyist who sell their pieces for not much more that it cost them to produce.  Look at many of the items on etsy that are way undervalued or just bad.  Young people like going to indie craft markets which can in no way be confused with fine art shows.  Items are handmade and generally inexpensive.  There are more and more of those popping up.  And as our middle class is shrinking and not spending money, many who have the disposable income to buy fine art do not attend Art shows.  They will buy at galleries and high end boutiques or have their personal shopper shop for them.  It is a quandary, hope this industry finds a way to reinvent itself.  It is hard right now to make a living even doing well run, well advertised, higher end art shows - forget those that are community events that are more about food, music, and kids events.  That's my 2 cents

Your comment about walmart world is oh so true America has become a nation that settles for substandard products and would rather buy the  same product 3 times then to buy quality once.


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