Art Fair Insiders

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

I know some folks are doing well and god bless them.  Frankly I'm tired of paying for so much up front only to have buy/sell next to me and having the organizers say,"well we won't have them back next year". Here's the news," I'm not coming back either." Not to mention the amount I'm putting out for jury fees.  I'm considering alternative venues.

My question to everyone is what was the best non-art show situation you have had?

I will share that a few years ago I got a call from a woman who was selling booth space in a hotel/convention arena. She got my name off Etsy and said she was in charge of the booths for a Jr College Administrators conference. She had about 150 booths and had about 30 left and thought she would offer them at the last minute at a discount to local artists and would spice the show up with art. So far the booths were mostly books and learning programs. But she offered me a booth for the day and a half conference for either 30 or 60 bucks. About 12 other local artists came too. It was the closest I ever came to selling out of product. I ran out of bags and packing material. I had only been doing shows for a year and didn't have a great set up but you would think these ladies had never seen jewelry before.

Is anyone doing better at farmers markets? School gym shows? I'm willing to beat the bushes because I don't want to give up seling art.

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We don't have art shows like you guys do - the closest I've managed to come is a show run by the local arts society but its always a mixture of art and crafts.

Some of my better selling venues for jewellery are:

*agricultural shows (note however, these started off small in sales but have built over the years).  The plus is that there is very little competition.  Cost of these is as little as $25 up to 15% of sales.

*fundraising events where a % of sales goes to a charity seem to encourage spending.  Cost is usually 10% of sales.

*open gardens (usually larger rural or semi rural private gardens where the public can come in and wander around.   The cover charge goes to charity.  The booth fee also goes to charity.  These tend to have a lovely ambience being held in spring in warm but not hot weather).  Cost is a donation - I usually give about $100 for a 2 day show.

* private school annual fairs - providing it isn't a school that has a big horse presence (a total money pit, apparently!) brings locals and parents with decent disposable incomes.   These can be more costly to do with a booth fee of around $100, sometimes plus a donation of an item as well.

*private trunk shows in people's homes.  Yes, you're the entertainment, but it creates a good buying atmosphere with everyone encouraging everyone else.   Cost is 10-20% of sales in goods to the host.

*your own "open house".  If you live in an easily accessible area people love to visit the artist at home and its a nice easy atmosphere.   I live quite a way out of town, so I organise to rent a space in either an empty shop, the dance studio, or a related shop eg. gift shop, for a couple of days in late November (for Xmas shopping).   Obviously it is "home" territory, so my longest standing clients are here, but it is one of my most lucrative shows each year.   Cost is nil to a donation or rental for the space.

Thanks so much! you have some great ideas!


I do a couple Decoy and Carvers shows where the target audience is wildlife enthusiasts.  Those work out good for me since my photography is wildlife and nature.  There are a few painters that also do well in those shows. 

I have seen a couple jewelers do well at square dance festivals.  It has to be a big dance with hundreds of dancers, but if you get in, there is usually only one jeweler.   You may want to gear some of your work to have a lot of what you can wear dancing.  I met a jeweler at a dance once that said he was doing an Art Show next to a dance and sold most of his work to dancers.  After that he stopped doing Art Shows! 

Check with your local convention and visitors bureaus to see what conventions are coming up, then see if you have a fit.  Our local artists also put up a display at the Virginia Beach Home and Garden Show.  Each artist puts in 2-3 pieces.  They usually sell quite well.  The display is in the lobby so you don't even have to pay to get in the show! 

Since my product is "for the dogs" (ha!) I sell more product at dog venues, such as annual fund raising events for dog rescue groups, Pet Expo's, etc. than I do at arts & craft shows.  People love to spend money on their hounds!

Unless noted all were under $2K events I did in my early years and sales were only + or - $500, but I always came out in the black with a profit. medium is leather
1. History Park or reinactment , low sales, but special order English or silver mounted western bridle, About $200 in those days
2. Local rodeo, large beer drinking crowd, no money for high end gear
3. Medical convention trunk show, couple belts, designer collaborator sold high end vest, no booth fee
4. Local CofC business expo. Low booth fee, indoors did about $2K at one with saddle sale
5. Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation convention in Reno, NV, would not have made money if we had not stayed and visited Jean's sister in Reno. Real clicky management of event, appointments after show to reserve space for next convention, have to do all their conventions if you want consideration,expensive.
6. PTA craft sale at kids school, sold a couple belts
7. Indoor holiday craft events, always made money but not enough to do them again
8. Colorado resort area summer shows are my bread an butter, minimum $1K per day or they get replaced
and mayby rotated in later.
It takes time and experimenting with different venues to find out where your market is at. Once you know that you can concentrate on those that provide the highest return while throwing in one or two expeiment shows to keep the research going. Right now I look for the right demographics for my art rather than prestige of doing a particular show.

Thanks everyone! I really appreciate the time you take to help.

Since you sell jewelry, you might look into the gun and knife shows.  Sales come from men who don't want their wives to be mad at them for spending money on their toys and women are looking for something that will interest them.  If you get a chance to take a walk around yourself, you can usually find some great tools there as well. 

True Cyreathia!  I sell at agricultural shows and the women need something pretty to look at/buy while hubby looks at machinery, livestock etc.

I'd like to second Annette's mention of private trunk shows.  For years I worked with a woman whose business it was to set up private art shows in people's homes.  She started with a few shows in the Atlanta area (where she was based) and then branched out into cities throughout the south.  The idea was this:  find a family that was well connected, enthusiastic about art, and had a great house.  Talk them into hosting a group of artists.  My representative would put together promotional materials that she and the host would distribute throughout their community (JSL, church, synagogue etc).  The show would go on for a few days with a opening or closing brunch or cocktail party or something.  Host would get a small commission (usually for a charity) or a piece of artwork.  Rep's overhead was 0 and this format brought some social pressure to the sales scenario where host's friends wanted to be supportive and be part of the experience.  My rep eventually did so well that she opened her own gallery and my sales with her immediately tanked.  A home show with the right cast of characters (right host, right rep) can equal or exceed the outcome of a solid festival any day.  That said, I don't currently have any 'home show' plans as finding that right cast of characters and talking them into this is no small task!  Have considered trying it before or after a festival through good repeat clients from festival area but haven't gotten around to it.

Just wanted to update this thread. And thank everyone who has contributed.

I did a bluegrass and burgoo festival this weekend. The weather was beyond bad. Thanks to the leftovers from the hurricaine that spun up the ohio valley. Usually there where 11,000 people over three days. One night there was 34 people braving the rain. The poor promoter lost their shirt. 3 bands a night, equipement rental and staff, I can't even imagine.

Weird thing was, though the spot cost me 150 for three days and I had about $1,000 in sales. I was thrilled. I even had a well-known gallery owner come by and buy 5 rings from me (wholesale... but that's fine) to start carying them in her case in the gallery (with my cards!) I am really thinking that this is the smartest thing I have done in a while.

I am staying closer to home. There was only one other person with any type of jewelry there... the 2 for 10 dollars kind of costume jewelry.

Oh, and instead of doing St. James Court this year, I have gotten in to do the Louisville Women's Club luncheon show. Another artist told me about it 2 years ago. She quit doing St. James because she said she made more at this show that doing St. James. It is held the day before and all the ladies who lunch shop the booths (tables really) in their huge antique house before and after the luncheon. So no tent, a short show and I will let you all know how it goes.

I am eyeing a gun and knife show and am talking to people to find someone who might host a party for me.  Keep the ideas coming! I know I'm not the only one reading these posts.

Oh, and I'm really doing research on the small craft shows connected to the high schools and churches. Some have been running for 25 or more consecutive years. Hey... I'm no snob. I'll set up in a gym if it's a good show!

Ahhh, ladies who lunch, my perfect client.  Good on you!!!

So how did the luncheon go? I did the Casa fundraiser the night before St. James this year. Nice people, nice venue but not near enough sales to quit st. James.


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