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

I spent the past four weekends criscrossing Florida participating in two juried shows, checking out shows in the central part of the state, and looking at communities that will be having shows to which I might want to apply. I am wondering what happened to the arts and craft show? When I enter a show I sign a contract that states that the work displayed in my booth was made by my own two hands. In the shows recently I found mass produces salsa and spices, packaged dog biscuits (with a biscuit company logo on the bag), plants, soap (from companies I recognized), candles (I have seen on the internet), dips for chips, perfume, tee shirts (I have seen in catalogues), bracelets (that if turned over have the mauufacturers stamp on them) etc. (The bracelets I found in the show last weekend in Winter Park.) I did see some crafts but alot of what I saw was buy/sell that belongs in the flea market or plants and flowers and food that belong in the green market. I don't try to sell my goods where I do not belong. I doubt the green market promoter would allow it. Why do the arts and craft promoters allow these vendors to sell their goods where they don't belong? I guess it is to fill a booth and put money in their pockets. Maybe the green markets are doing so well they don't need to fill spaces. It is hard to compete in todays ecomomy with the person who is selling something to put on the table to feed the family, something to plant in the yard to enhance the beauty and value of your home and or something for the family pet. Where has the arts and crafts show gone? I am disappointed in what I am seeing and I hear the general public saying the same thing. They come to see and buy hand made items and are discouraged by what they see. I hear people saying they are not going to return to the show the next time because it is not what they expected it to be. The trend is down economicly for most shows. I'm sure the economy has a lot to do with that but I think also that the consumer is unhappy with the products provided. I would be unhappy too if I went to the green market and found only frozen food. The customer can not speak to the promoter to convey this message so instead they just aren't buying and aren't planning to return to the show. It used to be just buy/sell we were competing with. Now it seems to be the grocery store. How do you feel about this and can anyone offer solutions?

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I think the best thing to do is what you are doing... communicating what an art show is producing. But, I would let the organizers know that this is not the type of show you will be participating in. The way I look at it, there is a "niche" for everyone... but everyone has to find their own market. The craft shows that you are describing are great for the lower income market. Find those shows that cater to the market you are desiring and go for it! Don't let this discourage you. And it may even be that in the midst of such a show, you are the "shining light" to some people who are there!
Thank you for your thoughts. I did let a promoter know how I felt about his show last year by asking for my money back. I pointed out that the contract that I had to sign stating only hand made items would be sold by the creator was obviously not being observed by the linament salesman, the shrimp sauce dealer, the pitcher plant lady (who had commercial growers boxes of plants) or the two people who were selling the same identical rhinestone tee shirts. The woman chuckled and told me the contract was flawed. This was a juried show. I am doing everything I can to visit shows, talk to anyone who will talk to me, paying consultants, buying lectures and then acting on the ideas that have been suggested. But the warning about being black listed has been given to me several times. If that happens , you're pretty much out of business.
You just had to open a can of worms - lol! This is a topic, I feel is on every artists (and craft person's) mind yet could take forever to discuss, debate, and of course offer solutions. This topic is huge at conventions I have attended as well as seminars and smaller talks that involve those in the art/craft community. I think emotions on this topic falls into 2 categories of being a) dumbfounded wondering how this happened (the creeping in of re-sell) or just plain b) outraged, why hasn't anything been done. Of course the two thoughts do cross too.

On other forums I have commented on this top, if we are looking for someone to blame - it is both of us - the exhibitors as well as the promoters. Promoters for becoming lackadaisical in what they want to achieve at their event and meeting their goals. Are they asking themselves is it a show for the community offering something for EVERYONE in the community regardless of who sets up shop? What about those who call their show an art and craft show? They need to define what art and craft is and sticking to that as they advertise to craft artists and receive their applications - it's a REALLY hard job, and no one is perfect at doing that job as it is an ongoing learning experience just as it is for artists doing shows. I feel pretty much all promoters start out with a great idea and goals and all of the positive reasons of why they think a great art and craft show is good for all. However, reality hits when applications are slow to come in, other events are going on the same weekend (that weren't going on before) making it harder to fill spaces at shows and then mix that with bill deadlines, a weakened economy (where less people are able to do shows and less people are able to sponsor events too) and the promoter/show organizer quickly realizes they are in over their head. The dynamics of the event has to change if this occurs and sometimes it means there are less exhibitors or holes have to be filled for the sake of having a FULL show. When promoters find themselves in this position they feel damned if they do, damned if they don't no matter which way they go. Have a full show so patrons are happy and possibly willing to come back next year or have less spaces so SOME of the exhibitors are happy (with quality control), but see that a smaller show doesn't hold patron's attention thus creating poor sales....

Granted this doesn't happen at every show everywhere, but I am seeing it more and more each year. What is going on in society is now growing into art fairs and the like. We have inflation. Technology mixed with newer and different products has changed the market place since the 70's, 80's, and 90's. Consumers now find it is easier to buy things and throw them away than able to see the value of items that can be treasured for generations to come. People have no vision anymore (when it comes to visualizing how to display or use art in their home). It's too much work to walk a FULL show, yet if I can get a better deal from your neighbor (who sells sub-par work) they will opt for that. And through all this we have mini communities - techies, eco enthusiasts, more people who are obese and have health problems (just look at the pharm. commercials!), kids who feel success is determined by the amount of things you have (from iPhones to flat screen tv's) based on what they see in the media. All of these people have different and more specific needs - to see this look at the magazine section of your local store - 10 different mags on gardening, 20 on tech gadgets and computers, 25 on beauty magazines, and the list goes on all of which telling people how to live their life verses them figuring it out for themselves. Do you not see why this creeping into shows and how much harder it is to control? Art is getting less and less universal anymore as art needs to reach people who are work-aholics to stay at home moms or those on a fixed budget. For sometime we, as artists could rely on the baby-boomer generation as a safe target to market art to, now that the markets crashed, so has their retirement money and many are entering into the work place to find extra income - ever thought this wouldn't happen to you? I also see more and more retired people entering into the art world, without business skills but a big dream, creating an even more diverse pool of artists. Due all that is going on around us things have changed - not to mention the open door relations with China which, I believe, initiated some of this boom.

Now one of the ways for art to survive is to try and be inclusive and embrace other alternatives in showing how art and other things work well together to get the public back and interested in art again. This might mean having "green/farmer's markets" and art shows work together. The theory is people who go to farmer's markets could be open to handmade items if they are currently supporting homegrown items. It isn't a far leap that someone who buys fresh corn or farm fresh eggs to want to check out an alpacha farmer who sells yarn or makes clothing and buy that too. Maybe this could work - selling at art and craft fairs with all kinds of stuff being offered may educate the public about what art is all about, the value of it, and how it is created to create art enthusiasts and then buyers. Exposing people who might not live near art centers and galleries to art at art and craft shows is a magical thing that us as artists take for granted and rarely capitalize on. Many of us have been exposed to art at an early age through family traditions or at school, but now as art education is cut from budgets and less field trips to museums are available, there isn't much opportunity for younger generations to experience art, but are definitely tech savy. Hence why Gen X and Y'ers are have a hard time understanding the value of art and only a few make up the total population you see at art fairs.

This leads me to how artists are at fault too. How many artists - look at yourself and neighbors at shows too - and ask what are you doing to create buyers and art enthusiasts? I am betting many people here on this forum probably do cart-wheels to talk to customers and put your work in their hands to get them to feel and demonstrate how your work is handcrafted. But, there isn't enough people doing this. I see people at shows, 2D artists for example, sit in their booths or just stare into nothingness as people walk by maybe glancing at their work. Wouldn't it be neat to see these people having fun and pouring out their passion sketching or painting and talk about techniques in creating shadows or making vibrant colors stand out? After all didn't di Vinci use his fingers and brushes in creating his paintings? There are opportunities all around us to capture the eyes of passersby and turn them into buyers, we just can't take the easy route anymore and be lazy sales people. Think like your customers and be in the shoes of your customers. Take a hard look at what you might be doing wrong - it could be as simple as not having your work priced which turns off customers. So, as I see buy/sell at shows, guess what I notice - crowds! They draw crowds. I always just see those silly commercial scented wooden roses at shows but people buying them - because the people selling them are interacting with the customers and showing how the roses don't wilt and stay fresh smelling all the time. Well, duh, when you put it in that perspective why wouldn't someone buy them especially if it is cheaper than buying real roses? Then folks wonder why buy/sell is in shows - they are offering something no one else is and making people believe they need it.

Lastly, I don't understand why artists are not taking a stand - taking on a revolution as you will. Why not show re-sellers you are hear to stay verses giving up and going to the next show. It shows the re-sellers they won - not just them, but the promoters too. Who said it was going to be easy to be an artist and setting up shop at shows? You mean not only do we make our work we have to sell it too AND educate the public about art? Well, if you haven't answered the wake up call now, you are in the wrong field - you need to hire someone to do the "hard" work or find something else that meets the "easy" lifestyle you want. The only way re-sell can be pushed out is if artists make their presence known and not be bullied out of shows. IF artists continue to do this there won't be any art shows left because being on the constant look out for the "perfect" art show that only has true artists will not exisit when more pull out at the first sign of a re-seller present.

Yes, I agree it is a can of worms. And it should be opened. But it should be opened in such a way that all parties are part of the discussion. Yes the promoter needs to fill his spots but the artist isn't coming because he can't compete with the buy/sell people. The art customers aren't coming because the show is full of non-art. Those that are coming aren't educated about art but and are watching every penny and will buy that which is cheap before they will buy that which is quality. We all need to have our places- art with art, green market with green market and flea market with flea market. If the show contract says no buy/sell then it should mean no buy/sell. If the contract says hand made it should mean hand made, not bottled in Arizona and sold in Florida or grown in a greenhouse and sold to a lady for resale. I agree that the green market and the art show can coexist as it does in Ft. Pierce, Fl where the green market is in one area and the arts and crafts are across the street. There you have a choice- you don't have to walk past farmers booths to find art and you can decide to attend one market or the other or both if you should choose. Times are tough for all of us, promoter and artist alike but the quality of the buyer is related to the quality of what is for sale. The person looking for carrots to stretch her stew is not looking for a piece of jewelry for that special ossasion. I have paid the consultants and followed up on the recommendations but I can't fight the promoter who makes me sign the contract the says I will only sell my handmade goods and then he turns around and violates the contract by letting people into the show who obviously are selling non- hand made products. I won't fold up my tent and leave my booth because that would cause me to stoop to the level of the guy who has cheated to get in to the show, or the promoter who has turned a blind eye. I have a website, am in several galleries and in a couple of retail stores so I have a business but if I do not do the shows I miss the interaction with the customers. I try to educate everyone who enters my booth about what it is that I do, why I do it and give a story to my customer so that they have a connection to the piece and they know a little about me. I've done what I can do on my own. Now I think we are artists and crafters need to speak up with one voice saying enough is enough. We are professionals and wanted to be treated as such. We want to compete on a level playing field with other artisans, not with food for the table, plants for the yard or a treat for Fido. I ask the question about will there be plants or food or dog treats at the fair and always told no but maybe if we would all ask the question and state that that violates the contract the promoters would get the message that we are unhappy. We need them but they also need us and maybe a few show of only plants, veggies and dog treats would do the trick.
I recently applied to an art fair here in Toronto, Canada which was juried and on the application it said handmade goods only. When I got there I was really upset to see all sorts of buy/sell. I discussed it with a few other artists who were also annoyed and with the promoter who said "well they are all handmade." I guess they were, but in China, India and Mexico etc. I mentioned to him that the wording on the application was very misleading and that I wouldn't be returning as it wasn't an art all Even visitors were complaining and saying that they came because they thought they were going to find real art! I agree that after a while neither the art patrons come or the good artists and it just ends up being another junky street festival.
Yes, Susanne. I have seen countless juried arts and craft shows that are arts and crap shows. I only apply to juried shows that say handmade by the artist and the artist must be present but still find the dips, salsa, shrimp sauce (all from factories) and the not even hand made buy/sell rhinestone tee shirts. What can be done to get us back to the arts and craft shows separate from the flea market, separate from the green market? There has to be a soultion.
Thanks for your thoughts. I suggested exactly what you suggested, that there be a section for the sponcers, the food venders and for the buy/sell people and I further suggested that they be located not on the main drags where the show was located. This show was set up as a reverse h and the tall part of the h could have been the nonartisans. That way the crowds could have followed the lower part of the h and avoided that section all together. Instead the taller part of the h has vendors and they are often missed by the crowds because they have walked enough in the body of the show and choose to pass up tis section as it is another block up and block back to walk and they don't think there are many venders in the area. What was the promoter thinking when he set this up? Thanks again.
Yes, the art fair has become the street festival and we need to reclaim it. Handmade by the artist should mean just that. I understand the problem of asking someone to leave after the show starts but someone from the promoting company should be checking and following up. If the customers complain it might influence the promoter more than if we, the artists complain. Your promoter seems to be skirting the issue of handmade and filling spaces to cover costs. That is like being told that the contract was flawed. I still will ask for my fees back when this happens. I have yet to have promoter return my money but it does remind him immediately that artists who do not return can effect his bottom line.
William first - what do you mean by becoming a carnival huckster to attract buyers? I didn't say you have to go in front of your booth and hawk your wares. Bruce Baker (and I agree 100% with him) finds that a majority of show goers are there to be edu-tained. I am not saying teach them how to make your work and send them on their way - heck no! But demonstrations draw people and shows you - YOU! - make your work and it is hard, not something that comes off a factory line or fiddle with and become an expert overnight. This shows people you can't get "this" at Wal-Mart or your hubby will not be able to whip one up for you.

I am in my 30's. I own my own craft business since I was 27 most of my business comes from doing shows. This is all based upon my background of working in many aspects of Renaissance fairs for 10 years - starting at 14 - and working in the retail industry and becoming an assistant manager by the time I was 25 not to mention having a college education in Fine Art, paying my way through college all by myself. I intend to be in the business for at least 30 or more years - if shows are going the way they are now, I am worried. Not just that. I'm pissed! I'm pissed because I see more people complaining and not enough acting. There is a huge generation gap at shows - there's a few 30 somethings and quite a few who are nearing or at retirement age. And those entering into the business now hardly have any business or marketing experience, but have an idea.

I see new people who enter the show ring with their eyes suddenly opened (and blinded too) to what is going on at shows quickly learning at all what is described in the brochure. I see people learn they have a talent, well now off to the craft show and see if I can get rich. The biggest mistake I see are people who put the cart before the horse. I make this, now buy it all without ever seeing first if there is a market for what they sell! And as soon as they find the truth - well of course it isn't me, it is the promoters fault, the buy/sell, and other excuses. Now I don't think those on this forum fit into this category as I read many posts from well seasoned fair exhibitors, but I also don't intend to assume everyone is on the same page too. After all we are here to learn and share stories which others can grow and use to their benefit - am I right?

I work with art fair promoters, attend seminars and participate in round table discussions where trying to come up with solutions. The sad thing is so few promoters actually attend these events. Some don't have the time as I am sure some really don't care. But those who do attend seminars and conventions get a lot out of it and see their events grow.

The solution (going to the original post) - if you are unhappy with shows then go to them first, read reviews - taking them with a grain of salt - and talk to the promoters directly BEFORE YOU SIGN THE DOTTED LINE. If you are doing a show blind then you need to let your expectations be a little lowered and expect the unexpected. There are promoters and juries who are good at what they do - look at Morristown and the Philadelphia (Museum) Craft Show. However there are some sneaky, unethical, cheaters that will submit phony jury photos, lie on applications about their "handmade" stuff, and fool them all - some of these wouldn't dare apply to the above mentioned shows, but am sure they did see some of those applications.

So, you are thinking, well they fooled them, why let them stay set up at the show and not kick them out like they said in the application??? Well, it isn't that easy IF they are found guilty AFTER the show is open to the public because then there is a hazard where breaking down a booth while the public or other exhibitors are present. People can easily get injured and that trumps everything. And what happens if the person refuses to leave where security and the police have to get involved? Do you want to be the neighboring exhibitor to that - I wouldn't and have seen this happen, it isn't pretty. The only solution, if this does occur, is to make sure you (the promoter) and volunteers are able to diffuse the situation fast and be on hand to move the guilty party and their work personally to their vehicle even if it means hiking it. Or better yet catch it before the show opens and get them out before it opens. I can't speak for anyone, but for myself as I promoted 3 fine art events last year and ran into ever kind of situation you could ever imagine and then some. Until you, the artist, promotes an event yourself with the way you think it should be done, you have no idea how hard it is and am sure Connie Mettler, of this site, can vouch to that

Another solution is informing the promoters, hey there is a person who "I" suspect has buy/sell and you may want to check the stickers on the bottom of their work or xyz... However, you better be sure that when you make an accusation that a person has buy/sell that it is buy/sell because if it isn't - whooo hoo, you have problems! It is the promoters job to handle possible guilty parties, pointing out possible culprits helps.

I totally agree there isn't enough accountability in the art world - or for the real world for that matter. I sell at all kinds of shows juried art shows to street festivals where re-sell is present. I have a choice though - just like everyone else here does. You can worry about it and complain about it through out the whole show OR choose to focus on your business in your 10x10 booth (or whatever size booth you tend to have) and do what you set out to do and make it the best show you can by selling your heart out. Again, let the promoters take care of buy/sell (or not take care of it), but artists need to be the big person here and just focus on being an artist.

My point, we are in control of our own destiny. We have choices. We can choose which shows are best for us upon the research we do and what is good for one person isn't going to be great for others. You can't do a show with very low booth fees and expect to not find buy/sell. You can't do a juried show and (just because it says it is juried) mean you will make money hands over fist. You can even attend the best show in the USA, not find one ounce of buy/sell, have beautiful weather, but because of Murphy's Law, you didn't make all of your expenses - chalk it up to it just isn't your day. You can still have a great show if buy/sell is present, it is all in what you make of it. And if you have issues with selling next to buy/sell then you are doing the wrong shows and need to look at better resources such as Sunshine Artists or, yes I am going to say it again, go to the shows first and see for yourself.

I agree with Michelle that each artist must realize they are accountable for themselves. When choosing a show it needs to be a carefully researched process that asks the question: Will my artwork do well at this show? While I would love to be involved with events I know I should not apply to, I know I will do well within 15 miles of any of the Great Lakes. While I would love to do shows within a day's drive, I know Wisconsin patrons living inland rarely get excited about my focus on nautical. I know I do well in Michigan in general and make the trek around the U.P. several times a month.

I think much of the frustration is realized by "newbies" or those that recently began doing shows. It can appear far easier than it really is. I think this forum is fantastic in that there are 1600+ and growing artists to draw experiences from. Would have been nice to have their first hand experiences years ago. Interesting to me was the experience I had at the Novi show. Quite a few artists there were doing this show as their first. They were the grumblers and openly shared their frustrations. Several 'oldies' such as I, tried to educate them on what I feel is an obligation of every artist at the show. Keep the grumbling for after the show.... nothing is worse for the nearby artists nor the show in general than busybody artists going up & down the aisles complaining to the others. Buck up and take whatever positive you can from the show. Learn from it. Learn to apply to shows you've researched and have a good feeling that particular show will work for you. If unclear - ask other artists. If you see something that is unclear, communicate with the promoter. If there is something you are uncomfortable with during the show, discuss it with the promoter. If the promoter doesn't seem to care during the show, follow up with the promoter and even their advertisers after the show..... but communicate with them about the problems. Lastly..... as Laurie mentioned - if it was just a terribly run show..... communicate with the promoter that you will not be applying apply next year. If all the artists have problems with a particular show and choose not to return the following year.... that show will eventually go away. As far as buy/sell...... all I can say is I've attended events where the buy/sell guys got in somehow and I've pointed it out to the promoter. In most cases the promoter appreciated the communication and had that seller shut down and remove his booth at the end of the day. One of those events it was obvious the promoter did not care. I expressed my disappointment to the promoter, explained I would not return, but I stayed and made the best of the weekend. Other events openly accept buy/sell and I opt to apply anyway because I know that particular event and know I can outsell them anyway.

My point here is as Michelle stated. We, the artist, choose the event. Learn from the experience, enjoy the day, and if sales don't meet expectations, there is always the next show that will likely make up for the low sales. I have personally had a very tough year. My existence (food/mortgage/insurance/bills) depends on my art sales. But guys.... life is good. I will always greet each show with enthusiasm. I will always depart each show with new lessons learned and new friends made. As in life - you make it what it is.
One other thing I should have mentioned. While at the Novi show last weekend several (I should say many) of the artists were allowed extra booth space if they would demonstrate their work. Just as Michelle stated - this art show educated it's patrons about the artist and the hard work that went into creating a fine art item. It is my hopes that more promoters add this feature to their events.
That sounds fantastic. I agree we are educators and can teach a lot through demonstration. An educated customer is a better customer. I wish more shows encouraged this too. We have one show in Melbourne that requires it.


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