Art Fair Insiders

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 appreciate your opinion and insight, Linda. I think the frustration comes from doing as you say, checking the show, reading the contract and doing the homework. Then I arrive and nothing was as it was supposed to be. Great show last year with no buy sell or Green Market items. But full of this stuff this year. Promoters just filling spaces If it were just me feeling that things aren't the way they should be I would question myself and my expectations. But, lately, I've found no happy campers. I know my market and show in those cities that I think I will do well in. But the proliferation of non- art or craft materials is everywhere. I know people need to and want to make a buck, but everything has its place and today the lines are so totally blurred. At a recent art show here a lady tried to sell flowers in her booth. Clearly that was not in her application. It was not what she said she would be selling. She felt she could sell anything from her booth to make money. She was asked to leave but didn't. In the end the police were called. She was allowed to stay but not sell the flowers. Rules now seem to be made to be broken if they benifit the ones breaking the rules. But those people hurt those of us who are hard working. No one wants a scene and this incident made the local newspaper. The promoters have people running scared. They do not want to be black listed or continually placed on the wait list (and the show never opens). I feel that the artists need to take a stand as a group and band together to work to clean up the shows. Let's make the arts and crafts shows the high quality fairs they used to be where people came to buy hand made items and expected nothing less. We, as artists have more power than we realize. As you said, if you can't resolve the problems with the promoter, let them know that that you will not return. But I think that falls on deaf ears as the show is in the distant furure. They seem to pay more attention when I ask for my money back and explain why.
You hit the nail on the head with a couple of points you mentioned that I think deserves to be restated, Sherry. It is true everyone wants to make a buck, but there is a place for everything AND the need for promoters to be and act more responsibly.

The promoters who "don't care", don't care because of a few things the big one is do you please one or two people who complain that a show has too much buy/sell and now has to reconstruct a show just for them or keep pleasing the thousands that do attend the show and sell there (and have for years) because it works for them? These promoters aren't stupid because they know there are people who seek out their shows as they draw a crowd that is of interest to them - their target market audience. They don't loose sleep over those who aren't happy about a show just like us artists who don't loose sleep over every customer who doesn't buy from us. Side note: I truly do not believe promoters are in it for the money or if they do they would be driving around in a Porsche or Jaguar - maybe William can help us "rich" folks in purchasing one. (Sorry William, I couldn't resist. Laugh! Please, its a funny)...

The other valid point you bring up is regarding responsibility that promoters must uphold. The story of a women selling flowers and kicking them out is an example. If a promoter has rules, they better back them up or don't put in their rules and regs. This is highly irritating to those who do go through the jury process, pay the jury fee, get professionally done slides/photos and lo and behold non-handcrafted work sneaks in. I can't think of anything that would boil my blood more that just that alone. If a show is advertised as an art show then it should be that. When I see Art in the Park, I have a clear picture in my mind of what that is. When an event is advertised as a Fall Festival - I have a pretty good idea that all sorts of vendors will be there including non-profits for Greyhounds to Karate Studio demonstrations mixed in with art and craft type "vendors".

The only thing I am not clear about, Sherry, what are the names of the shows you are checking out? Give us a name of the event, and perhaps others here who may have sold there can validate your experience or offer some other insight. I am not familiar with places called "green markets", this could be renewable resource fairs or a glorified farmers markets - we just farmer's markets here in my neck of the woods of Maryland. We do have a lot of cross over events - Wine and Art, Farmer's markets with traditional artists (working with goat's milk soaps, bees wax, and animal fur), and Flower Art Shows (held in historic gardens or on a Main St.) combining a Rose society for example, with a nice art fair. These sound nice and those well run do a good job of it as it introduces all kinds of people to a lot of great items, but it is my opinion there aren't a whole lot of great art shows in my area, I can count a few that take place in Bethesda, Gaithersburg, Annapolis area, with a few here and there in Baltimore too. However I can't just do 5 weekend shows a year and not starve. I have to do the other shows too, but be a little more smarter on my choice of events. Good luck to you all in your journey for finding the right show for you.
William - Perhaps you want to join NAIA. It holds several annual conferences to discuss this very topic. Connie attended one just last month. I saw some of the results of the conference at the NOVI GLAF last weekend. It offers a chance for artists, organizers, and others to discuss the future of art shows and what issues need to be dealt with. Check them out as well as Connie's discussion on what she learned there.

Also.... don't forget to take it upon yourself to be a spokesperson for great events by speaking up to promoters when you find their show lacking in expectations. If you need examples, there are plenty in the archives that define the processes artists have gone through when dealing with promoters (my Edina is a great example). When artists speak up respectfully and by offering solutions, it is that one voice that speaks for the rest of us who are not at that show.

Always good reading your posts William. Keep learning as we all need to do to have a successful 2010!
Thanks for joining the discussion. I do not see a union for artists either but I think we all need to speak up. If you just accept all the buy/sell and the Green Market stuff at the shows it will continue. We need to band together as artists and express ourselves. I am amazed when I do a show that the people in attendence don't know that everything being sold is supposed to be hand made. People want to buy my displays. Education is a key here. I tell my customers about the rules of the show and why I can't sell certain items. Then often they will find the powers that be and ask why someone is selling something that is not hand made. Art shows should be for hand made items. Promoters say they are asked to include plants etc. If the comsumer was educated about the rules of the show and the rules were followed they would not be looking for the buy/sell or Green Market items when they come to the show. But you are right, we don't have much of a voice. I think our voice can come through educating the customer about what to expect and then for them to voice their opinion to the promoter. A customer who doesn't return because they were dissatisfied with the quality doesn't help anyone but I customer who voices their opinion to the promoter does.
William,

I agree with Michelle that not enough exhibitors (fine artists, fine crafters, traditional crafts, etc) are doing enough to help themselves. The exhibitors who just sit in the booth expecting the work to sell itself is a product of a bygone era. I hear many customers with comments like, "If he's not interested in selling it, I'm not interested in buying it." They expect to be ignored at WalMart, not at a show where they paid an admission fee.

I don't mean acting like a barker, but at least acknolowedge your customer with a "good morning" and a smile. And some basic friendly conversation.
I like bantering with the customers. I stole a line from a friend. Some women are in the middle of the aisle looking at my display. I say "Come on over, I don't bite! I used to, but sales have really increased since my wife told me to stop." Now I have 3 people in front of my booth. Somebody sees those people and come over. That means more people in front. That draws a bigger crowd. And I'm off and running, having the time of my life!

I have told this story before, but it is relevant here. I was at a show across from a photographer in northern Vermont a few years ago. His work was absolutely beautiful! But he wasn't selling anything. Why? Because he was hiding behind his booth. On Sunday morning I went across the aisle and asked him how he was doing. "Terrible!" So I merely suggested he get out from his hiding place, STAND UP and interact with the customers. "Talk about the image they're looking at. Talk about how it was minus 40 degrees and you were waiting for the light to be 'just right' and nearly froze in the process." He pointed to another image and said that's what happened! "So relay the story behind that image".

He outsold me on Sunday. He said that while it was difficult to talk with complete strangers, the more he did, the more exited he got about telling the stories.

Customers sense the passion at the shows. If you're exited about what you do, that goes a long way to make sales.

You mention unions. That was a subject brought up over 10 years ago on another site that is long gone. The LAST thing I would do is join a union! Just what will a union do? Break the legs of a "bad" promoter? Guarantee us sales? And how much do we pay in dues for this opportunity?

I am an independent businessman. As is the promoter. They provide us with a place to sell our work. Through the years I have found you never believe anything in a contract. All contracts are one sided in the promoter's favor. You agree to have handcrafted work, but nowhere in any contract does it say what the promoter agrees to in that area. And you are the only one signing the contract.

I tell paople who believe they were "taken" by the promoter to take them to small claims court to get a refund. Nobody has done it yet.

So what do we do? Simple. We find fellow exhibitors whom we trust to give us straight information about shows. Being a metalworker, I would never ask a jeweler about a show unless we are friends who have done shows together for a number of years. I would NEVER ask a complete stranger. Because I have no idea what they consider "good" and is that the same as what I consider 'good'?

Now I know this is difficult for many, but always research a show before signing up. Attend it first. And unless it's a major show with a fee of around $500 & up, you can expect to see B/S there! You should expect it. And if's not there, hooray for the good guys.

I see people saying they signed up for an art show and there are flea marketers there. We all have a duty to do research. This is our job, not just a hobby. And it is up to each one of us to do as much as we can to have a successful show. We research it like the professionals we are, (We should be researching 2010 shows NOW!) we do the shows like professionals, and we either like the show, or cross it off the list.

One last thing. No promoter can bring in "educated buyers". That's the same as saying "the crowd isn't good enough for me." Remember, you chose that show, nobody twisted your arm or threatened you if you didn't sign up.

This business is a two way street. It is up to us, the exhibitors to decide what shows we wish to do. The promoters provide us with a place to exhibit. Some promoters can dance under the belly of a snake. But so can some exhibitors. There are liars on both sides of this issue.

You do research. You ask questions. You attend as many shows as you can to see what they are like. You find fellow exhibtors you trust to give you good information.

Then you do the show in a professional manner. Dress neatly. Be attentive. Be VISIBLE. I'm always standing up. I rarely sit down during a show. We were doing a show in Flemington, NJ last weekend and two nor'easters came up the coast. One on Sat and one on Sun. But there were still customers. So I at least thanked them for "coming out in this weather". Many times that's all it took to break the ice. And I made sales based on that simple 'thank you".
I am one of those people that is new to the craft show circuit. I have learned a lot this year - especially which shows not to do. I have done mostly median priced shows ($150-250) and constantly come across buy/sell and flea market mentality. I create handcrafted jewelry but not the $5-20 variety. I know shows are full of jewelry but almost all of my sales are the under $20 - although I get many compliments on my more expensive creations, it doesn't pay the rent. I have also done some indie shows (www.indiecraftshows.com) in which the shows I have done are all handmade but not upscale. I have many shows to cross off my list and more to research and try. Maybe you do have to go to the $500 shows to get the best of both worlds, but then you have to sell alot in a bad economy.

I do usually demonstrate and talk to customers. In my last show, all that got her me was "Oh my bracelet just broke - could you just fix it for me since you have your tools?" A thank you and "I'll be back." No use in complaining to other exhibitors at the show as that just perpetrates negative energy. I just smile and try to make the best of that experience and cross that show off my list. Maybe the economy will perk up.
It's amazing how some people feel they can "judge" my work without having sold next to me. I am well aware that home fragrance products aren't for everyone, like those who have allergies. However, being that I do grow nearly all of my own raw materials and create every single blend of through my own aromatherapy blended oils. The potpourri, air fresheners, reed diffusers and even lavender products I offer are made by my own hands falling under the form of "traditional folk art". It's been around since Egyptian, Renaissance and Victorian times, and because of this I do have a place at art shows. When I do art shows I am very considerate of my fellow neighbors - everything is tightly packaged ready for purchase, not the scoop your own I have seen others do. Everything is neatly displayed with sample jars available (yet sealed when not in use) to make sure no one is offended. To date I haven't had one person gag or complain at any art fair - juried or non-juried - about my potpourri stinking like someone spilled perfume. I have had quite a few compliments from neighbors and even customers on how nice it is to be near someone that offers such a nice product that is light and soft smelling as they say it brings on a very tranquil and relaxed state of mind, promoting a nice shopping atmosphere. This is why samples of my work is at check out counters at boutiques that carry my work because it promotes a relaxed shopping atmosphere. That is what sets me apart from other "potpourri" people you have probably encountered at past shows or encountered in stores. In other words, don't be too quick to judge me and my work until you have actually seen me at show. :-)

I do agree with you, I feel it isn't right to "let's have an art fair" and tie it to a Beer garden Oktoberfest type event and expect it to appeal to the public. I think there is something to having less shows as long as the quality remains the focus. It would be great to consistently have great sales due to the public knowing what to expect every time they enter an art fair.
Hi Michelle
The lighter note:
It honestly sounds like you have quite an art! I myself was born with no sense of smell so it's all a little confusing to me. Do you send the juries scratch and sniff images? I've often asked people who can smell to describe a smell as a color or as some kind of visual, touch or hearing experience that I can relate to. They have a tough time doing this. Do you package your work according to any of the above?
Do you have an essence that I can put in my booth to loosen peoples wallets?
Keep on truckin!
There is a science to aromatherapy - oops I mean ART! hee hee hee. For example, for those wanting to sell their home it is best to pop in a chocolate chip cookies in the oven to make the home seem warm and inviting. Food items are a great way to attract people hot chocolate, coffee, cinnamon buns, and apple pie. Now for anything retail (like boutiques and of course art fair booths) it is better to go super neutral such as clean linen/fresh air scents, ocean/water fragrances and to attract women lavender or vanilla. The floral scents have become more of a deterrant, unless you are about to enter the Spring season where Spring flowers like lilac chases the winter blues away. For instance, my holiday line includes cinnamon blends, orange and cloves, egg nog, woodsy aromas and peppermint.

There are ways people can add scents to their display as subliminal advertising. For instance those who do nautical artwork a cd player playing ocean waves, at a low volume and a spritz of ocean fragrance once an hour makes you feel like you are IN the photographs, if that is your medium. The same can go for pottery that is used for baking, scent the table coverings with foodie scents and your senses quickly transport you to "grandma's kitchen" and her home cooking. Using the senses adds a whole other level to marketing any type of craft or art work, much like virtual reality in the gaming world. Even woodwork - pine, ever green, balsam fir is awesome plus encouraging folks to touch the raw material.

This might help in loosening peoples wallets, if you choose to experiment in the way of adding scents to make for a relaxing shopping experience for guests. - Michelle, www.bythebaybotanicals.com
I still didn't finish answering your question about using visual elements to enhance the experience. My potpourris do. The Deep Creek Woodland Pine is full of deep green pine needles, sage green cedar tips, several kinds of pine cones and balsam fir needles - very colorful and makes you want to smell it. The same for my ocean scent too - it is very blue - several hues of ocean blue as well as light white petals and a mixture of real seashells. I get people saying, wow it looks like the ocean and the scent just complements it perfectly. That reminds me, I need to add those testimonials to my website... later!
Warren,

As one who also relies on this business for 100% if our income, I can sympathize with you on a few points. But what is your definition of "crap"? is it B/S? Or a quality of work you deem inferior? I surely hope it's the former. You see, that's a hot button with me, exhibitors judging other exhibitors' work and deciding on their own whether or not they're good enough for that particular show. I have always felt that once the show starts, everyone is equal. No matter what they make.

I have known Michelle for a few years now and although I have never met her personally, I know her heart is in the right place. And why wouldn't she not be allowed in an art show? Because you deem it not art? That's a call for the promoter to make, not the other exhibitors.

You mention we should trust the promoters to promote the show as intended on the application. Promoters are trying to get you to apply. Some want that jury check, and will troll for exhibitors long after the show is full just to get those non refundable jury checks. There are indeed great promoters out there. And it's our job to seek them out. And I guarantee that even though they may be a fantastic promoter, someone will say bad things about them based on their personal experience. Because as we all know, some exhibitors will blame the promoter if it's windy!

And to be honest, your suggestion that we request a list of current exhibitors, most promoters will not supply it. But hey, you can give it a shot. But what do you mean when we see T-shirt vendors, vote to get them off before they even come to the shows. Because I know some artists who use the T-shirt as their canvas. Should they not be allowed in? Why not?

After doing this for as long as I have, I have learned to just pay attention to my own booth and not worry about anybody else. I do everything to research the shows I do, and who's next to me is immaterial. You see, I know the B/S merchants are not making any money, and I am. That's the bottom line as far as I'm concerned.

Chris in VT
Sherry, I have read this whole thread right up to William's last posting. It is all very informative and interesting. What I find odd, is why won't you mention the shows you were at by name? It would be very helpful, especially since I am here in Florida right now and would love to see insightful info. In case you never have, check out my blogs on any show. I give complete info, and always say the name of the show. Will await your response. Nels.

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