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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Thanks for your comment, Nels. You and one other person asked where I had been and what shows I had seen. In the last year I have been or participated in shows in Delray, Ft. Pierce, Juno Beach, Jupiter, Melbourne, Mount Dora, Lady Lake, Naples, Cedar Key, Wesley Chapel, Sarasota, Cocoa, Siesta Key, Winter Park, Stuart, Vero and West Palm. I have met wonderful people through out my travels and artists who are willing to talk about the shows they have been to. Howard Allen does a lot in Florida. I met him back in the early 80's. That was then and this is now.He has lost the Naples show because the powers that be questioned his concept of art. He is also not doing the substitute show in Pelican Bay. Times and shows and promoters have changed. I prefer the upscale communities but shy away from Boca and Lauderdale because the reputation of the people who attend the shows preceeds them and they possibly could be a personality conflict. I might do well but I avoid conflict in my business if I can. Even Under the Oaks had buy/sell last year with the pandora bracelet men. At least the little lady selling the clay flowers showed that she could create then by offering to teach her skill at the art museum. But even the #1 rated show in the state had its problems. Winter Park two weekends ago had a person selling jewelry and it was stamped with a name that was not that of the artist or his company. I looked at several of his pieces and only found one that was questionable but why bother to sell this item when his creativity was enough to get him into the show? I mentioned asking for my money back. That was in Cocoa. I went to see friends doing the Cocoa Arts and Crafts show last weekend and it looked no different than their juried show in May. I have been told how great Cedar Key is but having been I,m not so sure. Regardless of where I have been, I do try to constantly keep up with the trends, update by booth and photo, consult with professionals and be professional. I stand in my booth, am well dressed, greet everyone and offer to be of asistance if they would like help. I try to educate the people who enter my booth about my work, why I do it and why it is a good value in todays world. I make necklaces and matching earrings with alot of my work used in weddings, for charity events and for professional women who still dress for work. I am glad you are back in Florida and look forward to reading your blogs and finding out about the shows you do. Maybe we will meet along the way.
Great reply. I look forward to meeting you. Will be at Pensacola, disney,Naples, Englewood and Anna Marie Island til year's end. Waiting on Bonita and cape Coral. Am in Sebastian, Englewood, Ft. Myers and Artigras. Waiting on Grove, Key West and Naples. Aloha, Nels
Our paths will probably cross in Sebastian. As you can see I try to stay somewhat close to home and my year ends in early December. That month is devoted to getting women I know together in groups of 12 to provide Christmas gifts for the mothers and children at the shelter for abused women. We call it the Twelve Dames of Christmas. I organize about 100 women in this project so it is a full time job. I did not make Artigras but there is always next year. I did attend the open jury for the show and had my eyes really opened to what is out there but also how the process works. I am always trying to improve and know so much more now about slides and booth presentation that I think I will have a better chance next year. Will have new booth, slides and decorative clasps by the new year. See you in Sebastian. Sherry
Hi Sherry.... can you share with us a few of the highlights of what you learned at the open jury? It would be interesting hearing it from an artist's perspective. Perhaps begin a new discussion thread on it>
Linda, it was an amazing two hours. I went for the jewelry but also saw part of the sculpture. It was like sitting in a room watching the curators of 5 art museums choose what they would like to display and not indicating their choices to the other curators. It was all done on a computer in front of each jury member. What was before me was beautiful!!!! The photos popped off the screen. There was no conversation except the occasional pronunciation correction. The process began with a slide show of the 159 jewelry application photos- 4 in a row, left to right were 3 items and then the booth. Some did not have booth photos but no mention was made of this. After the slide show the same photos were show again with the 30 word discription read. Then the next set of photos. They juried all in 75 minutes. Those with excellent photography really stuck out. The photos were shown in the order they were received so the jury was probably freshest and most interested in the beginning of the group and possibly more saturated visually by the end of the group. I have always heard that one should apply early and I now see why. The best and most interesting photos had continuity , directionality and color coordination. They also showed items that were not all the same, ie a necklace, matching earings and a bracelet, not just three necklaces. The booth shot showed how the items were displayed but may not have been the set up used for the show. The best photos were clean and crisp, the colors just wowed you. The quality was so outstanding. I knew right away that i would not be invited but also learned what I would have to do if I wanted to have a better chance at this show next year. If anyone has the opportunity to attend an open jury I think it is worth the time and effort. You see your competition and learn through the experience.
Hmm Sherry, you have made some interesting comments here. I am not trying to add fuel to the fire but you have made a few comments that are a little incendiary.

What you might consider crap, some might consider fun and whimsical. I like to wear jewelry ALL the time but there are times when I don't want to wear the quality pieces because they may get damaged. I will then put on the fun junk, so I can still express myself and not have to care what happens. I usually find these pieces at festivals in suburbs with a varied income group. I applaud the promoter for having all price points.

The comment about the people at Ft. Lauderdale and Boca came across as anti-semitism. I usually don't react that way but then you mentioned a personality conflict. Perhaps that is why people are leaving your booth without buying. I have walked out of a booth if the artist's attitude was off-putting. (I don't hear complaints about Port Clinton and they attract the same demographic as Boca)

I think what everyone is seeing is a vicious cycle. The artists are hurt by the economy and people can't afford to buy as they used to. The promoters are being squeezed by city governments, raising the price of permits, advertising costs are up, print costs etc. The easiest thing for a promoter to do is allow other types of booths in the show. Lakefront Festival in Milwaukee had a lot of commercial vendor booths (insurance, windows etc) but they kept them completely out of the art area. Most other festivals do group them but they are in sight of the art. If this is going to be inevitable at future festivals then it behooves the artists and the patrons to seek out the promoters and ask they be in a separate area. I talk to promoters all the time at festivals, they are easy to find or email them.

These are trying times for all of us. Hopefully, the good times will return sooner rather than later.
Geri- Crap to me is anything in a juried art show that is buy/sell, has made in China on it, is labeled for resale ie anything that it not hand make by the artist who is sitting in the tent. I think there is a difference in people's tastes and pieces of different price points should be included but a juried fine art show displaying smiley faces made out of pompoms that come from a box marked made in China doesn't seem to belong. Pandora charms coming out of a box that says made in China does not belong. I might not wear funky jewelry but more power to you for doing so. I have seen many pieces I would not buy but appreciate the workmanship or the creativity that went into producing it. This is not what I am taliking about. The crap comes in the juried show when it is a spray can of paint, handed to an attendee, sprayed onto a turntable so that you, the customer can create your own art. I think that belongs in the flea market not in the juried arts and crafts show. My comment about the people who live south of me might be taken as anti-semetic but it is not my intent. I do not look at someone and determine their religion. I speak from shopping in the area and find some people very forceful and, in my mind, pushy. I would not go into a retail store and bargain for the goods but I have seen it happen numerous times south of where I live. If the item is flawed, that is another matter, and a discount would seem in order. I sadly also have seen some shoplifting. Once I reported it to the manager and he commented that it happens all the time with people that come from a certain retirement community. So I choose not to show in an area where I might not be comfortable. I have never, to my knowledge had someone leave my booth because I was rude or off-putting and I have been in retail, in one way or another, for almost 45 years. I do not know where Port Clinton is so could not comment on the people of Port Clinton. As to the Lakefront Festival, I believe the people you spoke about, insurance etc. are the sponcers and are in a separate area. They do that in Delray also. They have helped to defray some of the costs of the show and in return the can set up a display to let the art show attendees know about their product but they are not selling any goods. This is not the buy/sell I am referring to. I understand the costs are rising for all of us, artists and promoters alike. I just want the promoters to live up the their end of the bargain and the contract, which they have us sign but they do not have to sign, as I believe we should too. I don't think we should break down early, leave a show or do anything that would reflect badly on the show. But we need to communicate as was suggested to the promoter and explain our unhappyness and why. Being told the contract was flawed, after the fact, is not an excuse.

Lessons learned by a newbie.

Birds of a feather…find your own flock….   This is my fourth year attending Arts & Crafts Shows and Festivals.  My first year selection of shows was based on good advertising, word of mouth and shows that were within about 2 hours of home.  I was excited to be accepted to ANY shows my first year.  Wow – they let me IN!! 

The second year I realized some of the “art” shows carried a lot of buy/sell.  I was not making a whole lot of money and thought to myself “they pay $50. for that junk but won’t spend $30. on my beautifully double matted photography that they “just LOVED!” as they moved on. Hmmm.

The third year I realized I was the one out of place despite the “must be made by artist” clauses.  The public was there and they had plenty of things to buy the kids or decorate their homes.  They were having a lot of fun eating funnel cakes and watching parades but what I had was not what they wanted to spend their hard earned money on.  I am not there any more.  They probably don’t even know I am gone and I don’t miss them.  More power to both of us. 

This fourth year with growing confidence I am applying to smaller and more competitive fine art shows, put on by art associations.  I am winning awards and doing very well in sales.  Yeah.  I am finding my nitch.  My profits are way better.  Often times the entry fees are much smaller too. 

Present with quality if you want to be seen as quality…  I also attend some VERY large Arts and Crafts shows during the holiday season.  There is a wide variety of fine arts, beautiful crafts, flavored dipping oils, cinnamon almonds, chips dip and soup venders.  They have hundreds of artists and thousands of shoppers.  I did OK the first years.  As I look back at pictures of my booth I am surprised I did OK.  My photography has improved, but even more so my presentation has been significantly elevated.  We spent the money to get quality display materials.  I eliminated a lot of my “ok” pieces.  Anything that is not value added is eliminated.  I have less variety but everything I have is top quality and attractively displayed.  I work the crowd with my eyes and smiles.  When they pause at the entrance to my booth and admire my work I invite them to browse.   We engage in conversation and laughter.  I hand everyone who comes in my booth a business card with my contact information and thumbnails of some of my more popular work.  In the large shows the card also has my booth number so after they have “seen it all” they will be able to find me again among the hundreds of other booths.  Or they can, and sometimes do, contact me after the show and order their gifts to be shipped.

Speak softly and maybe you won’t have to carry a big stick…  I am not much of one to talk negative.  If I can’t say somethin’ nice I don’t say nothin ‘tall.  I just quietly take a different path.  However, I attended a very nicely run show last year.  There was a good mix of art and crafts.  Unfortunately there was a commercial vender directly across the walk from my booth in their 10x20 foot store in a can.  The merchants were so intrusive and obnoxious hawking their wares in the middle of the sidewalk that shoppers ducked their head and basically ran through the gauntlet to avoid the hassle.  My sales were not so great.  After the show letters were sent to both the promoters and the customer comments site of the vender.  We received very nice letters from both promoter and management.  We went back to this show.  The commercial vender was still there.  They were on a side street with similar venders and while the sales people were still in the middle of the sidewalk they conducted their selves in a much more professional manner. 

I am sure I have a lot more to learn and appreciate all the constructive comments and information provided on Art Fair Insiders.  Thanks everyone.

A very interesting read from a year ago!  Things really haven't changed that much.   As I was reading Sherry's first post I thought "ahhh, welcome to the show scene in Australia"...   

I have a show scheduled in a fortnight - small but with a lovely setting and what should be a well-to-do crowd.   I spoke with the organiser last night to check on what other jewellery would be there (as last year there was 60% jewellery which was far too much - all of it buy/sell, except for me, and obviously everyone suffered with this set up).   She has told me it has reduced and there will only be 2 other sellers who do  jewellery (both buy/sell - they do a lot of other things eg. hats, scarves, wraps but seem to always have a lot of jewellery as they say its easy to transport) but they are also both local so probably known to the crowd.  One of them called the organiser the other day and said she 'had just been to a trade fair and has TONS of stuff".  Great.  

So now I have to make the call - drive three hours each way for a 5 hour show.  My product is obviously different and OOAK and my presentation will be far different - but I obviously need something that will work like a sledgehammer to inform/educate the person walking by that its handmade etc, when they hardly know me.  (I do have "handcrafted" on my sign).

I probably should just say no, but shows have been thin on the ground around here this year and I feel I should give it one more try.   Decisions, decisions, oh how I hate them sometimes!

Thats a long drive plus set up and break down time for only 5 hours.  But it appears no competition for QUALITY jewelry which would be a plus.  I would love to hear how it goes if you participate.  Good luck!

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