Art Fair Insiders

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

     Browse bins have not had much love recently.

     They were a central and controversial topic in that recent spirited discussion about booth jury slides and the art show police.

      Here's the thing about browse bins: If your art business depends on them, you defend them along with your mother and the flag. If you do not need them in your art business, you either don't care or you poo-poo them as a blight on art shows.

      Browse bins are more important to photographers like me than to anybody else. Photographs do not have the perceived value of paintings or glass or sculpture. Therefore, to make money, we photographers have to sell in much greater volume and at lower unit prices. I cannot sell a photograph for $3,000. A lot of painter friends can. 

      That's what outdoor are shows are about, right? Making money? Just wanted to make sure we're all on the same page.

      Some people think of us photographers as the bottom-feeders of the business, thank-you very much. Now, thanks to technology, we are multiplying like paramecium in a petri dish. All you have to do is press the shutter button halfway down, wait for the little green square to appear, and boom, you are a photographer! Sign up for Cherry Creek today!

     But without out beloved bins, many of us would be doomed to lives of mindless actual real jobs, attempting to work for The Man but probably getting fired because we cannot tolerate authority figures.

     Unfortunately our wondrous bins, lifelines to survival in this economy, seem to create a negative reaction among show jurors.  Financial lives may hang in a balance based on what these people decide from five seconds of images on a screen. To jurors, often tormented art academics anyway, too much tawdry bin in a booth slide suggests, dare we say the words.....sales.....commerce...Money with a capital M! Nasty ugly stuff.

      Thi is because jurors tend to have regular jobs and regular paychecks and therefore little respect or understanding of the need for browse bins. And so, as a strategy to get juried in, we do our best to hid our bins from them.  But remember, outdoor art today has become more about making a living than for showing off our exquisite creations and pleasing our mothers, yes? With me on this? So you do what you gotta do.

      As a result of some bizarre and unlikely confluence of cosmic conditions I once got juried into one of those Top Ten shows. They're called Top Ten because anybody who gets in usually can go there and sell a ton. And art shows are all about the money, right? Yes? Just checking.

      So anyway, this show had a rule that you could have only two browse bins. It neglected to indicate how large those bins could be. Ten feet wide? Two feet wide? Big difference.

      I go with two bins, reasonably sized, each with a divider. An obviously irritated art show lady soon appears in front of my tent, eyes reduced to narrow slits, demanding that one of the bins be removed. She concluded that I had four bins, instead of two, because of the dividers.

      She stood there, arms folded and tapping her toe, until I removed one of the bins, surely saving this show from imminent ruin.

      Oh the contrast between she and me: She, perhaps the wife of a millionaire car dealer in town, someone who probably never in her privileged life had to worry about a health insurance payment, standing there like an SS storm trooper, barking demands. Me, some poor schlub scratching around out on the street in a tent out trying to make a living at art shows. And never mind that this show was making a ton of jack selling posters and t-shirts.

      It was a bad day for browse bins. I wasn't the only one. But this incident leads to a genius solution:

      Yes, we attend these shows for the money, but most of the conflict in today's outdoor art experience is the result of money. We have been poisoned by the money! So listen: We must get past this irritation and back to our roots: Art for the sake of the art with no commercial considerations.

      I therefore have been authorized to issue Executive Proclamation #123A-867, as follows: Henceforth, any outdoor art show with Top Ten status shall exist strictly for the exhibition of art, no sales allowed.

      Belleville: As a result of no selling, the need for ugly browse bins is eliminated. All exhale.

      Cherry Creek: Exhibition only. Bins a thing of the past. Relax in the mountain air. Discuss Proust with your neighbor.

      LaQuinta: Pure art, no commerce. Bins to the dumpster.  Roll a fat boy if you wish; after all, this is California.

      Virginia Beach: You won't even have to number anything anymore! The dreaded Boardwalk art police will wiggle their toes in the sand with you.

      Surely this initiative will achieve a more perfect art world in which outdoor artists live in harmony and peace and love, no longer plagued by business rivalries and personal conflict.

       Browse bin angst will be a thing of the past. Nels will buy tequila for the house.







      Don't let this happen to you. To make sure it does not,

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That picture is the holy grail of browse binnery!
Steven, I read your comment and wanted to clarify your statement about Belleville. We do allow browse bins and also the sale of reproductions, always have since the beginning of our show. Our show is very aware of the importance of artists' sales. That is why as all volunteers, we raise the money from sponsors to pay for 35+  billboards, a massive advertising campaign that includes 5 radio stations and TV. We also provide free shuttle service from the Metro Link stations to bring in more interested buyers. Yes, sales are also utmost on our minds.

For those 2D artists who use browse bins, there should be a simple rule of occupancy:  which is more important - filling your booth with bins (as in the photo above) or filling your booth with potential buyers?  I have seen booths with even more bins than that above.  For example, when it rained, a poor shlub artist had to try and drag his overflow of bins into his booth, which was then filled with the stuff.  There was no room for people!  At the best of times, maybe only 2-4 people can get in the booth, no one can move around without bumping into others.  So, when people walk by, they see a booth stuffed to the max; they just keep on walking by, they don't want to wait or try to elbow there way into the congestion.

I think it's better when an artist has a few bins that are laid out in such a way that he/she can still get 6 or more people in the booth and even if it rains, those people can stay inside, look at stuff and maybe buy something.  

Steve, I will buy tequila for the house if my bin sales go over $10K at Artigras.
if you have tequila Nels, I hope you are next to my booth
I'm going to apply to Artigras just so I can drink Tequila with all of you!
Hello Patty Gregory: Listen, I know lots of artists who quickly would sell their souls to any available art devil as a way of getting into your fine show. However, I would not anticipate Belleville or any other of the Top Ten shows taking seriously my tongue-in-cheek, crazed suggestion that these events be sales-free and only for the exhibition of art.  Your show has shot up like a rocket in this business despite the obvious baggage of my having lived in Belleville for a time while an ugly whining child.  
I have Taquilla at almost every show! But where is the best place to get a browsing bin - I've upgraded my display with Flourish mesh panels ( I love them !! they were worth every penny) looking for some options.
Cheap browse bins:  2x4 unpainted lumber, natural brown burlap, chicken wire for stability and class.  OR you can go to Pro Panel and buy some handsome, collapsible bins in a variety of colors.  I'd go with door #2.
Thanks Micheal - We met at the Peoria Art Guild show this past summer.
I got mine at Jerry's Artarama.  Dick Blick also has them.  (Google jerrysartarama or dickblick and you'll get their websites.)
Tom, what is this exotic liquer you are talking about? Taquilla, never heard of it. Tequila, I drink all the time.


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