Art Fair Insiders

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

Dear ArtFair Insiders Members,


I just joined a local group of Artists, Cass Area Artists (CAA), Cassopolis, MI area. The group has participated in a few local shows with joint booths, but July 4th the group is sponsoring their first event. I am very happy to be a part of the CAA group.


Thursday at our CAA meeting we discussed a firm rule that no buy/sell will be accepted. We discussed that sometimes it is hard to know buy/sale if they look like a legit artist. Several people in our group are well-aware of some of the established folks and some of the regularly accepted folks who are not really artists. I look forward to guidance about any current buy/sell names of which we should be aware. You are welcome to message me privately or email me to share names and avoid any potential liability. I know about the wooden watches, but forgot the name of the folks selling them and I know there are others. I'm wondering if any of you folks provide additional guidance to avoiding BUY/SELL vendors. 

Lois Anderson:


I am more than happy to take any suggestions to our group without providing your names.

Thank you for any comments or suggestions.

Lois Anderson (Rosary Doctor)

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Every buy/sell merchant hurts an event regardless of what they are selling. They hurt honest crafters by pulling a portion of attendees disposable income out of their pocket which could be spent at an honest exhibitors booth. They also take a space that potentially could be occupied by a honest artisan or artist and they reduce the potential total amount of money available to be spent at a show.

As a fine artist who sells only original paintings, every buy sell merchant scum bucket hurts my potential chances for sales. And as the number grows larger, the reputation of the event drops and if I have not recognized that the promoter has either thrown us under the bus in preference to a full slate of exhibitors or the public has figured it out before me, then I have likely wasted valuable capital to be at a show where buy/sell either pulls the money away or reduces the reputation of the show. Reducing a show's reputation certainly converts into collectors staying away. That results in lost sales to me since beginning collectors are hopefully my market with my under $100 originals.

So yes, a show I did in Annapolis this summer was loaded with vendors and buy/sell. It was the worst I have ever done at this event. I will not be going back without some sort of revelation that the show has reverted to a stricter jury based philosophy versus whether or not their check cashes.. The show previously had been juried a bit tighter and my sales were much better. But with each hand-made marshmallow gun, PVC pipe bow and arrow vendor, and PVC pipe balancing heron or egret on a stick, I lose chances to make sales. Yes they don't directly compete with me personally, but with enough junk at an event, my work has less value regardless of quality because the collector/attendee has seen a whole lot of junk before they have seen something worthy of owning. And just like a flea market which has a whole lot of storage locker buyers, the vendor who has been out looking for good merchandise to sell secondhand is overwhelmed by the storage locker buyers selling the clothes which otherwise would be thrown away after the hard goods are separated from them..

For me, real artists who sell prints of their work are similar to me as an artist selling nothing
but originals to buy/sell merchants to others. They offer reproductions of quality work at a bargain price...and by putting a pencil signature and a number on the print, they act as if it has more or equal worth compared to buying an original piece of art from an artist who does nothing but originals for not a whole lot more money than my originals sell for. I can try to compete by citing originality over copy, but that doesn't work so well..

Apologies to painters, photographers, jewelers, and fashion artists who make lots of copies of their original designs or have others do it for them....if you sell nothing but originals, any copy of a work has less value in your eyes compared to original one and dones..

Chris, heres a good one. How do you directly compete with a fellow artist who is selling mostly prints.... Thereby decreasing potentially what a patron might spend on original art? To a painter selling nothing but originals, It's a rare show these days which offers nothing but original art b/c that would exclude photographers who make prints, jewelers who make copies of their work, fashion vendors who have their work made by outside sweat shops

Chris, I have to disagree with you about b/s not hurting other sales.  A lot of people come to a show with a specific amount that they are able to spend.  If they buy from a b/s booth, they are not going to have as much money to buy from the real artists.   

I understand what you mean, but if you're selling fiber, and the alleged B/S merchant is selling painted rocks, just how much are you personally impacted?

Again we all must take a long look at why that booth is selling, and we're not! It's not solely because they're buy/sell, it's because we do the same shows year after year, and the customers see the same thing year after year, and here comes someone who snuck in that shouldn't be there, with something different! Something new!

Now I am fully aware there are some media that can't change or update, but what about the ones who can?

I have a friend who is a tinker. He makes candle sconces, wall sconces, punched tin lanterns, chandeliers, etc. He has 100 year old machinery that makes the fluted candle pans as well as other parts. He sees the stuff from China and will make the same thing, only with far better quality. He's always updating his work to keep up with the market trends.

So I always will never be afraid of the B/S. And maybe, just maybe, someday others will realize they're looking at the current trends when they see the B/S merchant.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not defending the B/S merchant. I'm defending the promoter who is only human and will make mistakes. Because I've been there, done that, never again.

Chris, I know you are a smart guy but I don't understand why you keep saying that b/s at a show is not impacting your sales if it is a different media.

I have $200 to spend at a show.  I buy a piece of pottery for $125.  I now have $75 left to spend.  I buy a painted rock for $25.  I now have $50 left.  I come to your booth and really, really like what you make but your least expensive piece is $75.  Because I bought the b/s rock, I cannot afford to buy your piece.  So, I walk away empty handed and you lost a sale to b/s.

What am I not understanding?

Right, Geri. In addition, the b/s does hurt other sales and really hurts the entire art fair business. We have enough trouble finding buyers who want to buy one of a kind work, fine art and fine craft, and when they finally show up, in their "good shoes", what do they find? Imported goods, sales reps, etc. Will these people return? Will they just give up on attending art fairs to find our carefully made goods?

When a good promoter runs an event, the chances of B/S being there are small at best. Yes, one may sneak in, but that's about it.

When we see plenty of B/S at a show, it's time for us to move on because that particular promoter has been reduced to selling real estate. Could it be because they always let it in? Probably not. It was because the real artists and craftsmen weren't doing well enough to return, and the promoter had spaces to fill. It happens all the time.

Shows come and shows go. There are the nationally known or regionally known events that have staying power, but let's face it, the others have maybe an eight to ten year lifespan at best. How much B/S gets into those nationally or regionally known shows?

Like I said before, I'm not defending the B/S merchants. They've been a thorn in our side, but they aren't destroying our industry! I know this for a fact!

What's hurting us today isn't the B/S merchant, but the Walmart mentality of the people.

We just need somebody we can point our finger at and blame.

Chris I have to agree with your assertion of the Walmart mentality.  I have been in the arts and crafts business about 3 years, a much shorter time than many of you here, and I have seen that mentality.  I often say that (potential) customers want American made, even high quality, but at Chinese prices.

I refuse to discount my products accommodate their mentality.  My goods are worth what I charge because I take time to think about what I am doing, plan a design and color scheme and do it all by hand ... just like the rest of you here.  You are not going to find what we do at BBS.

To add to what Connie said. B/s hurts the buyer perspective on art fairs. I think some buyers used to go to shows to find up and coming artists so that they could buy their work before it was worth 10,000 dollars. Others came and bought because they wanted to meet the artist who created the piece they are going to have in their home. The scary thing about b/s is the buyers are duped. They pay money for an object they are told is art. Only to find it later online or at a different venue with a different artist. The chances of them spending the big bucks at an art show in the future go to almost zero when that happens. I am finding more and more that wealthy people (in the west) seem to believe that art resides in galleries and what we do in these shows is not art. People are surprised to find out that I make everything in my booth. People ask me where I buy my boxes from or where I found my bronze animals. My bill-paying job puts me in with a very wealthy set of people and I have talked to a lot of them about art shows (mostly because I need to take the weekend off work in order to sell my art) and these are all things that they have said to me. One couple told me that they had found a beautiful painting at a show but they decided against it because they "would rather spend a couple thousand more and buy it from a real artist in a gallery." These are not stupid or even uninformed people I work with, this is just part of the perception that is out there and something that becomes more pervasive every single time b/s sneaks into a show. B/s may not take away from my sales one particular weekend. But it destroys the present and future credibility of every real artist at every single show.
No guts on screening and excluding potential b/s. Why not be willing to send exhibitors on their way with a partial refund if there is suspicion of b/s or just a really poor presentation. Change the langauge in the contract to reflect potential expulsion if there is evidence of buy/sell, or just of overall poor presentation and workmanship? Bad behavior at setup could also be a reason.

Regardless, something has to be done. Top shelf shows may not have issues with b/s compared to those below that level. Other shows are changing their contractual language to wording that potentially allows b/s into the event. Witness the Annapolis Arts, Crafts, Wine and Jazz Festival... Tons of buy sell this year. No effort to toss anyone. Open showing of foreign manufacturers labels.

Mark, promoters are in business to make money, pure and simple. Their sole job is to fill spaces at X dollars per space. And if the show you mention can fill those spaces without the hassle of jurying, they will.

Your job on the other hand, is to jury the promoters you want to do business with. You contact them and inquire about their policies concerning B/S and what will they do when it shows up. Work only with promoters who meet your standards, instead of the other way around.

Correct Chris

BTW Mark, I love you passion for this and being an advocate for artists but the Annapolis show is a perfect example for what Chris is saying.   I had some consideration for it the first year because of location which I thought would be cool.  The actual setup worried me and how they presented it in addition to a first year show caused me to wait.  Knew a few people close by who tried it and feedback was horrible.   All the feedback online is horrible and cited specifically B/S.   Very easy to identify and avoid that show if thats not what you are looking for.

Did it from year one to present. Only really got bad past two years. Had sales numbers which kept going up until then.


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