Death of an Art Fair

So, I just got home from a weekend show in New Buffalo, MI called "Artigras." The show itself is only 4 years old and Amy Amdur ran it for the first 2 years. Last year (2014) she couldn't find enough artists willing to pay her booth fee, so she just bailed on the show, leaving the New Buffalo Business Association (NBBA) and the artists in the lurch. A veteran artist was finally able to pull a small show together on the main street in this beach town and saved the NBBA a great deal of embarrassment by collecting only $25 from each artist for a booth fee. By all comments I collected, the show wasn't terrible and there was great foot traffic all weekend and fairly good sales for the artists.

Unfortunately, the 2015 Artigras has a far darker story. The NBBA took over the show and moved it off Whitaker St. to a small park by the beach. The application process was easy enough and the booth fee was reasonable at $100. What we were not aware of, was that parking was very limited and the lucky few who got a spot in the beach lot paid $10 to park. There was also a $5/head fee to get into the art fair. This was a 'suggested donation' but the people at the front gate shamed people into paying and many chose not to come in.

At the back gate, there was a state owned parking lot for the boat launch, but you couldn't park there unless you had a boat trailer. The lot was huge and all but empty. I was told by the NBBA that they couldn't let people park there because the state wouldn't allow it.....that was a real shame. To make things worse, when people came to that gate on foot, the police told them they had to walk all the way around to the front gate and they "had to pay," which simply wasn't true. So, a family of 4 got suckered into paying $30 before they even looked at a single piece of art.


The artists had plenty of time to kibbitz because there was NO traffic. We tried talking to the guard at the back gate to let him know that he shouldn't be turning people away; that he was there to monitor the parking, not to keep our customers away. Right after that conversation, I had a visit from the NBBA person, who told me she had instructed the guard. When I continued my protest (on behalf of every other artist I spoke with,) I was met with, "yeah, but we're a non-profit...." I simply said that we all would have been happy to pay a little more for our booth fee in exchange for free admission and better traffic.... more arguing from her and not a drop of empathy. I finally got really angry and dismissed her with a 'talk to the hand' gesture.

Part of my anger was born of frustration...lack of traffic, terrible sales, rude people, disappointed artists and finally, the very organization that is supposed to be helping us achieve a good show, is the very entity that thwarted our efforts. And, to add insult to injury, we were ALL lied to...they touted their pre-show marketing (there was none,) they made no mention of the entry fee in their pre-show info, and finally, late Sunday, the organizer lied about the attendance and said they had 2,500 head count for the weekend. ALL of us agreed that it felt more like 500, if that.

Oh....but they gave us lunch vouchers. Pretty expensive $100 lunch, I'd say. I also told people who came into my booth that I would pay for their parking if they spent over $100 in my booth. I think that's the only reason I had 2 customers on Sunday.

ALL the artists I spoke to had an awful show. We ALL agreed that the show was in the wrong location without any parking. We ALL agreed that pressuring people to pay at the gate was hurting the attendance. We ALL believe the show should've stayed on Whitaker St. where foot traffic is non-stop. NONE of the artists I talked with are coming back next year.

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  • Obviously, your sister was not one of my customers, Nancy. I'm not sure why she felt "cornered." There are many people who don't like to talk to anyone when they're wandering around an art fair. Did you actually talk to people when you made your sales? Maybe the ones that left your booth without buying anything felt "cornered" when you talked to them. I'm usually very friendly and that alone makes some people uncomfortable. Too bad for them that they are that shy and resistant....but your sister's feelings have absolutely nothing to do with the discussion here. 

    I'm not sure how you could talk about the disagreement I had with the NBBA person, when the situation described wasn't even at my booth and, you didn't see it. You were busy across the park from me selling $1,000 of your silverware jewelry.  Oh, but wait....your sales were on Saturday.... this whole thing took place on Sunday.

    It's unfortunate that the NBBA person emailed all the artists using my name and citing me as "negative," with a link to my review here. Looking for support, I guess? She must have wanted to make sure that I was chastised by other artists who were at the show. I think the director of the NBBA must have taken my review very personally. Running a good show means being open to criticism and staying objective about what works for a show and what doesn't work.

    Please note: there were 54 artists there. You are the ONLY person that has spoken in the show's defense. And, you did it by making it personal too, didn't you??

    Talk about bad behavior....methinks you must be good friends with the director of the NBBA, Nancy. 

    • It is unbelievable & pretty sad that a person from the NBBA sent those e-mails. Well, if they are reading this, that was pretty pathetic, &  I will be one to say, I appreciate hearing both the good & bad at every show, however this e-mail idea was quite unprofessional. This was just PETTINESS.  Gayle, I have to hope that if the NBBA cares enough & I have to hope they do, that they will be able to handle some constructive criticism, (good & bad) & take some consulting. Sara is so nice, professional, & really knows how to direct a great show-she has proven that with Krasl alone, & I hope they can work something out, or give this to another Promoter. That way, they will not have any headaches & the show can start FRESH! Gayle, I respect your attentiveness looking at the whole picture of this show, & only wish the best for it having these wonderful tourists flowing thru wanting to purchase, as that's what tourists DO!! I hope someone can make this happen for the Artists!!!

  • I was also a vendor at the ARTIgras show in New Buffalo this year.  It was my first year to do this show.  My traffic was great on Saturday.  I did over $1,000.00 on Saturday.  The weather was not great, but the customers seemed happy to me.  My sister came as a customer and enjoyed the show also.  However, she was cornered by Gayle Weiss and did not feel comfortable at all.  And I find it very hard to imagine any artist conducting themselves in such a way in front of customers.  That gives us all a black eye.  There is a way to handle negative feelings about a show, to do it during the show is in very poor taste.  I had many vendor friends there too who did over a thousand dollars.  It may not have been the best show ever, but it was a good one for me.  Please do not speak for me about this show.  I am here to speak for myself and I thought it an okay show; I was happy to go home with some money in my pocket and new and happy customers asking where I would be in the future.  

    • I am happy for YOU Nancy that YOU made $1,000, & you went home with $$$ in your pocket.  As I said, I feel this show has potential with some help. Sorry your sister was "uncomfortable"-possible comments not made so subtle as that does happen at Art Fairs especially if they are not going well-yeah, subtle would be best, but having done shows for years, it happens.  I also, however, appreciate Gayle Weiss as it sounds like she was VERY AWARE of not just how much or little she made in her booth, but ALOT of things going on at this show that I or others would NOT have known about. There are many factors that make a good show & keeping it successful. Taking money home is nice, but there is a much bigger picture here as to what Gayle pointed out & I thank her too for that!  Good luck to you at the rest of your summer shows!

  • Hi Gayle,

    It is very interesting to hear the experiences that you and other artists had at the 2015 Artigras in New Buffalo, MI.  It is so unfortunate to hear of the losses of for you and others.

    As the former director of the Krasl Art Fair on the Bluff, in St. Joseph, MI, I am interested in consulting with municipalities to help impove and or grow their art fairs. I plan to contact NBBA to see if there is any interest on their part in working with me.

    Hope the rest of your summer is full of good sales and experiences.

    • Thanks, Sara!  I'm sure that you will get a very interesting response....I'd be interested in hearing about the outcome of your conversation. I think Kathleen had a great idea in providing a shuttle from other area parking. It would be a non stop customer flow if that were done.

      • Well, well, well...there IS a GOD!!!  Thanks to all you~Connie, Gayle, & Sara) as there is alot of potential here & it should be a very successful event! It is a beautiful tourist area & there are alot of Chicago tourists~tourists love to pick up something handmade from their travels. As far as the shuttle guy who does not believe it will work, has his head still stuck in the sand from the 70's.(LOL). Sara~Gayle& Connie~a WEALTH of information!  If I could get a Wyndam Hotel for $80.00 in Glenview (for my Old Orchard Skokie Show), full-service w/tons amenities & 2 full-hot buffet breakfasts each day & a suite that can be split with another couple making it only $40.00 night + tax, then this West side should be able to accommodate the Artists having the promoter blocking some rooms.  This will keep the Artists expenses down as I know Artists who will not go to this area just because the hotels are too.  Thanks Gayle for bringing this to our attention, & thanks to Sara for taking an interest in this with your wonderful consulting experience. I would think that the NBBA would be thrilled to work with you!

        • Kathleen, Thanks for your input. Connie made me aware of Gayles's post, Thank You Connie!! Will let you know if I hear from NBBA.

          All the best,

  • YES~A shuttle REALLY.  This isn't rocket science.  This is a tourist town~a quaint, lovely Michigan town that would be a very good venue if a GOOD promoter had it & used the shuttle system, so there would NOT be this parking problem!  IF a DIFFERENT promoter directed an Art Fair in this tourist town, & used a shuttle, I would apply in a heartbeat.  Hotels are a problem here, but, if the show is run well, then perhaps the profit would be worthwhile.  There are many more GOOD ARTISTS looking for good shows in this & the Chicago area, but not enough good shows to accommodate them & this is very sad!  Hey, Michigan promoters or Michigan Artists~ out there~here is an opportunity~put on your OWN FAIR!

    • Atta Girl, Kathleen!! You tell him. 

      Barry, I have been doing art fairs for 14 years. Kathleen is right, New Buffalo, MI is hopping with vacationers who come from all over the tri-state area. It's a beautiful Lake Michigan resort area.

      The ONLY reason this art fair was a flop was the logistics. I grossed ~$650, my usual gross for a weekend show is between $2000 and $2500. There were really good artists there; we all are experienced enough to know what the problem was and it wasn't being un-"discerning".

      You were sounding a little high and mighty there, Barry....

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