Does a show admission fee "winnow out" looky-loos, thereby increasing the percentage of buyers at a show? 

Do such shows actually have a higher spend per customer? 

And how do you know? 

This issue was brought up by Nancy Grimsley on my Coconut Point show review today, and we thought it was worthy of its own topic.  I've heard lots of debate pro and con  about whether artists like fees or not.  But the debate, while impassioned, has never been accompanied by data. 

So I thought I'd ask here:  Has there been done any actual RESEARCH (you know, with numbers and all ;-)  ) done on the relationship between a show charging an admission fee, and the percentage of buyers and per-customer spend at the show? 

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  • Amy, I once made a remark about the behavior of sponsors at a show and a certain show director made fun of the remark. So, I will repeat the point. Golf tournaments and tennis matches have sponsors. Art shows have some of the same sponsors. They don't hawk beer, play loud rap music on a stage, or shout inane sales pitches at golf tournaments and other like sporting events. They are required to exhibit some modicum of sophisticated behavior. Why shouldn't they be held to same standards at an art fair? Isn't that a reasonable request? It doesn't mean that they should be shushing people and saying "quiet please," all day. I think that was the gist of the remark that was made to my comment. I'd like to see some, any, show director come to this forum and explain why it is better for sponsors to carry on like idiots ruining the art fair atmosphere with their loud hawking, than acting with a certain degree of maturity.

    Btw, I had a dog take a dump right in front of my booth in 90 deg weather and the owner kept right on walking until I made the guy clean it up. And then, he only did a half hearted job, keeping everyone from coming in. Even if it was a justified criticism on my work, it never should have happened.

    • Thanks, Barry, for today's laugh.

      Here is a little I know about shows charging fees.

      We participated in CG before the fencing and before the tech bubble in 2000. Great sales, loved the show and who from Michigan doesn't want to be in Miami in February? After 2000, not great sales. The first year they put up the gates was after that bubble burst and our space was next to an entry area. We watched as the organizers figured out how to gate a show and it was much improved the following year. Still, there were plenty of people at the show. The reason they gated that show, as I understand it, was that CGAF was a non-profit and they were raising funds to restore something in the neighborhood, or to insure the continuation of the event, putting money in the bank. (sorry, my memory isn't pulling up the exact reason).

      For us, the changing times, 21st century, meant that no longer was this show profitable for us and we stopped doing it in 2005. Many of our friends from the North also no longer make the trek. I don't think it is the gate, I think it is the changing nature of the neighborhood, who attends and changing demographics.

      Another event I know well, Arts, Beats & Eats, had huge crowds and in the early years great sales. This was again before the tech meltdown. So many people you couldn't walk down the street and metro Detroit was flourishing, as were many other places. The attendance was touted as nearly a million people.

      In 2008 they added gates and a $2 admission. The crowds were still huge, but now there was a gate count and it turned out to only be about 250,000. The art fair closed at 9 pm, but the rest of the event went on until 11 pm and consequently there were a lot of partyers in the late hours and of course you couldn't kick them off city streets at 11. Besides charging to get in they also instituted a policy that no one under 18 admitted after 5 pm (which caused raucous behavior to dissipate) and security issues were eased. It was a good thing.

      The gate fee is split among charity partners, with half going to the event. This show's attendance was not hurt by the gate, but the stress of the great recession has affected severely the once affluent community where it takes place and subsequently the art buying.

    • I've always been sort of paranoid about a dog raising his leg on on of my saddles, but it's never happened. Folks must take the mutts out in the woods at shows out here. I see a lot of plastic bags on leashes but no poop anywhere. Back from the gym. Have to change and get to work instead of dinking around on my iPad.
  • From an artists perspective:

    1) I never thought the Grove show, or any show, could get too congested. I like it when the crowds are full. It leads to sales. Limiting the amount of buyers or viewers that could lead to sales is bad for business.

    2) Charging an entrance fee, which diverts money from art sales and gives it to promoters, is bad for business.

    3) Moving the food closer to the artists is bad for business.

    4) Selling and encouraging beer hawkers to sell beer, virtually on top of artists, is bad for business.

    5) Charging excessive fees for parking is bad for business.

    6) Having the plants and the commercial entities smack dab in the middle of the show in the most prime   location is bad for business.

    An art fair is basically an entity where small, mostly one person, businesses rent 100 to 200 square ft to sell things they have manufactured. It's no different than a high end mall except that it is temporary and has a theme, which is art. That is how the city, state, and federal governments see it. Lets take that high end mall in North Miami Beach. I don't remember the name of it. Could you imagine what would happen if a mall charged $20 to park and $12 just to enter the mall? No business would lease space in a mall with those conditions and no one would go to shop there. No business that already had a lease would tolerate it. There isn't a person alive who would think that was a good idea. And, yet, this is becoming commonplace at many shows. The real frustrating things is that artists won't speak up and say that they won't accept these really bad business decisions. It's bad for artists incomes, but, good for everyone else.

    The shows will tell you that without this revenue stream, booth fees would be a lot more money. Nonsense. Shows don't want to do the unpleasant task of knocking on doors and getting corporate sponsorship. It's a lot more work and it's easier to just charge customers an entrance fee, parking, and sell them beer, and t-shirts, etc. The truth is, advertising through sponsorship of a show is a very efficient and effective way to get your product out there. It would be an easy sell to get sponsors, if the shows were well prepared with statistics and reasons why sponsoring a show is good for business. The shows should take a look at how the telephone companies sell yellow pages advertising. All their sales reps are well prepared when they go to a business to get their advertising dollars. The shows could be just as prepared.

    • Barry,like your point that artists have rented that 100-200sq. Ft. Space as a business. It is how I have always thought about it. Never had a problem with dogs at shows (20 plus years) out west and they are enjoyment for me and other artists. Well mannered dogs and owners. I've noticed lately that some people are bringing cats to shows as well. Little double decker strollers with puss looking out the door. No problem with dogs. Guess people and animals are more laid back out here??????
    • I agree with most of what Barry says, but the sponsors just open another door to problems.  How many of us have complained about sponsor booths with people hawking loudly and drawing customers out of our booths?  

  • Coconut Grove originally gated itself because it got so crowded that you couldn't get near a booth if you wanted to buy art (not that you could see anything).  It was a victim of its own success.  I thought they didn't fence in the food vendors because the city wouldn't allow them.  The fee was so minimal that it didn't hold down the crowds but the fences made the area even more congested.  There were a lot of layout issues as well as access issues.  The following year, massive improvements were made leading to the current layout.  

    The issues with the Grove show now have more to do with the carnival atmosphere of too loud vendors playing too loud music, food vendors stationed too close to the art with the inherent smells of carnival food (with the exception of the cinnamon roasted nuts  ;^)  )  and a plant area that has nothing to do with anything but take up valuable space.  The number of booths has been increased also and while this has not affected the quality of the art (still some of the best anywhere) it does dilute the potential sales for the artists.   They have always had a no dog policy and except for some purse pooches, it is followed.  

    The admission to this show is bad enough but then there is parking.  The closer you park to the show, the higher it is.  If you plan on buying anything that may be difficult or heavy to carry, you want to park close.  I go to the festival 2 of the three days.  That means it costs me alone, $50 for those two days.  If my husband comes with, add another $20 so now we are up to $70.  And, let's not forget the food.  There is a wide selection because the area for food is gigantic.  Well, none of the vendors are kind enough to put prices up so you have no idea what you are spending until you have ordered it.  Basically, we spend $100 over 2 days and that is before we spend a penny on art.  I think that sucks!!

    I don't know that the money for admission, parking and food is a major deterrent to what I buy on the first day but it is on the second.  

  • This motivation for NAIA creating that survey specifically about Coconut Grove came directly from newspaper reports, in Miami, where the director gave the sales figures.  That year, most everyone was in shock over the fact that many, many artists, at least 10%, had $0 shows. Those sales figures were not from newbies but from veteran art fair artists that had done the show 10, 20, 30 times and were used to doing, at least, 10K.  I'm not talking about doing 10K once. I am talking about doing it every year. To go from counting on 5 figures to zero, was startling, to say the least. While I can't give any concrete figures, my conclusions were based on artists talking among themselves and my own personal experience. Ironically, one of my best years was the first year they fenced us in and charged $5.  The food vendors didn't want any part of that, so, they were outside the fenced area. It was great because it created an atmosphere of just art, within the gates. People could concentrate on the art and there were no distractions. The food vendors then complained because their perception was that they were on the outside and they sold less. In my opinion, they probably sold more food because they had more customers. You know that the grass is always greener... The next year they fenced in the whole thing.

    Don't get me wrong. Coconut Grove is still a great show. Greg Lawler ranked it #24 on his top 25 list. I don't want to say anything bad about a show where you have the possibility of doing $25K or more. And last years show had the absolute best quality artwork it has ever had, in my opinion. But, I believe I was rejected, this year, because I said some things that could have angered some in Miami. However, I was only lamenting the fact that the show at one time was clearly #1 on everyone's list, year after year, and wished it could be that way again. And during those years there was no entrance fee.

    • From my experience in doing shows that charge a small gate fee, I have had good success. I personally feel the energy is positive right off the get go. If you can't afford a tiny gate fee, you probably can't afford Art. I have also noticed that it cuts down on some of the rif~raf. Like the people that are there for a "free" day out with the kids to chew on some kettle corn. We are not the local fair, nor do I feel that we should ever be referred to as "carnies." (although there has been times when I wonder)? There needs to be a brighter perspective along with deeper dignity brought back to "the arts." If charging a tiny gate fee would only teach the average person that by paying this fee defines the meaning of attendinig a "Fine Art show", instead of a craft show, flea market or Fair, then by all means, please charge something. Unfortuneatly, I doubt these people would understand the difference still. However, from my experience, when people have to pay a tiny gate fee, they do not seem to mind. These are true Art Savvy people that are there on a mission. A mission to support us along with the true meaning of ART

  • Here's my take on it, dogs and all.

    There is no way to tell if sales are effected by a gate, but you can tell the exact attendance. The only way to tell what the sales are is to have a central sales booth, like OK City. Otherwise either artists or the show is going to lie about the sales. Coconut Grove is a good example. They publicized inflated sales which averaged far above what the artists actually made. NAIA did a survey and for over three years, the sales were far below the numbers that the Grove was stating.

    The best way for a show to handle gating or charging admission is to not gate the show but have optional $5 donation stations at each entrance. They might not make a million dollars but the public will be much happier and the artists will prosper.

    And dogs shouldn't be allowed at shows. There is a major liability in that if two dogs get into a fight or a dog bites somebody, the legal process could put the show out of business.

    Larry Berman

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