Art Fair Insiders

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

     We artists may be creative wonders but many of us suffer from a hopeless gambling addiction.

     We gamble, against all odds, getting juried into the Grand-Poobah Big Shows across this fine land. We keep sending those jury fees just as surely as someone at a Las Vegas table continues to bet on the next hand being the big one.

      But the odds either in Vegas or in Artland are against beating the house. Just think: Big Show A, where you might make enough dough to retire to a life of financial ease in a warm climate, has 40 available spaces and 4 million applicants. Okay, that's an exaggeration beyond belief, but you get the point. And the odds against you have become even steeper now that a lot of now out-of-work former suits see art shows as their way to beat the system, sort of like we already did.

      There are so many of us now that we're about as easily interchangeable as AA batteries.   

      Humongous Show A rejects you yet again. You angrily vow never again to waste your money applying to this Great Event which unbelieveably has failed to recognize your valued contribution to the art world. But hold everything: Another year passes and the sting of rejection has faded. From somewhere deep within your soul, renewed hope percolates!  And so you try just once more, still against all odds but much to the delight of Zapp and to the show. Perhaps this will be your year at last!

        In this sense, we artists behave like the most most eternal optimists on earth. Like, I know a fine career artist who has been rejected for something like 25 consecutive years by one Very Large Show. He just keeps trying, God love him. I tell you, if he ever gets in I'll help celebrate by sending him a bottle of the most expensive tequila (now the official drink of outdoor art shows) one can buy.

         You say: Hey Steve, don't take rejections personally. It's a diceroll. It's a crapshoot. It's someone else's instant judgment. True, and this is the deal we signed up for. But I talked to an artist the other day who lamented that even after 30 years in the business, the rejections still hurt.

         We all have felt the pain. We have become experts at failure management. 

         Can you think of any other occupation where so much depends on such chance? That's why backing up Really Big Shows by applying to other shows on the same weekend has become an art form in itself.  Sending to three or four concurrent summer events now seems the norm, just another cost of doing business.

          We soldier on. Because, somehow, some way, being able to to this stuff for a living still beats a regular job, you know? That's my rationalization for the addiction and I'm sticking to it.

          If you're new to the Outdoor Show Big Leagues and have been stunned by a string of rejections, trust me, you're not alone.

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I'm with you Steve.  Last year ArtiGras was not all that great for me.  I did about the same as I would have at a good local show and still paid gas and hotel /food bills for a three day show.  And yet as I see the weather report and think that it is going to be a nice weekend I am dying that I had to drop ArtiGras to move instead.  Because it could have been great...  


And after telling myself and my husband that I was going to take the summer off to regroup after the move I saw the top 10 list here on the forum.  I called up mapquest and determined how far it was to Lancaster and came this close to applying to Long's Park.  The only thing that stopped me was the requirement that any print bins I plan on using need to be in my booth shot and my booth shot does not have my print bin in it.  Still I have a free weekend next weekend, I could put up the tent and do a new booth shot just in time....   Nooooo.  I'm going to look into canvas, into renting a wall at an artist shop, into plexiglass and going bigger, into doing cards and small things for local gift shops.  I'm going to cook dinner for my husband, spend time with my grandkids, plant some flowers in my new yard.  Unless of course someone wants to come help me do a new booth shot this weekend.....  :-)

Any profession in the arts is a crapshoot.  I started out as an actress in New York and then in LA.  When someone asked me what I did for a living, I said "audition" because that is what I did the most.  Each audition you had great hopes.  There after you audition, if you don't get the role you just never hear from them - "Don't call us, we'll call you".  My son is now in the film business on the other side of the camera.  You do learn not to take things personally.  After 12 years in show biz, I taught theatre for the next 25 years - how great to know you had a job and a paycheck.  Now I'm back in the fray of "auditioning" in a different way.  I guess that is the story of my life.
Diane, if you ever feel like writing that up, I'll bet it would be an interesting read. An essay on the similarities and differences between the two professions, from your own perspective.
Pretty amazing, isn't it, some of the backgrounds that have brought people to the art fairs?

It is the Skinnerian thing "intermittent reinforcement" that keeps us gambling...


"Intermittent reinforcement - [reinforcement] is given only part of the times the animal gives the desired response. It is often used instead of continuous reinforcement once the desired response is conditioned by continuous reinforcement and the reinforcer wishes to cut down or eliminate the the number of reinforcements neccessary to encourage the intended response."


From Wikipedia:

Bravo, Holly!


To quote you "Be a Rock Star in Your Booth".

Holly, I feel sorry for you.  Life is more than your job.  How much time and effort do you spend making sure you get into the best shows and how much money per hour do you calculate into the total cost to do the show?  Is it really worth it?


After my final rejection from ZAPP, I've decided that I can do much better working at smaller, more personal, and profitable shows.  It didn't take me long to figure it out.  After 1 year of throwing money away in jury fees, I'm out.  I'm convinced that many of my photos weren't even looked at.  I studied the past participants from the last show I applied to.  There were 2 tie died T-shirt artists, college banner flags, wooden toys, typical stuff you see at any local craft show, yet, I was rejected.  I don't buy it.  I have had 100% acceptance in non ZAPP shows, 80% rejection from ZAPP shows.  Those odds are not for me.


As far as gambling goes, that's a no win situation.  I take my profits from my smaller shows, put them into my diversified stock portfolio, and make a very nice income.  It takes time educating  myself, time at home studying businesses, and time at home reading current events. This leaves plenty of time to ski, work in my garden, vacation with my family, have friends for dinner, and just enjoy what I have.  Now that, in my opinion is time well spent. 


I am very lucky and I am a rock star in my booth.  If jumping through all those hoops to get into a show is what makes you happy, then you are lucky as well.





Excellent advice! We're all ultimately responsible for how our careers turn out.

I agree.  And that is what I plan to do this summer, research and regroup.  Which is why I will sit out Long's Park this year and not do a booth shot next weekend. 


I took a class once for work.  It was called "Efficacy for Women".  It was life changing experience.  One of the exercises we did was with a pole, some rings, and a 17 foot line marked out in 1' increments.  You were given some rings and the first round there was no reward or anything and you stood whever you wanted along the line and tried to get the ring around the pole.  The vast majority of us, me included, stood close enough to know that we would make it.  Then we were charged for the rings and were given a reward if we made it from certain lengths.  You had to go out to at least 6 feet to make your money back but the reward for 17 feet was $20.  The rings were 10 cents apiece or something like that.  Very quickly we saw the personalities in the room emerge.  There were those who spent a little money for practice and gradually moved back a little each time.  And there were those who went straight to 17' and did a hail Mary throw over and over again, hoping for luck.


So now you understand why I say applying for Long's Park with my current booth shot or a hastily put together one would be shooting from 17'.  In every other area of my life I am the type to practice and move back a little.  But when it comes to applications I have a distinct tendency to want to shoot from 17'.  This has given me such experiences as a Saturday morning setup I wasn't expecting and finding I have five shows in a row.  It is not good.

@Connie: Aha! Here I was about to contact Cherry Creek for jury feedback, but I think you've just answered my question. "Intermittent Reinforcement." Hehe, no wonder I got in once.
LOL - I'm feeling like my puppy now!  Good artist.....good artist....want a treat??
I asked CC for feedback anyway. I was told that they don't have time to give individual comments, but based on my jury images and scores I almost got in. Just depends on what the particular jury's tastes are. How's that for reinforcing the intermittent reinforcement?


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