Art Fair Insiders

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I've heard great things about shows in the Midwest, and after a three-show tour in June, I can say that at least some of those statements are true.

I live on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, so the Midwest is a drive for me, but I thought that if I got into two or three good shows on consecutive weekends, I'd give it a try. 

I got into Summerfair in Cincinnati, the Omaha Summer Arts Festival in Nebraska, and the Columbus Arts Festival in Ohio. So off I went. 

I'm an oil painter, and I use a palette knife to make large, bright paintings with a heavy impasto. I have no prints. My prices range from $100 to $4000. 

Summerfair is held in an amusement park on an island in a river near Cincinnati. The rides were closed for the weekend. The park is lovely, with twisting paths and beautiful plantings. Some tents were set up on grass. I was in a paved courtyard near a building housing bathrooms, the artist refreshment area and a Saturday morning brunch event for supporters of the fair. 

While finding my booth spot was difficult (the layout of the park is complicated; even with a map, I had trouble finding my way around), set-up was a breeze. I drove right up to my booth, and was able to leave my van there during set-up, as there were no tents across from me, and plenty of room for everyone. 

There was no storage behind my tent, but I was able to leave my handcart with boxes and a couple extra paintings across from my tent. This was helpful. Parking was close and plentiful, and I ended up dollying most of my stuff out to my van at the end. 

Rain, and the forecast of rain, kept people away, according to artists who have been at this show before. My sales were OK. Not great, but not terrible. My spot was right at the beginning of the show, which might have had an impact on sales. And in a trend I've seen all year, people were buying - but not buying 2-D wall art. A guy who had beautiful floor lamps, made of graceful turned wood, sold a whole bunch of them, ranging in price from $700 to $1200. 

Omaha was a different story. The show is held on a single street near a small river downtown. Set-up was easy; I was able to park very close to my booth. There was ample room for storage behind the tent.

Heavy thunderstorms had been predicted, but the forecast improved as the weekend wore on. A small bluster blew in during set-up, and I heard that someone's tent had collapsed, but once that was over, set-up was fine. 

Volunteers came around during set-up and on the first morning of the show, with 68-lb. tubes of sand. All you had to do was say that you could use some extra weight, and they'd give you as many as you wanted. An inspection group came by on Friday morning to make sure tents were weighted properly. 

Again, I was at the start of the show, and again, the forecast was for rain and thunderstorms. Saturday morning, it rained for hours, but people came out anyways, in droves! 

I had a fabulous show, one of my best ever. I sold eight or nine paintings, including several large, expensive ones. Cowscapes are part of my collection, and all of them sold, as did two cowboy paintings from a series I made last year. People had more western tastes than I'd expected. 

A side note - I stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn for this show. It was far more expensive than my regular hotels, but it was two blocks from the show. I could and did dolly work back and forth. 

Columbus was the most difficult of all the shows. The show is very large, running down streets on both sides of a river in downtown Columbus, and on two bridges crossing the river. I heard several artists complain about being stuck on dead-end dog legs. My booth space was on one of the bridges. Set-up was OK; my time slot was the latest in the day, so I could park and take my time. 

Columbus expects you to have 500 lbs of weight. That's a lot. I had all my regular weights - four hanging tubes of concrete, four EZ-Up sandbags, and my new weights, 180 lbs of Ingots from Canopyweights.com. I also had four Home Depot buckets filled with bags of gravel, and two additional bags of gravel. And I was tied to the bridge railing. Honestly, all this weight made my tent look crappy, but in the end, I was very, very glad to have it. 

This show is long - 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., so lights are required. For me, this is ridiculously long. I do the shows alone, so 12-hour-shows are tough. Also, I don't believe that there are many people who buy large paintings at night. And finally, I tend to get up at 5 a.m. By 10:30 on a regular night, I'm asleep! 

Friday was hot and windy. Very windy. My paintings flapped and slapped against my mesh panels. My tent groaned and swayed in the wind. After a downpour in the afternoon, the wind slackened, but volunteers told us that one booth had lost its roof, and another had collapsed completely. 

Saturday was brutally hot, with thunderstorms predicted. It rained on and off all day. During one cloudburst, one neighbor got stuck in his tent with a fair-goer trying to convince him to be saved. I got stuck in my tent with only very nice people, thank heavens. 

The downpours grew stronger throughout the day. I had a large river in my booth, though I was near the apex of the bridge. I heard that people at the bottom of the bridge had giant pools of water in their tents. 

As night fell, thunderheads moved in, and it was clear that a big, big storm was coming. Around 8:30, five minutes before a huge storm hit, we on the bridge were told that the show was being called. It was too late to leave, so my neighbors and I unplugged, zipped up our tents, and sat inside while thunder and lightning crashed around us. I have a skylight in my Showoff tent, and I must say I regretted it during that storm. Each bolt of lightning was frighteningly visible through my skylight. But my tent held, high and dry! 

Saleswise, this show was going along at the same plodding pace as Summerfair, until Sunday, when a lovely woman bought my largest painting. So Columbus was scary, but successful for me. 

All three shows were brutally hot. Most of the days reached the 90-degree mark and stayed there. When I've done shows in the West, organizers have always come around with water for the artists. Omaha did this, though they had some problems with supply. There was water available in Columbus and Cincinnati, but you had to go and get it. Again, doing shows alone makes this difficult. 

Every show had artist refreshment areas. Cincinnati offered fruit, along with the regular stuff. You had to pay for it, but it was cheap. They weren't making money off of it. Breakfasts were offered everywhere; the awards breakfast in Omaha was worth getting up for. I can't eat gluten, though, so generally, the breakfasts were off-limits for me, and that's almost always the case. I wish organizers would get some gluten-free stuff! 

I also wish they would have recycle bins at the shows, and that they would leave the trash cans up until after the artists leave!  Omaha included a trash bag in their packet, but that's the only show I've ever seen do that. 

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Thanks for posting! I appreciated your opinions on the Ohio shows.

Judy

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