Art Fair Insiders

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

As Nels would say, let's heave another grenade in the room and see what happens. These are meant as suggestions, thoughts, ideas. Would LOVE feedback from all of you as to adding or deleting from this, as sort of a workbook for promoters in setting up or running their shows, especially when not having previous experience as either artists or promoters. Have at it.

RE: Your event in general

Promote an art show. Don’t just hold an event.

RE: Prospectus/application

• Have a mission/objective statement. Clearly state the purpose of your event and some specifics about how you will achieve that goal. This is important information for artists to know in deciding what shows we wish to invest our time, energy, and money into.
• Don’t include any rules in your event you are unwilling to enforce. Every rule has to mean something in terms of what you envision your event being or becoming. Selectively enforcing rules is nonsensical: once you demonstrate to artists you are not going to enforce one rule, it is a certainty artists will begin ignoring whatever rules they personally do not like.
• Tell us if your show is grandfathered, or a percentage is reinvited. Tell us how many spaces, or what percentage of the spaces, we are actually applying for. While some promoters may be concerned this will lead to fewer applications, the opposite may be equally likely. Because once you get “in”, however many tries it takes, you will then be “in” until you want to leave. That is a compelling point.
• Have a meaningful booth refund policy. You are renting a space. You have a wait-list. If you can fill the space before the show, give artists a portion of their money back, commensurate with your costs to that point. Be aware that if you have a “no refund” policy, artists have no incentive to tell you they are not coming, aside from personal ethics. It is likely you will incur empty booth spots, not what you want patrons to see. However you structure a refund policy, tell us what it is and do your best to ensure it makes sense and is fair for all concerned. If too many people routinely cancel, take that message to heart and ask: “why are so many people not coming to my show?” See where that answer leads. I think it is a certainty if you have a good show, you will not incur many cancellations.
• Cash booth fee checks only upon or after the date you say jury notifications will be mailed out, meaning the jury has met, made its decisions, and you are contacting artists with the results. Not a day before.
• Don’t ask for booth fee payments 4 to 6 months in advance of the event. Shows a total lack of sensitivity about the current situation many artists are in with the economic conditions we face.

RE: The Jury Process

• Compose your jury with some “normal” people, not just what you perceive to be “art experts”, “art educators”, museum curators, museum directors, gallery owners and the like. Consider offering to some of your corporate sponsors or show patrons the opportunity to sit on the jury. They might enjoy the process and feel honored. The jury process has to have relevance to your patron/public base.
• Specify the same criteria for your jurors that the artist were told they would be juried on. Have jurors score on those criteria alone.
• Give artists their jury scores. This has been done by some shows in the past, and certainly can be done nowadays. One option is to add a link to your show website and post scores by an artist ID number in a spreadsheet format. Also include comments from the jurors.
• DO NOT let jurors interject their own likes and dislikes, personal quirks of what they want to see. It is your show: use your criteria.
• Monitor your jury process. Don’t turn it over to the jurors and say “you pick our show”. It is your show. You suffer consequences of jurors selecting artists disassociated from your patrons.
• Remove jurors that show obvious biases.
• Have an extra juror or two in the mix to compensate for removing a juror. So if you think you need 4, have 6.
• Have as many jurors as you possibly can. This will help balance strong biases in your jurors that you may not immediately detect. If need be, do like the Olympics: throw out the high & low scores and go with the rest.

RE: Enforcing your rules at the event

• Close down artists and remove them from your show if they knowingly violate your rules. Don’t say “we’ll take care of that NEXT year”, implying you will accept their jury fee but not jury them in. That creates a moral/ethical dilemma for you saying “we’ll take your money but you will not be juried”. Artists will respect your for enforcing your rules and for being ethical. You will send a message to the artist community that that every rule has meaning and violating your rules will have consequences.
• Check to see if the slides submitted in the jury process represent the body of work the artist is showing. DO NOT do this check first thing Saturday morning. Do it between say 1 and 4 pm ... peak busy time of the show. If an artist is going to cheat the rules, they cannot afford to do so during the peak time for sales, a time they can least afford to pay attention to being monitored.

RE: Advertising your event

• Try HARD to get corporate sponsorship. The stronger you make your event, the more corporate entities will see value in having their product and brand name in front of your patrons. That money will be most useful, as will their name and brand recognition, in promoting your event.
• DO NOT use the artwork of an artist rejected from your show to advertise your event, either to the public or artists. There are three acceptable options here: use only the work of accepted artists, invite the rejected artist whose work you wish to use, or pay a fair stock usage fee. It is insulting to the rejected artist that their work is good enough to promote your show but not be shown in your event. Not to mention any patron that comes looking for that artwork based on your advertising won’t find it at your show. One might also conclude that your jurors selected such esoteric work that even YOU have reservations about how the public will respond to your advertising!

RE: The layout of your show

• Give artists storage space with their booth, even 2’ to 3’ helps. Don’t cram artists into 10’ x 10’ spaces. All artists do not arrive at the same time for setup. Thus, any artist that overextends by even an inch or two means somewhere in a row of booths, an artist will not have sufficient space to set up. Avoid such problems by making booth spaces wider. Or create common storage areas for artists to use.
• DO NOT create ‘dead’ areas, defined as portions of your layout that are known to you or suspected by you to have reduced traffic flow. It unfairly penalizes artists from the start. If you are an attentive promoter, you will know when you create such areas, and if you monitor your event, it will only be a short time before you identify such locations. For artists, fewer patrons = fewer potential sales.
• If somehow you conclude you must create dead areas and populate them with artwork, notify the artists and allow them to decline the space and get a refund. Or offer them a greatly reduced booth fee (say 50% off) so they can balance being in the event with having fewer sales in a sales-challenged spot. If you don’t think this issue matters to artists, you will likely learn that it does. It is unfair to charge an artist full price for a booth space which, from the start, will see fewer patrons. Putting a food booth or musician in a ‘dead’ area otherwise populated with artist booths is not a viable solution. I’m fairly certain the food vendor or musician would agree.
• DO NOT increase the number of booth spots merely because you conclude “so many people want to be in my show!” It is likely that your event is desirable because when you first set it up you achieved a good balance of artists and patrons to where artists can achieve good sales. The more artists you add, without bringing in proportionately more buyers, dilutes sales. Don’t destroy something that is working well.
• Consider laying out your show to create as many corner booths as possible. Given our current economic conditions, double booths are less defensible economically, especially in filler shows. Corners help solve this. Extra money for you, more display space for us.

RE: A Preview Party or Patron Gala Event

• Give your artists electricity if you wish to have some kind of preview party or ‘gala event’ for your patrons and keep the show open until or past dark. Really, this sound absurdly simple, but the annals of art shows are replete with examples where promoters do not do this or worse, even THINK of doing it. The result is that many if not most artists will close up and leave when it becomes too dark for people to see and evaluate their artwork. That is fair.
• Spread the food and refreshments throughout the grounds to encourage your patrons to walk throughout the show. If you set up all the food and refreshments in one area, patrons will not be inclined to walk far from those resources and the vast majority of your artists will have no opportunity for sales.
• Consider having a system of corporate purchase money or patron purchase money so while at the event, they can spend “free money” on artwork. This can be in the form of a kick-back to the patrons/sponsors that will encourage sales that evening.

RE: Conducting your event

• Have a system of roving volunteers or a way for artists to call for assistance, like a flag system or phone number for booth sitters on the back of the name tags. Signing up for a booth break is of limited value to many artists, especially those working alone. What is more helpful is a booth sitter when we need to go to the restroom, get more inventory, or help a patron out with a piece of artwork, all unpredictable events.
• Consider having patron purchase awards rather than show awards. This allows money to be distributed more widely amongst the artists in the form of purchases. Award money only benefits a few; try to benefit “the many” artists as much as possible in your decisions.
• Monitor how your show is doing. If you are not using a commission model, watch people in the afternoon walking through or leaving the show, see if they are carrying artwork, what kinds, how much. Post volunteers at the exits to keep a tally. Be creative, but do it.
• Do not bug artists overly much about donations. Consider that if an artist does 30 shows a year and is asked at each show for a donation, that becomes a sizeable cost of donations for an artist. Since current tax laws only allow artists to deduct material costs, for some mediums that means only at most only a couple dollars (e.g. glass or ceramic artists), as their “cost” is in labor and skill.
• Monitor the weather. Some promoters take this so lightly that it is embarrassing. For most of us, our artwork is our livelihood. Sadly, too many artists do not have business insurance. The destruction of one’s booth and contents can be absolute. You owe us some modicum of respect and consideration on this. Have someone monitoring live weather sources when storms are predicted. If unsure how to do this, ask and we’ll teach you. Give us sufficient warning to prepare. In parks or cities, we often cannot see what is coming until it is upon us. We need your help to give us time to prepare, protect and preserve our selves and our artwork.
• DO have an emergency evacuation plan for severe weather. Some place we can go and be safe.
• DO consider a policy of having artists sign a form that says they are responsible for their tent and contents causing damage to their neighbors’ tents and artwork. The fear of many artists is not that an EZ-Up tent, or a cheap lawn tent bought from a source like Costco or Walmart will blow away and the artist lose everything, but that tent will blow into our tent and artwork. If artists want to cut corners on spending money when they start out, that is theier choice, within the constraints of what promoters are willing to allow in their event. However, it is also each artist’s responsibility to ensure their tent or artwork does not damage that of another artist, and assume liability when it does. Truthfully, a tent is the last thing that should be a corner-cutting purchase. So is some measure of business insurance. A good tent is an insurance policy against both damage and liability.
• Don’t ask artists to break down all their booth and artwork into a pile to get wet and ruined all at once if a storm is approaching or anticipated during breakdown. Allow us the option to break down everything inside but leave our booths up to protect our work until we can get in and load safely, however long that takes.
• Keep police around during breakdown. Some artists are idiots, that feel a need to drive in immediately after the show ends, block the aisles for other artists to get in, so they can start the process of breaking down with their vehicle right next to them. That kind of arrogance, self-serving behavior, stupidity, lack of respect for your rules and their fellow artists is wrong. If they truly need to be next to their tent to load, then come in later when it can be done without blocking other artists. We are all in this together, and all have a vested interest in the outcome. It is one thing for artists to try to resolve the issues themselves but we all know reason does not work with some people. Hence, the promoter and police. That is one of their roles and functions at the event.
• Don’t force artists to be off the streets within a short time span (e.g., 1-1.5 hrs) before the police get pushy or the street sweepers move in and kick up huge clouds of dust while artists are still breaking down. The logistics of breaking down a show take time. We drive hundreds or thousands of miles to come to your event at considerable cost. Be nice. Reciprocate.

RE: Miscellaneous Do’s and Don’ts

• If you visit a show and see an artist’s work you like and wish to see in your show, invite them outright. Don’t ask them if they have applied to your show and when they say “yes, but always am rejected”, you then you reply “Oh, send it addressed to me personally and I’ll ensure you get in”. After which they do …. and they get rejected. We have to be able to take a promoter at their word. Sadly, as obvious as this seems, it has happened over, and over, and over to artists of all media.
• Regarding the previous point: if you are impressed by the body of work you see and that leads you to invite them to your show, isn’t the take home message that the BODY OF WORK as an assessment tool is vastly superior to a jury process based on only a few slides? And that onsite jurying should be considered to invite the majority of artists, deemphasizing the limited assessment capability of a 3 or 4 jury slide system?
• If you wish to conduct an artist opinion survey on your event, try to ask and structure questions in a more meaningful way. For example, if your show were in Florida and you asked “were your sales good”? a local artist that sold $2000 in art might say “yes”! If an artist came from California, unlikely. If you want to know, as another example, how we view your event, ask if it is an “anchor” or a “filler” show. If you’re not familiar with the concepts, ask and we’ll fill you in.

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Replies to This Discussion

Wow, excellent ideas! I have one more to add....

Curious about what others think about this:
> Spread the food and refreshments throughout the grounds

The one I'd like to add is:
Don't place smelly food booths (popcorn, roasted nuts, etc) next to fiber artists. In fact, don't place those booths upwind of any artist if possible.
Another Point: Please stick to the notification timeframe and notify us quickly of our inclusion or rejection. Many of us have a backup list of shows we will apply to especially on popular weekends.
Ron:I hope you are writing this in a book. You have hit the nail on the head. This is a very comprehensive treatment. I hope to respond in more detail as time passes. There is so much here.
When I was hitting the shows tents were still fairly new. I have done many with no cover. I didn't have to worry about wet as I was a potter.
When we put on a show artists whose work attracted were reinvited. We did use a jury system however. But I like your "Body of Work" and "Donor" ideas also.
Every artist invited got ten notices of the show to send out. We had newspaper attention as well. We placed posters all over the community. In the later years we established a "Purchase Award" for one piece of work which was then donated to the church. Rules were strictly adhered to. Someone showed up late, they were asked to apply next year.
A note on display: Packing pottery and sculpture inside display units saves space. Even strong cardboard boxes covered with cloth or burlap make good displays. However watch weight. I saw one woman unpacking sculpture and setting it on a folding table. The table collapsed! The exhibit was not even open yet. She lost all those sales possibilities.
If you have a large vehicle to haul your work in look for unusual display units: tree slabs, flat stones, old boards from very old buildings. This is a very wide and interesting field which lends itself to imagination. Display is the show. Your work is being displayed. Display can make or break your show. Do not crowd work. Work needs breathing space, to be seen from all angles if possible.
To me, personally, there is nothing more boring than a long line of painting all at the same level. I think there is an art to hanging framed work.
More at another time.
Another thing that has cropped up when we put on shows is allowing too much time between entry and show. Items could have been sold in another show while waiting for this one.
Wow, a lot of work went into this. You have hit on every issue I can think of except parking for vendors. If you are going to have a show that is in a location that has limited parking around the immediate show area, at least make provisions for vendors for parking. I have done shows where you pull up to unload and have to immediately move your vehicle and find out that no provisions of any kind have been made for parking, or if there is parking for vendors, it is miles away. This is doubly frustrating when the only time for setting up is the 1st morning of the show & you spend an hour driving around trying to find some place to park. I am a jewelry artisan and do the majority of the shows alone; I am certainly not going to leave any of my product sitting on the "curb", while I try to find a place to park, so consequently, I am trying to lug 4 or 5 cases of jewelry back to my spot. Even with a hand truck, it can be a real chore. How about some type of shuttle service or assistance for vendors, even if it is only a person who watches your goods while you park your vehicle & hoof it back to your space to set up.
Debbie
Thank you Debbie, for the kind words and the great post. Yes, parking. Absolutely. I recently heard an artist describing a show on the west side of Florida where artist parking was about 1.5 miles from the site and they were not allowed to drive to their booth after hours to restock their booth. I hope this is a misspoken scenario because if not, it would rank in the Top Ten Worst Artist Parking stories I know of.

Like you, I do all shows myself and do not feel comfortable about leaving my artwork alone while as your write, struggle to find parking. Admittedly there is a line here between leaving parking for patrons as close to the show as possible, yet providing artists parking .... as close to the show as possible. And help to sit their booth on short notice when an artist has to return to their vehicle for stock plus a simple way to get there (e.g., shuttle van, shuttle golf carts, or encouraging local merchants to 'donate' spots in their behind-store parking for artists. Most of the time we will probably be willing to pay a reasonable fee to do so, though as part of the community supporting the event, free would be nice.

Keep thinking about other ideas please. This list is only a starting point. Much was not remembered when I wrote it. So as a group, let's make it a good text book reference for promoters.
Thank you Jeff. Truly appreciate your thoughts on the effort to date. I do hope promoters will read, think, and if they feel so inclined, reply. It is good we understand where they are coming from, but important they know how we feel about their efforts, good, bad, and ugly. Not to point fingers but to identify weaknesses and offer suggestions on ways to improve.

It is warming to read that you were ahead of the curve early on in reinviting artists that attracted attention with their work. And that you find the "Body of Work" argument compelling. I believe a lot of the issues artists have with digital jurying (aka: ZAPP and JAS) and their inability to get into shows they used to is rooted in the way juries work, specifically, do not work well for the shows and patrons. Part of that is the kinds of jurors being selected but the other part, relevant to our discussion here, is the ability or inability to fairly assess the body of work that we have created and will be exhibited at the event based on a few digital files, or slides, or any such system. Yes, there is a better way. I can't understand, have never heard, a well reasoned or supported compelling argument that anyone standing in a booth looking at the body of work and presentation cannot make a vastly superior assessment of the quality of work to 3, 4, or 5 slides or digital files. Being able to walk up and put one's nose 6" from the work if need be, touch the work (unless the artist yells out "Hey, can't touch that!"), talk with the artist about technique and materials, not worry about color biases interjected to the analysis by uncalibrated monitors ..... for the investment of time by onsite jurors I just cannot understand how it cannot produce a better jury system than currently used. Not to mention how reliable digital files are, how many are being manipulated in software to make the images look great on screen, even if they look nothing like those images in real life, or even exist in real life.

Happy also to read you apparently enforced your rules, Larry. Incredibly important. Too many artists, like the general populace, will cheat rules if they feel the results warrant it ... that "ends justify the means" concept, sort of. Never been a particularly good concept. And will smell blood in the water if they see rules not being enforced. If the rules make sense, are there for a good reason, they should be followed up with enforcement.

So keep adding more as you think over what I wrote, and remember your personal experiences. It is those personal experiences from which you have learned and gained insight that needs to be shared with promoters. So please, add posts whenever you remember items. At some time, I'll try incorporating them all into a more final-form document.
Hey Joan!

Yes, to the point. We also have lives to lead, business decisions to make about what shows we will attend, plans and reservations to put into motion. It is rare that a show stands alone in our decision process; most are part of a series or sequence of shows we try to put together to be as efficient as we can in our travels and expenses. Yes, at some level we want to do your show, which is why we applied and paid your jury fee. As promoters, understand this and be as respectful of this as possible. Inquiring minds want to know.

And .... please ....... SEND US OUR SCORES! They exist, let us use them to analyze what works and what doesn't with the kinds of jurors you are choosing. Encourage your jurors to make comments on what influenced their decisions. Can't take that long, can't be that much of problem to communicate that to us. Be creative.
Hi Don!

Thanks. Yes, Don, you've added a good one. Also, most people coming to a food booth have temporarily lost conscious connection with artwork, and those near food booths may find few serious lookers. Not to mention how much spilled food will adorn the entrance to their booth.

Same can also be cautioned about music. If you put musicians near artists, try to ensure their music is played at a level that does not overpower nearby artists. Also, leave room around musician's booths for people to stand and listen without blocking the entrance to adjacent artist booths. No one wishes to have their booth and artwork visually impaired by people standing and listening to music, however beautiful it may sound.

Last, regarding music, don't put musicians within hearing distance of any other musical acts you may have with the show. I have seen this happen, and my heart goes out each time to the musicians intermixed with the artists, when the music of the stage acts overpowers their music, or sounds disharmonious with theirs. Surely the placement of these performing artists can be better thought out! I don't think artists in these areas appreciate the mix of often unrelated types of music.
Is it time to demand that the shows return scores and maybe even comments? What are we spending $35 or $50 for? This is baloney. It looks like pouring money down a rathole. Since we now have online show apps, the organizer is getting hundreds of apps. Do they even look at them?

For years, you could call the organizer and find out where you stood. Now it's all corporate and we are nameless peons. I especially find the Westchester, Washington and Smithsonian Craft shows to be prime offenders.
My thoughts:

Major food booths, especially those that are cooking something or will be generating long lines, should be in their own area with some seating area. People will stay at the show longer if they can take a break and stop for lunch. Minor food booths such as the nuts and lemonade can be closer to the artists but still allow plenty of room around them for lines and those who linger. Look at how the malls do it. They spend millions of dollars to have people study these things.

I'm glad it was placed first because I think the mission / objective statement is key. Or as I would say it, figure out what you want to be and let the artist know. Give me a chance to let me judge if my work fits in your show.

If you're going to give awards, give a lot of small ones, not just a few big ones. And spring for the nice ribbons. They are not that much more expensive. And have more than one judge. I've never seen this done and it seems reasonable to me - why can't each judge be assigned an area or a set of mediums and then they get together and make a final choice based on what each one chose. I'd rather have one judge for 7 minutes than 3 judges for 2 1/2 minutes each. If you do the math, if each judge has 8 hours to do 400 booths that is 1 1/2 minutes per booth and that does not take into account walking between booths or stopping for a soda. There has got to be a better way. Note - a better way is NOT judging by the jury shots.

My personal rant - If you are going to provide unlimited beer and wine at the artist party, give those of us that don't drink something more than water and tea. Soda would be nice. Personally I like the idea of an aritst breakfast rather than an artist dinner and it's got to be cheaper for the show as well.

Music - upbeat and light. I will remember for a long time the show I did the week after I had to have my old cat put down. The musician was fantastic but played sad, sad songs. I spent the entire weekend fighting the urge to go behind my booth and sob. This cannot be good for sales.
Ron,
So glad to see you have resurfaced. You're a very valuable member of our industry and I look forward to learning much more from you. As with all the conversations we’ve had, I think you are “spot on” in your assessment. I hope very much to see you on the road again very soon.

Just a few more points…
1. Do not have a deadline for entry more than 4 weeks before the jury process. Obviously there needs to be some time for some preliminary screening by promoter (i.e. making sure entries are complete with proper medium, etc.) But some shows seem to take up to several months.
2. As for Award $ versus Purchase Awards, I’d prefer to see 90%+ of award money converted to purchase awards. I definitely do not believe that all artists get equal consideration for Awards. But let the money talk and each artist has a better chance of competing for those available dollars spent.
3. I’ve not seen one show yet which sends surveys to the artists who participated in their show. In the business world, it would be critical to get this kind of information so the business could adjust as necessary. Don’t wait on Sunshine Artist or Greg Lawler to compile it for you. Ask the questions that are important to “your” success. Ask for opinions and recommendations for improvement. The out of pocket cost to do this is nil (since it could all be done by email) Now is the time to get it. Don’t simply wait on next year’s committee to reinvent the wheel.

Perhaps Art Fair Insiders could post and maintain a permanent list of these compiled ideas (with a direct link on the home page). Perhaps there could be two separate listing (one for show promoters and one for artists). Then we would have a central place to direct promoters as well as new artists to review the consolidated tips, recommendations and ideas.

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