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

I've actually seen a lot of shows that give surveys along with the artist packet, to be filled out and picked up on Sunday afternoon. I think an email survery after the show would be much more valuable. I very rarely have the time to fill them out during the show or even to give them much thought and if I am sitting in my hotel room on Saturday night filling out the survey - it is not a good one.

The only thing I don't like about an email survery is the lack of being anonymous. I think that is important if you want to get people's honest opinion.
Hi Ron
Wow you thought of almost everything! lol Nice to see you after a year or so. So what are you planning to do with this? I need to read other replys too but Man this is something I'd like to paste it on an email and send to a few people! I think I might! I also think it needs more advertising info because many shows run by the inexperienced need a guide where to advertise a show. So annoying to do a show where not enough patrons show up due to lack of advertising and promotion.
Anyone can put a survey up on Survey Monkey online. I have always mailed them and provided a return envelope, but Survey Monkey would be much faster and simpler, and is totally anonymous unless you identify yourself.

Thanks for the inspiration!
I just thought of something else I find very useful. Give a GPS location for the show. And not just for the artists. Put it on the website and advertising. The first time I got into a Naples show I called my aunt and uncle who had lived in Estero (20 miles north or so) for most of their life and asked them where the park was where the show was located. They didn't know. Once I found the location and told them where it was, they knew there was a park there but never knew the name. Make it easy for customers to find us.

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