Call for Artists, Making Money at Juried Art Fairs, Craft Shows and Festivals
Which show was it for you that looked like it would be disastrous, yet it turned into one of the best shows ever? For me it was the Lake Eustis Fine Art Show in Eustis Florida.
I had taken a one year break from doing shows, and was ready to re-enter the arena. Living at the time in northern Florida, the intent was to find juried art shows within a 200 mile radius. This one looked promising, and was within 2 hours of home. I filled out the paperwork, got accepted, and packed my van.
The day before the show I was talking to a friend who, as it turns out, is from that very town. He proceeded to tell me in a very colorful way that nothing good ever happens there, and that it’s the most unlikely place to have an art show. They were not very encouraging words, and they definitely put a damper on my mental state. But hey, I’d already gotten accepted in the show and reserved my hotel. Hell, my van was already packed! I was going.
Upon arrival it was a warm Spring day and the venue was a well manicured park on a lake. It was indeed a beautiful setting, and the feeling was positive about being in this show. After all, I had spent the last year researching shows and building inventory, so this one held promise. Around me were other seasoned, professional artists setting up high quality wares. This was my come-back show, and the vibe was good. I finished getting set up, met the neighboring artists, and went to find the hotel.
The first day of the show we were promised by the promoter “ fair skies and good crowds", including a very supportive and art loving local community. As the morning went on, however, the crowds were not showing up. A couple times I looked out at the park and saw no one, not a single person. The grumbling among artists began. Here we are in this beautiful park, and here is a group of artists who had juried into the show and were ready to sell. So where the heck were the customers?
To make matters worse, the weather took a turn. As often happens in Florida, a storm had started brewing over the lake. The skies darkened and the wind was picking up steam. Within just a few minutes it became a full blown monsoon, and was heading right for our park at full speed. People were running for shelter and artists were battening down their tents. I stood at the front of my tent waving and calling for people to come in. And come in they did! For the next fifteen minutes I had a tent full of people nervously but cheerfully waiting out the storm. I started showing my pieces and telling the story of how they are made. Since I had a captive audience, there was a definite interest generated and I sold my first pieces.
The storm ended as quickly as it started, and soon folks could venture out. The pleasant surprise for me was what happened after that. One of the benefits of doing a small community show is that everyone knows everyone, and they talk to each other. So apparently the buzz was about this lady who makes jewelry out of paint. One after another person would come by, see the jewelry, and decide to make a purchase.
Sunday continued with the same pattern. Even though the crowds were small, they all came to my booth. I had such a steady stream of customers I didn’t even notice how small the crowd was. It turns out to be one of the few shows I have ever done where I actually had a line of customers waiting to purchase!
Looking back, there were several reasons I should not have done that show. After all, who’s even heard of that community? It’s out in the middle of nowhere! It did not have a big turn out, and the weather turned bad. Three strikes against it for sure! Yet for me, as a comeback show, it was absolutely the right place to be. I’m glad I didn’t get talked out of it by my friend.
Anyone who has done juried art shows for any length of time can tell you, there’s really no rhyme or reason to shows. You may be wildly successful one weekend and feel invisible the next. The key is to keep doing shows, stay on the circuit, keep producing your art and looking for places to sell it.
You could post your story here and end with the name of the show.
You just never know, Sandy. Sometimes friends know best, and you can afford to take a chance, and then randomness happens.
I know this tent phenomenon when it is raining. That was always one of our tricks ... invite people in for shelter and then after they had helped us hold down the tent, they'd start looking at the work and there you had it, a captive audience. Good sales could be made.
A couple of times my husband traveled to the shows with a biker friend, a rough looking guy, sort of, but you know "heart of gold" and all that and when the rains came he'd announce to the assembled gathering, "no one gets out of here without a purchase."
The big questions to you are: will you return to this show? will you continue to check your intuition in making choices?
Every storm has a silver lining.
Sandy, we were in a situation very much like yours a few years ago. We had done some small shows with somewhat lower booth fees. There was a show I dreamed of doing but felt it was out of reach financially for a while. It had a great reputation, was on a famously known plantation home property. Many movies, films, etc had been filmed there and a great many weddings have happened there. The twice annual show was part of the fund raising for this property and was a 2 day show and all booths were outdoors.
So I gathered up my courage and applied for their spring show a few years ago. Due to its popularity and long running status I never expected to get in. Low and behold, a few weeks later I got notice that I was accepted into the show. I was excited, scared, nervous and had no idea what to expect from it. At this time I was just doing tumbled travertine coasters and trivets and only in a 10x10 booth. I had a lot to do to have enough stock for this show.
Set up could be done on Friday or early Saturday morning. As the weekend approached, we watched the weather forecast to be the best prepared we could. Thunderstorms were predicted to go through the area of the show the Friday night before the show. Honestly I cant remember if we went to set up our tent on Friday or went early on Saturday. Regardless we did not leave product overnight. However an artist friend of ours left some prints in her booth over night and lost about $1000 of prints. I felt very bad for her. I am sure she would make a different decision now.
So Saturday the grounds were a like a mosh pit. It was terrible, the worst we have seen at that time. Shoppers were losing their sandals and flip flops in the mud, some forever. Many people were walking around with baggies over their shoes. Not conducive to a good weekend.
The customers could not park where they normally would park. The plantation had worked with a high school and arranged customer parking in the high school parking lot & then bused in customers. Not conducive to a good weekend.
Since it was our first time at this show we did not know how the crowd was comparing to past shows. Veterans of this show reported to us that the crowd was down by about 75%. Yes, 75%. That is not a typo. Usually the crowd was so thick you could not see the booth across the aisle due to the crowd being so heavy. Not that weekend.
We expected almost no sales due to the conditions, busing in customers, and a low turnout. We ended up having our best weekend to that date. We made our booth fee back, plus almost that much again. We were ecstatic! We survived the weekend! Though we would have loved to make more we were thankful for what we did. Fortunately the only expenses we had were the booth fee and gas. We lived close enough that we did not have lodging expenses.
Unfortunately, many of the artists and crafters did not respond well to the conditions. The staff at the plantation had the grounds keepers going around 12+ hours a day spreading straw to help the customers and those who had booths. They worked tirelessly & were heroes. Some of the artists & crafters got cranky because the straw was not delivered to their booth quickly enough. One lady near us complained she had paid blankety blank $100's of dollars for her double booth and wanted straw right now. By this point the grounds keeper who was listening to her tirade told her that if she wanted it "right now" to grab her large trash and go get it herself. The grounds keepers were honestly doing the best they could given the circumstances.
As many artists went to turn in their apps for the next show or to pay for load out service, they were giving the staff an earful. I turned in my app for the next show but took a moment to thank them for their service and doing the best they could. (No one wanted the bad weather ... the artists, the staff of the plantation, the customers ... no one. It was what it was and we just needed to make the best of it.)
In the end, a couple of weeks later, I got a letter from the plantation with my check for the next show. In the letter, they explained that they would no longer be doing the show at all. I was so disappointed, I had looked forward to better days there at shows. However, I totally understood their decision. Their main goal is to keep up the historic plantation, protect it from harm as much as possible. As many of you know, an outdoor show, even in good weather, can leave an impact on the grounds. I feel the attitude of many of the artists had something to do with this decision, which is unfortunate. I mean, we are supposed to be professionals, right?
I still remember this as being a breakthrough show for me. It gave me courage to apply to other shows I previously had been too afraid to apply to.