Art Fair Insiders

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

   

     Years ago when I was new to the art show circuit,  there was a local arts and crafts show in which I participated.  All set up and waiting for the inevitable crowds of customers to come,  I started conversing with my neighboring artist.

    “You really should do this one show I just did last month,” she said,  “Your work is great and you would probably sell out!”

       Now that I’m a seasoned vet of art shows, there are certain phrases that make me run as fast as I can in the opposite direction.  “You will probably sell out” is one of them. I mean, how do they know that I would probably sell out, and why would I even want to sell out?  That day, however,  the words of that well-meaning woman caught my interest.

       "You have to set up the night before, because people will come out early to shop." she said. "There is not much for people to do in this area, so people really look forward to the show.  I’m not kidding you, women come out to shop, with wheelbarrows and wagons and flashlights,  before it even gets light!”  Imagine the vision I had in my head: an art show where droves of people are coming to buy my art before the break of day! In my naive mind I knew one thing:

      I MUST DO THAT SHOW!

      I dutifully acquired the show information and sent in the application. I got accepted and put my production into high gear. After all, these people coming with flashlights and wagons are going to buy all my stuff, so I better bring a lot! After settling into my  hotel on Friday evening and driving around without the help of GPS in some very rural parts of the state, I found the show site and got my booth set up. The layout of the show was sprawling and random, and my space was on a hill about 50 feet from any other booths.  Across from my booth was a vendor who was selling a clutter of antique and vintage rusty parts of machines and farm equipment. Down the hill and around the corner were other vendors assembling booths full of country signs, doilies, kitchen towels, wooden ducks, gingham dresses and wooden Adirondack chairs. As far as I could tell, mine was the only booth of original, hand made art pieces.
 
      By the time I was finished setting up, I was starting to accept the fact that this is not my type of show. Nonetheless, anticipating those women with wagons and flashlights, I showed up before the sun came up and opened my shop for the day. And out they came! And yes, my well-meaning neighbor was right. People were shopping, and they had wagons, flashlights and carts. But were they my type of customers? NO!!!! They were shopping for antique rusty parts, kitchen towels, wooden ducks and Adirondack chairs!   My jewelry as  well as my booth are colorful and designed to stand out. Nevertheless, at that show I felt absolutely invisible for the entire weekend.
   
     After that unfortunate event, I  hobbled home with my meager earnings and discouraged heart. It was high time for me to either get serious about show selection or get out of the way!  I decided to spend more time researching shows and getting selective. Since then I have compiled a list of questions regarding potential shows. I adhere to this list without exception. The answer to each question must be a big fat yes, or else it is simply not worth my time.

  • Is it a juried art show?
  • Is it within a 250 mile radius of my home?
  • Do other professional artists recommend this show?
  • Has it been in the same location for a number of years?
  • Is it exclusively an art show and not part of a beer or music festival?
  • Can I mentally picture selling my work there?
  • Is the application clear and detailed?
  • Is the application specific regarding jury images?
  • Is the booth fee worth the investment?
  • Are there affordable housing choices close to the show?


       If the answer to any question is a “no”,  I do not consider it. I have no interest in "selling out", so am not at all tempted when some well meaning neighbor at an art show uses that phrase. I simply turn and run the other way! Whether you are a seasoned show goer, or just considering jumping into the ring, it may benefit you to consider these questions regarding potential shows. It may help you narrow the search and find some shows that are a perfect fit for you.

  
 

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That is a great story, well told. I also like your list of questions, which is how I started my first year of shows. 

For my second year, I decided I needed a larger audience than within a few hours of home, so I made the decision to travel. I also attended a show that had music, and it worked out quite well (Sausalito, CA)

So, this year, for year 3, I agree with your list, with the addition of,

a) I will travel

b) I will tolerate if the venue has music

c) I am looking for top 10 or top 20 show rating.

d) minimum attendance is 10,000 or so.

e) if there will be more than 200 artists displaying, I get very selective

f) if the show has moved recently, is the new location better than the old one? moving can be a negative, but if the other factors outweigh it, then I apply

This year, I am limiting myself to about 10 shows. I have met some artists who do 20+ shows a year. I am curious of the range of opinions of how many shows each of us does in a year.

Mark, we do about 8 shows per year.  We travel up to 4 hours away at this point, however many miles that translates to.

Our number of shows and length of travel are limited somewhat because we own a retail store, unrelated to our craft business.  Dh still needs a to put in a certain amount of effort there doing office work.  When he is ready to train our manager & her assistant to take on additional work, it could free us up to travel more.

Great Post! We have all been there. I have my restaurant rules too. (never order pizza at a chinese restaurant.) 

I am allergic to first year shows. And I don't trust anything under 200 bucks because I think they must not be advertising.

I venture out a little farther every year but the amount of research I do is impressive. I am shocked at people who go to a show because one friend with a different medium said it was "good." 

I too want a minimum listing of 10,000 people, that's listing folks. And you can check and see when the music starts, sometimes it's after the art part closes.

It doesn't have to  be high in the rating, just a known show with a reputation for no buy/sell. And I don't hesitate to call the organizers with questions. I'm not a big fan of dollying in.

Invaluable information for me - old lady NEWBIE - and just trying to sort through how to go about these booths, displays and types of venues (totally overwhelmed and not sure we're doing the right thing, but am going full force into it - can't afford NOT to at this point!).  Thank you to all of you!  And, on a personal note, if someone experienced has the time to mentor a newbie, I welcome your emails.  The more information the better.  Thanks!!!

This is a pretty thorough list of ideas.  I have just a couple of new ideas.  Especially when just starting out my goal was to get into a show that was well known so that I could add a prestigious name to the list asked for on the applications.  My husband and I also look for shows that are close or on the way to someplace we were already headed for vacation. We also like smaller shows as long as they are well juried.  Good luck all and hope to see you down the line!  

Great post!

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