Art Fair Insiders

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

I know this has been discussed here before, but I can't seem to find it. There's always a lot of talk about how jury fees are out of hand, and that shows are making money hand over fist with the record number of artists who apply. But what does it REALLY cost to plan, organize and hold an art show? Where do the jury fees and the sponsor money and all the booth fees go when it's all over?

Curious, that's all. Are art shows turning a profit, or are they a zero-sum game?

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Jim, I don't have any answers because I've never planned one, nor have I ever helped put on one.  But like you, I am curious too.  :D will be interesting to see how many show promoters respond to this....I am noticing more and more shows are telling  artist they can apply numerous times for each show...I don't know how far back this "multiple application" process goes but it sure can bring in more app fees., if I can only figure out how to get customers to buy more during each transaction...hmmm. Some do.

Greg when you figure that out, pass it on to the rest of us!  LOL

I think this needs to differentiate between a single yearly event or multiple events by the same promoter/director.

Multiple events gives the promoter a way to get the same services; insurance, advertising, shared promotion, etc, at a discount and also offers the opportunity for the sponsors to get more exposure for their money.

Then there needs to be a break down by whether the show has a board of directors because the board will have their own needs and the higher fees charged will justify paying a director to run the event.

I don't even pretend to understand what happens on the other (show director) side of the fence. Artists on one side and show directors on the other side. And unless the show director has been an exhibiting artist, they don't understand what happens on the artist side of the fence.

Larry Berman

Okay, a single show then, like Crosby Gardens in Toledo, for example. Or a big show, like the Ann Arbor Original. Not a promoter show, where, as you say, economies of scale can be had. Promoter shows tend to be for profit, while local art guild shows, while for profit as well, will not be as well funded. Local shows also tend to rely on volunteers for on-site labor, which masks a significant cost.

For a single show, I'd contact Carla Fox and ask her a few questions. She runs "Art in the High Desert" in Bend Oregon. She no longer posts on this forum but does post on the NAIA Facebook forum. Also, now a NAIA board member but no longer a show director is Sara Shambarger who was the director of the Krasl show for years. I'm sure either could give you some relevant information.

Larry Berman

Thanks, Larry. The reason I asked is that many artists are under the impression that application fees are solely a profit center for shows. While I suspect that this is not the case, multiple applications to a single show on Zapp, the extension of deadlines, and other evidence seems to indicate greed on the part of some shows. I will ask Carla, that's a good suggestion.

I could write a book on the topic. But basically the shows that are entirely volunteer, like Winter Park or American Craft Expo, or your local "art in the park", will have lower expenses, than say Coconut Grove (which does have volunteers but year round paid staff). 

The Ann Arbor Original only has one and a half persons on staff. The St. Louis Art Fair has two. 

Think about putting up tents, tent rental, lighting, porta jons, trash pickup, security, office equipment, office rental, generators to keep things running ... printing, pr and most of all Marketing/advertising ... 

I bet it costs each section of Ann Arbor a completely different amount of money.

This is my first time on this site.

A crafter friend of mine sent me an email asking me to respond to this thread.

So forgive me if this is winded ... I type like I talk, which is fast.

I will start by saying I love being a promoter. I enjoy the work I do and I am very proud and humbled to work for and be trusted by so many wonderful artisans ... nuff about me :)


The cost of putting on a show can vary greatly depending on location

Obviously the rental fee is higher for indoor shows.

We do not charge jury fees. Our income comes from Booth Fees and Admission only. Most of our shows are Free Admission.

We do not use Zapplication, all applications are processed in house.

We are not Non-Profit (we are really trying not to be, anyway:)

So the exhibitor booth fees goes toward rent, liability insurance (mandatory if you are renting from a town or municipality) staffing, overnight security, police and or fire details, permits, licensing, entertainment, renting tents, portable toilets, dumpsters and wear and tear of vehicle and cargo trailers, making, transporting and storing signs, golf cart, flat beds, extra canopies, pipe and drape, bookkeeping, accountant services (not the same) web designer and IT (not the same)

Plus our website has an SSL, lots of Plug Ins and we have an App and these monthly fees add up too.

Once a year fees include new buttons, rack cards, post cards and brochures.

Plus membership dues to over 20 chambers and tourist bureaus.

Oftentimes indoor venues get what they call "ancillary fees" which is another revenue stream for the venue holder (box office fees, additional maintenance, plowing, microphone or intercom charges and the food concessionaire may hold a license which you as the promoter may need to pay him for, union buy out or residual talent fee, parking sub fee, onsite electrician, onsite engineer (no kidding) inspectional service fee, etc ... these ancillary fees are oftentimes more than the rent.

We also give complimentary coffee & donuts to exhibitors which averages $300-$450 per show.

If the show is far away we have travel and accommodations expense.

And even though dig safe reports are free the time it takes to obtain them adds to your hours $.

And then of course we need to maintain an office so we got those bills as well as cell phone and tablet expense to take your office on the road, oh yeah we have an answering service because will all these expenses we do not want to miss a single call :)
And have you seen the cost of printing lately? Paper alone has gone through the roof, never mind the crappy HP ink cartridges that need replacing almost daily.

We make our own signs so we are constantly buying raw materials.

But our largest expense by far is advertising.

In my opinion to do it right, you have to do it all.

We are promoters and promote is a verb, an action word.
Our exhibitors count on us to get the word out and attract a specific shopper who will come to the fair, meet the artisan and respect and support the handcrafted tradition.

There are 3 components which make a show successful and all 3 must be satisfied: The Shopper, The Artisan and My Bookkeeper.

If all 3 are not happy, then none of them are happy.


I gotta go, I am buried in emails, ads to proof, floor plans and permits ...
I love my job, I love my job :)

Terry Mullen

Castleberry Fairs



Just to add onto what you said, one expense that many folks overlook or don't recognize enough is the security issue. Take a 250 artist show as an example with Friday set up and Sunday night teardown; that's about 56+ hours of continual coverage. A staff of off-duty police officers is needed to keep an eye on things the entire time. That's easily going to be 5 officers on duty at all times, so we're looking at 280 man/hours of contracted time. That's a chunk of change and one that can't be skimped on. 

Thanks for the wonderful reply. WOOHOO!


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