My wife is an oil painter and over the last five years we’ve been displaying her work at local Art Festivals in New England each summer and fall.  Through this time, we’ve learned a lot and noticed the differences between a well run and not so well run festival.  

So here’s our list of the things that make up the ideal festival (from the vending artists perspective).  Of course all of this is in addition to lots of sales from a huge crowd of art lovers!

In no particular order….  

  • Provide some swag for those hard working artists!  Stuff like:
    • Name badges/ID’s for all booth staff - Helps make it clear who the artist is and who can help customers.
    • Bottled water
    • Promotional item with festival logo (hat, shirt, mug, etc)
    • Artist discounts/suggestions on/from local vendors.  On stuff like:
      • Restaurants
      • Hotels
      • Retail
      • Parking
      • Art supply vendors
  • Ensure there is strong cell service so we can connect to those payment processing systems.  Work with wireless companies to bring in temporary towers as needed
  • Plenty of bathrooms, maybe even ones designated just for artists
  • Parking close to booth - Makes set up and tear down easier.  Nice to have the vehicle near by for storage, etc.
  • Coffee, breakfast, snacks, etc for artists
  • Best of show judging
    • Prizes always are nice
    • Signage to put up in our booth calling out to customers that we won
    • Social media posts from the festival announcing the winners (that we can then like and share)
  • Remember the artist’s “assistants”
    • Most artists have someone come with them to the show, if not just to assist with set up/tear down, then to stay with them throughout the show.  Include these folks! Name badges, swag, discounts, etc.
  • Have a very cool and useful website
    • Dedicated area on the site just for artists
    • Detailed map of festival
    • Rules
    • Local tax rules detailed out...make it easy!
    • Announcements/news
    • Artist discount area
    • Clear timeline for show
      • Application
      • Approval
      • When Booth assignments will be communicated
      • Set up
      • Show times - Open, Close, events, drawings, etc.
      • Take down
    • Strong social media plan, encourage/recruit artists to use hashtags, share before, during and after the show
  • Weather - Have a plan around weather.  Someone to be in charge of monitoring it (before and during the show), communicating any potential rain/storms to all artists.  Why?  Because as we all know, our success at these shows is incredibly dependent on the weather!
  • Set up
    • Artists need to check in, in person at centrally located desk adjacent to festival grounds.
    • Staff available to monitor set up, ensure artists are set up in the correct location/position within booth space and assist with set up if requested
    • Set up allowed the night before the show!
    • Ability to pull up close/park right next to booth
    • Overnight security of some kind, could be just cameras and/or festival staff patrolling.  OK to make it clear the festival has NO liability for lost, stolen, damaged art, displays, tent, etc.
    • Booth layout
      • Booths back to back, making it clear which way booths should face
      • As space allows, additional space between booths for additional tent opening, display areas, seating, storage
      • Consider where artist will sit, outside of the tent
  • Feedback form sent to artists after every show from festival organizers.  I’m amazed how few shows do this.
  • Artist directory in show bill (also on your website).  Help promote the artist! Include:
    • Booth location
    • Link to artist website
    • Link to artist’s social media
    • Link to Etsy shop if appropriate

Artists - How did I do with this list?  What am I missing? Let me know in your responses/comments below!

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  • What do you mean by "

    • Artist discount area"?

    If an artist is "discounting" their work and advertising such, they should not be at the show.

    • Was referring to an area on the festivals website where exhibiting artists can get discounts on items such as hotels, restaurants, art supplies, etc.  Not a discount on their art itself.  What do you think of the rest of my list?  Thanks for reading...

      • Pretty good list. I agree with what some other's have added / commented to it also. I don't care about awards either. Many shows do not allow the placing of awards in / at the booth. Also it is sometimes not an accurate or unbiased judging for such and then may affect sales.

        Don't want bottled water unless the use an environmentally sustainable packaging form (I love art and our planet). Instead in the pre-show list, advise the artist to bring a refillable container and then either come around to refill or have it easily accessible for us to refill. 

        No interest in the promotional item, rather the money went to making the show a sales success.

        Strongly agree with the cell / internet enforcement.

        The security needs to include MULTIPLE guards, that must do walking patrols. the cost of this for a 150 artist show might equate to a about $10 / artist for 3 guards. Well worth the expense.  I've been at shows where the guards just sat in one place, or people were walking through the artist's booth areas, unchecked long after hours.

        Artist directory to be dual searchable - Name as well as media type.

        • Great points Larry.  Didn't think about the environmental impact of the water bottles, totally agree

  • Of course sales are #1 and easy load in and out (park behind booth with no dollying as many of us are aging).  All these suggestions are great.  The question is: How do we get shows to take notice? 

  • Great list! I would add:

    * Forget the prizes - they affect very few. I would rather they spend the money on advertising. (I say this as someone who just won a prize this past weekend. Take my money and print some flyers or a banner!)

    * Plan load-in with some common sense. If it's a big festival, don't move everyone in on one row in at the same time; stagger them. Even numbers. Odd numbers. Whatever. Just not everyone at once and then be surprised when there is no parking and emotions run high.

    * Love the idea of an artist-dedicated bathroom. When you're a solo artist, you don't want to spend 20 minutes standing (dancing?) in line with no booth sitter.

    * Enforce the regs on breakdown. Please.

    * Have your applications ready early. (Some shows lose potential artists because they don't Zapp their applications early enough.) And, btw, just use Zapp.

    * Booths at least 12x12. Please no 10x10 booth spaces. (I'm always surprised - and disappointed - when they block you in so tight you can't put up your walls.)

    * Advertise. Advertise. Advertise. Target the young people with empty walls! 

    * Please don't combine an art fair with: a beer tent, a wine tasting, or a music festival at the same time as the art fair. Sell the art and turn the music down so I can actually talk to customers.

    * Likewise, please don't schedule an art fair when your town/city has other things going on if possible. It dilutes the audience.

    * Be honest. Is it an art fair, or an arts and crafts fair? I can do either, but I need to know so I can either not apply or adjust my offerings.

    * Be nice and say thank you. Artists are hard-working people. Doing a show is hard work. A simple "thank you for being here" goes a LONG way.

    • Thanks Fletcher!  Great feedback...

      • This is a wonderfully comprehensive list, Tony. Thank you.

        But let's say this is a smallish event trying to get started without a large budget or well-heeled sponsors. What I want from that show:

        • Level booth space with easy access
        • a little extra space beyond the 10 x 10
        • cheerful organizers who "get it" (which includes all of the above.)
        • a community presence for the event that will bring the right crowd to attend
        • interested attendees
        • beautiful weather
        • above average sales
        • Thanks Connie.  Yes, agree that to get everything on my list assumes a well established and well funded show.  

  • I have to agree that adding enforcement of rules to your fabulous list would be a good move! Rules like: no buy/sell, jewelry only in jewelry category, no t shirts etc.
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