Art Fair Insiders

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

Why aren't there many high end art festivals in New England?  Besides Bill from Paragon, who's fairly new, and Denise Morris Curt, why no biggies like a CocoGro or the South Florida string?  I'm originally from Long Island, and I know the demographics are there, all the way up the coast.  So why???  Is it because all the art collectors think "good art" only comes from a gallery?  Is it that the real estate is limited for a show (then how come the monster truck venues, hmmm...)?  There's tons of craft shows, fairs, and then there's the NY Expo which out of reach for me.  I'm just scratching my head here because I would dearly love to do a prodigal daughter returns home kind of trip.

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One year I signed up for several shows.  I had read in Sunshine Artist how great the shows were.  I did 2 in Franconia Notch, NH, the Thanksgiving Weekend show near Boston, and one at Dartmouth College, in NH.  They all were disappointing.  I also did Essex Junction.  The first year was great and I was able to stay with an old friend which made it even better.   The second year, they added the building and my sales were cut in half as they kept everything else the same and added more artists.  Needless to say, that was my last year.

I've done the Thanksgiving show since the late 90s. Sometimes they rock and we'll make 5 to 6 grand, and sometimes the people just aren't in a mood to buy and we'll do 2 grand.

What shows in North Jersey do you do? The only ones that I feel are worth the five hour drive are the two Chester shows. I started doing them in 1984 and like every other show, sometimes we'll do fantastic, and sometimes we'll just make expenses. Especially when it rains.

The shows I do in Northern New Jersey include several shows by Rose Squared Productions,  and Princeton Marketplace.  After looking at your website, I don't think your product would fit in these juried shows.  You may want to try Hoboken.  It draws a lot of people.  They have a show in May and one in the fall but they are only 1 day shows.

What I do today is not what I did 30+ years ago. As I got older I slowed down and now make what I want. And I do quite well thank you. I'll put my sales numbers next to yours anytime. 

I have made everything from inlaid music boxes with Reuge movements to house numbers. And I did a million dollars in sales with the numbers in the 10 years I made them. (40,000 at $25 each)

Today I see a lot of people who want to decorate the outside of their home, but won't damage their siding. So I fill that niche. And other exhibitors are happy when I'm there because that means they make sales.

I was born and raised in Jersey, and do only two shows there today and that's Chester. I've done them since 1984. Other than those two shows, I avoid Jersey.

I think you misunderstood my reply. The shows that I mentioned don't really have artists that sell wreaths, stars, or any of the items that your hooks were displayed with on your website.  I wouldn't want to mislead you into wasting your money on jury fees on shows that may not accept your work. 

No need to worry about me. I fill my 40+/- yearly show schedule quite nicely without your help.

OK, before we get to stepping all over each others' original question was...Why the scarcity of Fine Art shows in New England?  Why no CocoGrove equivalent up north?  I don't agree that New Englanders are more practical, since all those people in FL and AZ go back to their summer homes up north.  Michigan's got 'em, Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio...why not NY, CT, NJ?  After getting back from 14 shows this summer up in New England, I'm still stymied.  New England is not a culturally devoid area.  Just sayin'.

I just did the Westfield Armory Show (Rose Squared) in Westifield, NJ.  It was Fine Art & Craft, a terrific mix of wonderful artists.  It was the 2nd year for this show and I believe more people came this year.  My sales improved.  I saw many people with bags of purchases.  I didn't get around much so I can't say how others did but overall I think many were happy with the show.  I will certainly be back.  I believe the quality of this show is much higher than that of the outdoor shows. 

I wouldn't consider NJ as New England but it's close.  I gave up on New England shows.  I never did that well there and I usually do well at most shows, weather permitting.

I have tried to answer this in a shorter manner, but can't seem to truncate my thoughts. So, if you will indulge me, I'd like to try and answer your question from my own experiences. I have lived in Florida for many years and now I live in Rhode Island. In Florida, I made a living as an artist. I weaned myself off of my day jobs and never looked back. I loved it.

But here, not at all. I have often asked myself this question that you are asking because in Florida, I sold my work to many New Englanders, so when I moved here I thought these same people, generally, would buy my work here. I am a ceramic sculptor and my work has never been functional, nor has it included manatees, and I sold regularly in Florida galleries, art shows and in a wonderful artists community where they had open walks every month year round.

Yet when I moved here, no matter what i tried, I had to go back to day jobs to earn a living. And the older I get, the harder that gets. There are many differences. I do think the tourists bought my work because they were away from home and wanted something to remember the trip by. Yet, as i said, my work has never been palm tree-laden souvenir craft but an actual piece of art they just happened to fall in love with.

Yes, i did make little ceramic fish, too, but, c'mon, could you blame me? They were very cute. And an inexpensive price point for those who couldn't afford my more expensive sculptures. I loved those buyers. Sometimes when I show my fish here in New England people say "OH LOOK! That would go great next to the one I bought in Florida!" but they don't stop to buy. It makes me so sad.

Why those same people wouldn't buy my work in their own back yard has stymied me for years. They seem afraid at these shows, and at galleries as well, to buy from an "unknown" or from someone who is not somehow connected to the universities and famous art schools here. I find most artists here have pages of credentials, long winded bios and artists statements that sound more like a masters thesis. I value my education too, but have not really maintained that academic speak about my work. I am always at a loss when asked to submit one of these sorts of things. But everyone here does it.

Buyers in New England seem to feel more comfortable buying from artists with credentials up the wazoo. It's like they can put you safely in a category that way. "Oh, she's a RISD artist, you know, so she must be good." As if they can't decide for themselves if the art is actually Good Art without knowing the artist's educational background. Perhaps when they are in Florida, they throw caution to the wind and just buy what appeals to them. Life is just different in warmer climates.

And I also find that in these live/work spaces someone mentioned below, many of the artists keep their doors closed to the public. I know because I have had a number of studios in these places and people attend the open studio nights as a social thing, but a lot of the artists are loathe to let strangers wander around in their space. They don't even like other artists visiting them. Even though that is one of the reasons for being in that sort of space. I lost count of the number of artists I have asked "Why don't you open your doors during the open studios?" who have looked at me and said "Why would I want to do that?" To sell your work? "Oh, well, i work with a gallery in Arizona" or "I don't really care about that."


Maybe that's just RI. 

Many artists here have full time jobs, mostly teaching at university or private schools. I have learned that most artists here are not trying to earn their living with their fine artwork. Although, the economy being what it is, perhaps that is changing. this may be why craft shows do so well here. People are finding their way through the craft show circuit here with seemingly great results.

I would like to read about your experiences in the New England shows. Which shows did you do? There is indeed a difference between New England and Florida and after reading some of these discussions I am more determined than ever to become a traveling artist and head back to Florida whenever i am once again able.  Cause as crazy a place as Florida can be, I think artists like me just fit in there better. And I really miss that.

thanks for the forum.

I live 7 miles north of Boston and I can attest to the fact that people here do buy art ... but not at shows because there aren't any good shows for art other than Paradise City.  Part of the problem is that there are a plethora of mid-level and low-level shows that, shall we say, "juried" is very loosely defined, if at all.  Over the years the affluent, art and craft buying patrons have abandoned these venues in droves.  Truely a case of the self fulfilling prophecy of dumbing down the show and totally devaluing fine art and craft.  The chickens have come home to roost on this.


Why do I know that people buy art here, well there are an abundance of Artist live/work spaces and along with that regular "open house" weekends.  Two this weekend alone.  These are very well attended events, well publicized and have to be somewhat lucrative for artists to go to the work involved to prepare their spaces for an open house every year.  Some of these weekends are over 25 years old and going strong.  This area is home to RISD, Massachusetts College of Art and Design, UMass-Dartmouth (the old Boston University Program in Artisanry), The Museum Shool of Art,  The Society of Arts and Crafts (oldest non for profit craft organization in the United States) and the Fuller Museum of Craft.  We support our artists ... not necessarily at art shows - but then, other than Paradise City, you've seen the quality that on offer.


There are some stellar shows here but these are few and far between and the competition to get into them is pretty fierce, you've got to be floating around at the top of the cream in the milk bottle to get juried in and these are real juries with good art and craft credentials.



Martha, do you know anything about the Gloucester Art Colony?  When I visited there in July, it seemed like a wonderful idea.  However, I don't know if people come out to actually buy there or not.  I would love to be in one spot for a couple of months rather than ten shows in 2 months!


Caroline - I'm sorry I don't know anything about the Gloucester Art Colony.  I do have friends participate in a Cape Ann Studio Tour every Spring and late Autumn but that is different than the colony out near Eastern Point.  But like all things if it didn't thrive it would have died out a long time ago. 




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