Art Fair Insiders

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

In art fair circles for years there has been talk about buy/sell and reps showing up with someone else's work. I found this meeting mention in The Orlando Sentinel:

Artists participating in the Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival are set to meet Friday evening to discuss forming a commission that would set standards for work displayed at art festivals. The purpose of the commission would be to certify that work in an artist's booth was in fact created by the artist, according to photographer Les Slesnick, who is organizing the gathering. The meeting will happen in the Rotary Beer Garden just south of Morse Boulevard just after the festival closes at 6 p.m.

Does anyone know anything about this? Or have any suggestions we could share with Les?

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And if I want support for an idea or project that affects many people I go to those people, as many as possible, and get their opinion and refine my idea or project as necessary.  I don't decide what it is going to be and then refuse to discuss it unless someone specifically writes or emails me.  I have seen what happens to people who disagree with Les.

Jonathon, you don't get a reply button after a certain number of levels into the thread. Wasn't anything that Geri did or didn't do. Note that you didn't get a reply button, either.

Most people would agree with Alison. Getting back to the original point of the discussion, the Winter Park meeting was billed as a discussion. After Les spoke for over an hour, with little or no breathing room, it was clear that he had his own ideas already formed. It was no discussion, it was a lecture. His ideas were already codified on a web site. He'd already begun to enroll people he knew personally. It was an "invitation-only" concept. How on God's green earth could he have not expected a huge amount of blowback?

People in this business are fiercely independent. It's one reason that artists choose to be artists. Not one that I know of likes to be told what to do. If it had been an open forum in Winter Park, the reaction would have been much different. It was not.

Email and telephone are both one-on-one communication. It's easy to divide and conquer with both those forms of communication, and it's easy to say one thing and change your mind later, without the opinions of the masses to bother you. That's a major difference between what you are suggesting and what goes on in a public forum. In a public forum, everyone can see what you're thinking and engage in public discourse. In a phone call, once it's over, there's no documentation. No accountability.

As far as the artist community coming up with a way to combat B/S, there  are people who have actively been working on ways to lmanage it. NAIA has started a survey of show directors, and asked for input. Transparency is the key here, not a witch hunt. There have been a whole lot of spin-off discussions, partly due to Les' raising awareness of the issue to a whole new level. And that's probably a good thing. If one good thing comes out of this mess, it will be that the shows themselves realize that they have a problem. The more B/S, the more carnival the atmosphere, the less likely the good artists will return to a festival. Artists, as well as the public, have many many choices today. The demise of the business is due in part to the greed of promoters, buy/sell scammers, and other miscreants.

As others have said here, it is the show's responsibility, and their choice to allow buy/sell, or not. If they publish rules that say it is not allowed, and then allow it, that is a problem for all of us, yes, but it is the show's responsibility in the end to enforce their own rules. If they can't figure out how to do that, perhaps they should go run a circus instead.

Based on the website and accounts from the meeting no one can get involved unless they are invited.  That is one of the points of contention.

Finally someone has posted the website so we can find out what is on it.  I have been vocal a couple of times about reps being at a show when the artist was not in attendance, a requirement for the particular shows. At one the missing photographer was given an award even though he was not in attendance. Worst case  in which I inquired about a rep, not the artist of record, the show committee person I asked about the issue, informed me that the artist had been there for part of the first day, had dinner with the committee person the night before set up and was one of their favorites. The next year I was juried out of the show.

Reprisals on whistleblowers has always been a problem for certain shows. After a while, you learn that particular shows are not for you, whether their ethics are questionable or not. The show experience you had is not unique. Count your lucky stars that you didn't have to pay the booth fee and set up next to a rep. 

As artists, one the things we can do is vote with our feet. Those shows that are open and transparent about their rules enforcement, their jury process and their category mix will get higher quality applicants, and hopefully attract higher quality patrons to buy that art. Those that don't will become circuses. There are shows that I simply will never do again, based on the way I was treated when I pointed out flies in the ointment. Some shows want to be top-notch; others don't give a rip about anything but money. Choose wisely, padawan learner.

Jim:  I've been doing shows for 30+ years and I have been next to the photographer who uses reps/sales agents on a routine basis.  One year it was his sales manager? who told me he could do up to 6 shows on any given weekend. I have also voted with my feet and do not support shows that aren't transparent and don't enforce their rules. I've also been asked to sell a piece at a huge discount to the show co-chair.  When I offered to sell it at a reasonable discount he told me I would be sorry as he was co-chair again next year. It had been a good show for me but I couldn't stomach this. I did apply the next year and yes I was rejected.  I will never apply again.


Your response to me was excellent. Some great points I never considered, particullarly about the one on one and divide and conquer. The meeting in Winter Park was also handled very poorly. I bellieve that I was the only artist that was allowed the mike. There were a lot of others there who could and should have been allowed time to speak. When Les mentioned "by invitation" I could only stand there, shake my head and say "not what I agreed to" with the jeweler next to me. I felt that comment may have killed the initiative right there and told Les that Monday after the W/P meeting. The program is now dead.

I was at the WPSAF presentation, and here are my notes, from memory.

Les started out by saying that he believed it would be easier to get honest artists to step up and say they were honest, by seeking accreditation through this process, than it would be to identify dishonest artists, as has been attempted in the past by NAIA, and others. Perhaps this is true, as it is likely that there are fewer honest artists than there are buy/sell, bait-and-switchers and scammers operating in art fairs, especially at shows like Gasparilla and Coconut Grove and Winter Park. <insert sarcasm>

Show directors in attendance included Holly Henson, past president of the WPSAF; Patty Narozny of Hotworks; Sharon McAlister from Ft. Myers; and a woman who runs the spring DeLand show (whose name I didn't catch); along with about fifty artists from the WPSAF.

A handout with the JCAAF mission statement was distributed. The gist of this can also be found on the JCAAFA website at [url][/url]

Les stated that he is not planning on making any money doing this, and he's paying $32 per artist plaque. I can't see this largesse being extended much longer, however, and I'm pretty certain that the cost of the plaque will get passed on. (See the section on how to apply on the website.) 

Two artists asked, "How will it work?" to which Les responded with a lengthy ramble in which he essentially stated that he would be in charge, and to become certified, a previously certified artist would have to "sponsor" another artist. Then the artist's credentials would be presented to a board or sub-committee of three artists per medium, to be scrutinized according to yet to be determined set of rules, guidelines, whatever. To get the ball rolling, Les has pre-certified four artists that he mentioned by name. More are listed on the website. Mr. Slesnick also said that for the foreseeable future, he will be the sole arbiter of what is accredited -- he is setting the JCAAFA up as an autocratic system and was clear that he did not view it as a democracy. Furthermore, he expects that artists will sign some sort of binding legal document.

Accredited artists are issued a plaque and a business card to distribute at shows, that states the artist's name, medium and that they are fully accredited by the Joint Council on Accreditation of Art Fair Artists. The back side of the card has a lengthy statement that paraphrased, says this artist's work is 100% original, and nothing is imported. The card also has not one, but two QR codes that lead back to the jcaafa web site. Examples of the cards were handed out.

Those are my notes, from memory. There was little artist comment. I was unable to stay to the end, but it didn't seem as if anyone wanted to speak up in this particular fishbowl, with several prominent show directors present. There wasn't enough hard information to make a clear judgement as to whether this was a good concept with poorly thought out execution, or a poorly thought out concept with good intentions. Some artists appear to have embraced the idea, and have benefitted from it. Les quoted a couple of them on the handout, along with a statement from Lori Emly, the co-director of the Melbourne Art Festival.

The presentation overall was impassioned and reasoned. It is obviously not fully-baked. My advice at this point is write to Les via his published email address, after reading the website fully. Ask questions and press him on the details. Express your concerns and your positive thinking. I can see this heading down the wrong track very quickly without input of all kinds. Will it help? It's hard to say.

Direct comments, positive or negative, to Les Slesnick at his email address: [email]Les Slesnick <>[/email]. He will not respond to requests to engage on public fora.

It really should fall on the shoulders of the organizers to be able to identify the buy/sell at shows. But in practice, it's very hard to remove them once they've set up at a show. The DeLand organizer stood up and pointed out that they have indeed asked violators to leave the show. But most shows don't enforce their own rules.

Doesn't matter how hard or difficult it may be to ask someone to remove themselves and their booth from a show. If it's a buy/sell, they don't belong at a fine art show, period. The producers need to stiffen up their backbone, grow a set and tell the offenders to leave-immediately.

Nothin' like a little public humiliation early in the mornin'

Not that I'm advocating for public humiliation, but shame on producers and shame on all of us for sitting next to a buy/sell all weekend and turning a blind eye.


I am one of the certified members and I am here to tell you that your concerns are unfounded. Les will have nothing to do with the process . In jewelery we have a 3 person committee and it will probably expand to 5 before we are done. Our sole purpose/function is to verify that you the artist are doing all the work. No judging of the quality, just whether or not the artist in the booth is the creator of the work in their booth. Les cannot tell the committee how to evaluate any artist. There is more to the process but I felt it important to allay any fears and clear up any misconceptions in regards to any control by Les. 

I agree that Les's hesitance to discuss it before the Winter Park meeting was not the best choice. His intentions are good but having done the shows for as long as he did, he should know what it's like to deal with a bunch of artists.

The issues of Buy/Sell and bait & switch are becoming a major one and we need to find a way to stem the tide. I feel that Les's ideas are a good place to start. It is up to us to take the initiative, to fine tune it, and make it work. The more involvment for the artist the stronger it will get. Consider an organization of 1-2,000 certified artists saying "enough with the buy sell. You want our quality, stop having it in your show". Individually it does not work, as a group it's a whole different story.

I have no idea who this guy is, but is he short?  He sounds like he has a Napoleonic complex.  Just saying. 

With a Duke loss tonight, NOTHING can bring me down.   NOTHING.  I'm in rare form. 

I will be happy to personally write the little dictator with my views, you can probably guess where they might fall at this point (No, I do not play poker for a reason).  Again, I don't care about the accreditations or certifications or papal anointments, who's in and who's out, I am just appalled at this man's audacity.  I'm in awe of it actually, I can't stop giggling.  No wait, that's still the Duke loss.  

Maybe I'll start my own HIGH COUNCIL.  Double-secret-probation for all you nay-sayers.  I'm having a meeting in New Orleans in a couple of weeks, see the Wildcats win the championship AND decide other artists' fate.  Priceless.

It's MARCH MADNESS after all, Let the Games Begin.


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