Art Fair Insiders

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

It's been said that we are about 2 months behind China in dealing with COVID-19. People in China are slowly getting back to normalcy. They are being cautious because of the possibility that the virus could come back if they interact in public too soon. We have finished the second week of sequestering with 6 weeks to go, meaning sequestering would end around May 15th. A number of shows around the middle of May have not cancelled, hoping that they will still be able to have their event. My question is: Even if the rate of infection of COVID-19 approached 0, would you do a show around the second weekend in May? The second part of this question is how long before the all clear would you feel comfortable taking a chance doing a show? I definitely not do a show in the next 6 weeks and I'm thinking I would not do a show until at least June 1st. There is going to be a lot of pressure to do something in the later half of May because of the needed cash flow.

Would it ever be worth the risk? I set up my schedule to do shows from the end of April through May and then use June to make work. With all the cancellations, I won't have a show until 4th of July weekend. That's 3 months from now. However, the temptation to do something before then is great just to have some money. What do you all think? There is also the possibility that no customer is going to attend any shows for a while. 

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I like that they asked for input for the artists. Very cool and very smart. 

I am new to Art Fair Insiders, and was wanting to ask artists if they are still applying to shows for this summer/fall or not. My May/June shows are cancelled, and I looked online today to fill out some applications for July/August and then asked myself if this was a good idea or not (to throw away the application fee). Curious to know how everyone is thinking/feelilng about this since it's already April 21st.  

Also, I was thinking of applying to my first Howard Alan Show; I have heard some good and some not so flattering things about them in the past. I couldn't find anything on their site regarding Covid cancellation refunds, and saw how strict their normal refund is; can anyone supply info here?

Diana, Howard Alan Events is very businesslike with clear policies, as they must be with so many events to handle. They have rules, people who do their events know what they are and willingly comply, and frankly they are NOT onerous. They are good people and trustworthy and understand the artists well. I'm surprised that they don't have anything posted about Covid. Do not hesitate to give them a call. They'll be glad to help you. 

I emailed them last night and got a response today and was happy to see that yes, they WILL refund 100% of the payment. I'm not sure why they don't have that posted anywhere, but glad to know!

I'll do the first show that I can - for a variety of reasons.

But I'm more willing to assume risk than most. And would assume that whatever customers might show up are less risk-averse than the average, too. Your mileage will vary, of course.

Truly, I'm more worried about a 400 mile drive in my bus with a trailer than the virus itself - cutting both ways - me behind the wheel as a risk to others as well as other drivers as a risk to me (not to mention weather, road conditions, mechanical failure, etc.).

I realize this won't be a popular position, but it's not without careful thought that I take it.

I have thought about writing a BLOG post about shows with the title of SCOTT FOX IS RIGHT, but I didn't start thinking about writing this article during COVID-19. I first thought about it five years ago when my wife went into respiratory failure after doing three panhandle Florida shows and four days before 4 Bridges in Chattanooga. Although my wife recovered somewhat within a week, I had to cancel our remaining four shows on the tour, lose every bit of those booth fees and limp back home to Wyoming to begin life anew.

Scott and Connie did a podcast a long time ago wherein he gave the advice to use shows as a way to find and establish relationships with new customers and then to serve those customers without the need of the show in the future. The objective being to make your time at shows the way to find customers and then transfer them to a less costly mode such as a website and/or direct mail marketing without the need of the show in the future. Theoretically, using this model would eventually lead an artist to no longer needing shows at all.

Recovering from our 2015 crisis has been difficult and life changing. The three years after the near death experience were pretty dismal as far as doing shows was concerned. It wasn't possible to return to our Florida and Southeast US market where we had done so well for so long due to my wife's condition. We finally began showing in the West and Southwest, but all of the shows cost much more to do as well as travel expenses were much higher than in Florida. Not to mention the shows in the West have very few awards, and half our income had been coming from winning awards in Florida and the Southeast.

Being headstrong and full of some doctor advice, we did two Florida shows in fall 2018 and then two in spring 2019, but that created another very serious health problem for my wife and we've had to revert back to staying closer to home in the West. In fact, we aren't doing much of anything with shows now. COVID-19 will probably end the desire to travel very much at all for any reason. Least of which would be to do an art fair despite that routine being so indelibly stamped in our blood. We miss our artist friends and show lifestyle.

Scott's advice is some of the best I've ever heard. We've managed to heed it only a little. We still enjoyed the shows, not to mention gleaning half our income from awards. You can't win awards without being at the shows. And in some cases, we would make sales to our best few customers online and then deliver to them during a show. So we still thought that we needed the shows to make contact with the customers who were going to be our customers anyway, because they liked the show culture as well and wanted to participate in it, too.

We've cancelled everything and aren't seeking art fair opportunities at this time. Health and staying alive is more important. Not being a virus vector is also in our minds and hope that it will be in other's minds as well. The more exposure everyone has to each other, the wider this thing will spread. We're staying home and away from people, so my answer is WE WOULD NOT DO THE SHOW UNTIL SOMETIME NEXT YEAR.

Oh, Barrie, that is so nice (about Scott -- not the rest of it). I am in this business because of Scott Fox (my son). He told me to start these websites -- and he and I -- have been true believers in not relying on art fairs as sole income. We did that podcast about eight years ago and a few more along the line emphasizing the idea that you might not always be able to meet your clients at the art fair, circumstances could intervene. His most important marketing tip: Build your email list. That list is an artist's best retirement plan.

And now, thanks for this update, so timely. Please keep me up to date on your activities. Your continued searching and building new opportunities for yourselves, despite health problems and your geographically undesirable location exhibit not only the tenacity necessary to stay true to yourselves but  an ability to learn and change with each seeming roadblock. It's always a new day at your house. 

I've seen so many businesses leave money on the table by not building or utilizing their mailing lists. This applies to all industries.

It's not about hounding people to buy your stuff. It's not about filling people's email inbox until they're sick of you and unsubscribe or cry "Spam."

It's about maintaining contact and building relationships in a way that can't be done in nine minutes at an art fair. It's making your art available to those who are eager to consume it when the time is right for them, not necessarily when those potential customers happen upon your booth.

It's not a stretch when marketing experts claim a mailing list is the most important part of any business.

The number one reason to have a website? To build a list.

My number one reason to do an art fair? Build a list.

Also note the term "mailing list" as opposed to "email list." To many people not familiar with marketing, email brings up notions of spam. While email marketing is critical, the power of postal mail is often overlooked in our modern, electronic world. If I had to choose only one method, I'd choose postal mail.

So, would I do the show? I don't know. But I do know that I can keep my art in front of people without the show.

Hi, Jay. Great comments. Maintaining contact seems to be the key. It certainly lets others know we are thinking of them in some way and that they are an important part of our process.

Direct mail marketing always works better for me, especially when it's tailored to the specific patron. But several factors have changed even how I work with that. What used to cost me about 75 cents to produce now costs several dollars. And the last 6 years have proven fatal for my lower end limited edition repros customers, which I attribute to the costs everyone pays to get and upkeep smart phones and tablets and then maintain their presence on social media. And that's changing how people look at art altogether.

I have not kept up with the email marketing as well as I could. And I've only in the last two years begun using social media tools for art business. I don't think anyone can survive as well without social media. So Instagram factors in big time for me these days. How about you?

Thank you for the kind words, Barrie.

Regarding Instagram, that's been on my to-do list for too long. Numerous credible sources have said Instagram has been a good investment - I have no doubt that it's something I need to be doing.

Thank you for linking our website to my name, Connie, and for the kind words. Not much is changing and updating on our website right now since after returning home from the Winter Park and Gulf Breeze trip last spring. My wife was really sick from April to August and didn't get back to studio work until mid-September. She began feeling much better by December.

During that time I wasn't able to be in my studio to make frames and whatever, so I used my iPad mini to make photographs around the house and studio. I could make images for 20 minutes or so, spend a few hours at a time working with the images in PhotoShop and then printing them on my 17-inch Epson printer. I developed an entire new body of photographic work, my Domestic Arrangements, during 2019. And I improved my PhotoShop skills tremendously.

While doing these I also became enamored with Instagram which has led to some really meaningful connections, including two that are over seas. One of these international connections became the basis for an article I wrote about an exhibition in Berlin called UNZERTRENNLICH. My article was slated to be published in May, but it has been stalled due to COVID-19. When magazines lose advertisers, they can't publish and pay authors. Hopefully they'll recover in June or July and my article will see print and distribution.

I started writing about art, gilding, and picture frames for magazines after our 2015 health disaster. I volunteered to be on a board of directors and that opened plenty of doors. And I also began teaching gilding at a national conference in Las Vegas and did this for the third time that past January. All this has led to new opportunities and I'm trying to pay attention to all the details so I can make the most of it. I'm always shaking the bushes!

Just got email from an Oct show.  They have had a lot of cancellations worried about a "second wave" of sickness . They have offered full refunds if they do have to cancel but are now very concerned they might not have enough artists to have a show.  Situation is hard on all concerned.

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