Art Fair Insiders

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

OK Artists! Time to speak up. Besides booth pricing (because we all know you would want it to be free!) what would you like to see in your "Dream Art Fair." Let's also try to do this with as little complaining about other fairs as possible - just tell me what would make you the happiest at an Art Fair!

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My dream art fair is one where the artists send their applications in before the deadline, filled out completely according to the instructions, make their checks out to the correct payee as specified on the application and prospectus, pay their booth fees by the deadline, don't bounce booth fee checks, and on the day of the show, move their vehicles after unloading, stay in their own spaces, respect their neighbors, show only work consistent with what they juried in with, are checked in and set up by the appropriate time, don't start tearing down half an hour before the show is over and people are still coming in, and stop expecting me to be their fairy godmother. In return, the dream show offers reasonable jury and booth fees, a jury made of up both professional artists and educators, notice of acceptance within two-three weeks of the application deadline, another month to pay your booth fees, refreshments, booth sitters, adequate booth space, volunteers to assist you in setting up your tent and schlepping your stuff from your vehicle to your booth space, gives you a ride back from artist parking after setup and to artist parking at teardown, has indoor, air-conditioned bathrooms just for the artists, prohibits B/S and enforces the rule, offers a great mix of art, advertises with professionally designed publicity materials that feature participating artists' work, sends you, in advance, 25 free postcards and an electronic version if you provide your email address on your application, a map of the location in the city with directions on how to get there, a site map showing your booth in relation to all other booths, a director who visits each booth to ask how you're doing, a fair and knowledgeable judge and decent prize money, and an opportunity to evaluate the show.

As a show director, I do all of those things for my shows, and yet, it seems it's never enough. I do it on a shoestring budget by myself for a tiny stipend for one show and as a volunteer for another. Someone higher up on the food chain controls the weather, and in a city among the highest in unemployment and lowest in re-employment, it's tough to draw the crowds we have had in the past. I get flamed on this site each time I post as a show director, but I still love what I do, and I rarely have any complaints from the artists who do my shows. I get great suggestions for improving the show and do my best to incorporate them into the next year's show. I try to conduct my shows the way I, as an exhibiting artist, want the shows I do, to be. It's not about the money, it's about putting on the best show possible.
If unloading is far from set up, get some volunteers with dollies or carts to help.

Booth sitters for very brief perids of time (maybe 10 to 15 minutes max) so I can see other people's art. And so I can pee.

ENFORCE no buy sell

Be treated as an artist and not someone you are renting real estate to
Dream art fair: driving right up to boothspace to unload and then load when over, volunteers for each participant willing and able to help with setup, takedown and attending while artist takes a few breaks, maybe setting up under a big top rather then individual canopies, free water/coffee handed out, lots of art buying patrons. Able to sell a variety of art creations rather then just one type. Like a mix of paintings with pottery or glass or all three. Diversity bring in sales! With bad weather predictions , like a hurricane on the way, postponement to another date or fees returned or applied to next year. Artist should not loose their hard earned fees.
Hello All,
Show are new to me but here are a few to make them better...

Please give us some space between booths. We can't stand behind or next to the booth to let our clients look around. They will not come in if we are in the booth.

Please let us know in advance if we are in. My father is trying to come down to see his grand children on a certain date from Michigan to South Carolina. We are trying to book a condo for him but can't due to me trying to know if I am in a show or not. He is not very happy with his artsy daughter.

Please have the show coordinator say Hello to the new artist that have never applied. We are new to the area, new to the show and a little uneasy. It doesn't make you want to fill out the check next year if you aren't even told "Thanks for the $250 and the $25 jury fee."

Everything is else is really our responsibility to do a good job and make the art look great.

Happy Day!
Heather
Look, as an artist who is trying to break away from 'traditional' employment to do my art full time, here is what I want from an art fair. I have three goals for ANY art fair I participate in.
1) Make Immediate Money - If I am spending a regular week's salary to attend / participate, then I want to make at least 3 work weeks worth of money for a show to be worth my while.
2) Make Future Money - I want to book enough commissions to cover one months worth of salary.
3) Make Connections - To me the most successful artists are those who build strong networks of peers who can direct potential clients to each other.

Somethings I want to see (and this is what we did at a festival that I recently ran).
1) No 'Juried' participation - this is just artistic snobbery, in my opinion. Some fairs have such ridiculous requirements for participation that they seem like galleries and not Art Fairs.
2) Reduced Booth Fees - we just ran a fair that drew nearly 50 artists and 300+ attendees for a one day event and our booth fees were well under $100 and we were able to stage the event using those fees, AND we had money left over.
3) Do not take a percentage of sales over and above the booth-fees. That is just simply highway robbery. Make it one or the other; either take my money in booth-fees, or as a sales percentage, not both.
4) Seek out the Art-Buyers - we did not do this very well, and our fundraising effort fell short of our goal. Had we spent a little more time inviting those people who were most likely to BUY art work we would have made more money for the fund raising and for our artists as well. We can still cater to the 'general-browsing-public' while also inviting those with bigger wallets.
I would like to see a show where the exhibitors are friendly with each other. Friendships are critical in this business.

I don't want to see the exhibitor who thinks s/he's the "star" of the show and everybody else is beneath him/her.

I would like to see a show where there are no exhibitors "jurying" the show too. And then having a tantrum when they see somebody they think shouldn't be there.

I would like to see a show where nobody looks down their nose at other exhibitors. Those exhibitors were admitted just as the snobs were.

I would like to see exhibitors HELPING each other out. Help setting up the canopy, help with breaks by watching each others booth, going for coffee/water and asking their neighbor if they want some, etc.

I would like to see exhibitors drive to their booth, UNLOAD and THEN set up! Not park there for 3 hours blocking everyone else. Your booth is 10 feet and your van is 20 feet long. You have neigbors who would like to set up too. And if the show is indoors, I would like to see exhibitors not put their entire booth in the aisle and take 3 hours to set up. Other exhibitors need to get by, and here's 230 plastic tubs strewn all over the aisle. I'm dollying a 4 foot wide display panel and they look at me as if I'm the bad guy for saying "excuse me please".

I wouldlike to see exhibitors stay in their assigned space. Not encroach on their neighbors. We both pay the same amount and it's wrong to put displays and stock in front of our neighbor's booth. I did a show where there was 3 feet behind the booths for storage. I figured half was mine and half was the exhibitor's behind me. I was rudely told to get my "stuff" out of there as that's where they were going to sit! My "stuff" stayed. Another time I was told by a neighbor that I had to move my display because they needed an aisle next to their booth for customers and I couldn't set up a wall on my side line. They wanted half my space for their aisle. I set it up anyway, and I was the bad guy again.
And if you have legs on your wire panels, don't put them in your neighbor's booth.

I would like to see shows where the exhibitors are there to enjoy what they do, not be rude and condesending.

We are a very fortunate group of people. We complain when we "only" make $2000 in two or three days. Meanwhile there are many, many people out there who work 40+ hours a week, at a job they hate, for a company who doesn't care about them. They could lose their job tomorrow. All for a lousy $750. I would like to see exhibitors who are just plain happy to be able to do this for a living! I know I am!

I dunno. Maybe I'm the only one who actually loves what he does for a living!
O.K. I will admit to being a relative newbie when it comes to being a participating artist in Art Festivals and shows, but have attended hundreds as a guest/purchaser of art and here are my suggestions (gripes!?)

1) Juried Shows = Artistic Snobbery - In my region (the Midwest) I see many of the same artists, show to show - why? Because their buddies on the juries vote them in. Stop it. Art is about VARIETY. I hear the following complaint al the time, "We can't accept EVERYBODY! We only have space for 250 artists. Poppycock! Get a bigger venue for your event!!!

2) Starving Artist vs. Working Artist - Ever wonder about the difference and the reasons why we have these designations? Some have the luxury of their art being a hobby. Others are trying to make a living doing what we love to do...create and sell our art. An artist cannot make a living when Show organizers charge hundreds or thousands of dollars for booth fees for one weekend. Consequently artists are forced to overprice their work in the hope that some fat-cats will buy one or two pieces during a show to cover their expenses.

3) Gawkers vs. Spenders - While the majority of shows are 'open-to-the-public' and also free, show directors and promoters should spend a good deal of time developing a 'Special Guest List'. No matter where you live there ARE people who love to buy art! I have been at a couple events where Friday evening or Saturday morning are 'invitation-only' to this group. Complete with food and drink, schmoozing and special guests. All I can say is that this is an AWESOME format. At both events I made enough to cover booth fee and travel expenses that evening and the rest of the weekend was pure profit - and joy!!!

3) More than Eye-Candy - Please, please, organizers couple art with food and entertainment! Nothing is more BOOORING!!! Than 300 tents, row by row, coupled with sweaty guests, noxious suntan-lotion fumes and nothing to break the day. For goodness sakes, get a couple churches or youth groups to boil up some hotdogs. Find some high school or college bands or at least some D.J.s to provide some music. As much as they scare me ...find some crusty old magicians to wander the event pulling quarters from peoples ears.... Here is one final suggesetion..... MAKE THE ARTISTS DO SOMETHING IN THEIR BOOTHS!!!!! I absolutely despise the 'Set-Up, Sit-Down, Fold-Your-Arms' art shows.... Unless your art requires a full blown glass furnace, bring something to DO! I have yet to talk to an artist who does this who fails to make more money and generate more commissions by doing this one simple thing...Oh, and besides short breaks, don't have your booger picking kid, or your spouse (who would clearly rather be somewhere else) sit your booth for you... I don't want to talk to them. Here is a rule. If I don't meet the artist... I will not buy a thing. I have been to shows like this where an artist is 'double-dipping' - doing two shows in one weekend, and never shows up.

Well... besides guaranteeing perfect weather....that's all I have to say.

Chris Hoyt said:
I would like to see a show where the exhibitors are friendly with each other. Friendships are critical in this business.

I don't want to see the exhibitor who thinks s/he's the "star" of the show and everybody else is beneath him/her.

I would like to see a show where there are no exhibitors "jurying" the show too. And then having a tantrum when they see somebody they think shouldn't be there.

I would like to see a show where nobody looks down their nose at other exhibitors. Those exhibitors were admitted just as the snobs were.

I would like to see exhibitors HELPING each other out. Help setting up the canopy, help with breaks by watching each others booth, going for coffee/water and asking their neighbor if they want some, etc.

I would like to see exhibitors drive to their booth, UNLOAD and THEN set up! Not park there for 3 hours blocking everyone else. Your booth is 10 feet and your van is 20 feet long. You have neigbors who would like to set up too. And if the show is indoors, I would like to see exhibitors not put their entire booth in the aisle and take 3 hours to set up. Other exhibitors need to get by, and here's 230 plastic tubs strewn all over the aisle. I'm dollying a 4 foot wide display panel and they look at me as if I'm the bad guy for saying "excuse me please".

I wouldlike to see exhibitors stay in their assigned space. Not encroach on their neighbors. We both pay the same amount and it's wrong to put displays and stock in front of our neighbor's booth. I did a show where there was 3 feet behind the booths for storage. I figured half was mine and half was the exhibitor's behind me. I was rudely told to get my "stuff" out of there as that's where they were going to sit! My "stuff" stayed. Another time I was told by a neighbor that I had to move my display because they needed an aisle next to their booth for customers and I couldn't set up a wall on my side line. They wanted half my space for their aisle. I set it up anyway, and I was the bad guy again.
And if you have legs on your wire panels, don't put them in your neighbor's booth.

I would like to see shows where the exhibitors are there to enjoy what they do, not be rude and condesending.

We are a very fortunate group of people. We complain when we "only" make $2000 in two or three days. Meanwhile there are many, many people out there who work 40+ hours a week, at a job they hate, for a company who doesn't care about them. They could lose their job tomorrow. All for a lousy $750. I would like to see exhibitors who are just plain happy to be able to do this for a living! I know I am!

I dunno. Maybe I'm the only one who actually loves what he does for a living!
I don't think anyone is saying they don't enjoy doing what they do. The question was to describe your "dream" art fair, so we pulled out all the dreamy stuff. :) I agree with your assessment except for the earning 2K in 3 days thing. That money is not earned over 3 days. It's earned over weeks on a studio with no guarantee of a paycheck. I much prefer it to the job I left to do this, no doubt or regrets. Just keepin' it real.
I will agree with you about earning the money over a period of time. I work an average 8 hour day making product and sell it on weekends. And it's not work to me at all.

But I see so many exhibitors griping and complaining lately, I wonder if they really are enjoying their job.

I have never seen so much rudeness, or negativity, or attitude as I have seen in just the past couple of years. I'm seeing arguments during setup about silly things! I have never seen so many "Me first" attitudes. There has always been competition, but lately it's getting cutthroat! No two jewelers have the same thing, no two 2D artists, or photographers have the same thing, and there used to be true friendships between exhibitors in the same media. But lately it seems people want to eliminate any potential competition. I have actually seen exhibitors have tantrums! I saw one woman stomping her feet around the aisle because someone else in the same medium was there! SO WHAT??? So there were two people with porcelain instead of one.

I used to make house numbers. Ceramic tiles in a wood frame. I once did a show where there was another exhibitor doing the same thing. Only in a different style frame. Instead of getting angry, we made friends with each other. We ended up sending customers to each other because one didn't have the frame style that customer wanted. We BOTH benefited!

Today I am getting older and can't make intricate work anymore so I make hangers for vinyl siding so people can hang signs, etc from their home. I walk the show and see exhibitors with welcome slates, wreathes, hand carved name signs, etc and give them my card, and tell them if their customers have vinyl siding and don't to put holes in it to hang the item, to come see me. I in turn tell the customers about the other exhibitors selling items they might want to hang from their house with my clips.

Other exhibitors have given me an item to show from my siding with a tag telling the customer where they are. And I gladly hang it in a prominent place in my display.

EVERYBODY BENEFITS!

I see exhibitors get angry with promoters for silly things. There's nothing a promoter can do about the weather! If it rains, and we have a bad show, that's part of this business! We just go on to the next show with high hopes.

As short as five years ago we could pretty much expect to do 10 times our booth fee. Even in winter. Not anymore. Those days are GONE! I now hear one sentence a number of times at shows today from customers: "Sorry, we just don't have the money". The customers are at the show for some entertainment and "window shopping". We must accept that as fact. And as one old timer told me: The rich didn't get rich by spending their money".

We no longer can just sit in our booth and have people come up to us and hand us money. We must be salespeople too. We must convince the reluctant customer they need what we have! And I truly believe exhibitors don't want to do that, so they want to eliminate any competition.

And that's probably why I see so much attitude lately.

I guess my dream fair today is where we're all friends again and there not only to sell, but to have fun in the process.

Pat Sorbini said:
I don't think anyone is saying they don't enjoy doing what they do. The question was to describe your "dream" art fair, so we pulled out all the dreamy stuff. :) I agree with your assessment except for the earning 2K in 3 days thing. That money is not earned over 3 days. It's earned over weeks on a studio with no guarantee of a paycheck. I much prefer it to the job I left to do this, no doubt or regrets. Just keepin' it real.
Chris Hoyt said:
And as one old timer told me: The rich didn't get rich by spending their money".


LOL! Amen to that, Chris! Spreading the wealth isn't the mantra of the rich.

I believe that the rudeness and fit-pitching goes beyond the exhibitors, though. I've noticed a new level of aggressiveness just doing my grocery shopping. I know I'm tightly wound myself, but it seems that folks in general are way too tense most of the time. Sometimes I think that I've mellowed since I've given up my day job, but my husband thinks otherwise.

My dream show would be one in which the promoter actually provided solid demographic data along with the application. That way we would all have a sporting chance of knowing whether or not it was the show for us and our work.

And I agree that there is room for everyone in this world. Wouldn't it be nice if we could all get where we wanted to go together?
LOL! Amen to that, Chris! Spreading the wealth isn't the mantra of the rich.

They do spread the wealth. But now they're being told to, and naturally they will close their wallets even more. And their taxes are going to go up next year too, so they'll not be in any mood to spend.

I know two self made millionaires. And I got the above statemant about not spending from them. They do spend, and they do "spread the wealth", but they always want VALUE for their money. They won't just buy stuff, they want to need it or see quality. Not what we think is quality, but what they think is quality. Big difference.

The rich won't part with their money as fast as the middle class will. So I love doing shows in working areas or middle class areas. They WILL spend.
I live in a city very hard hit by unemployment and lack of re-employment, one of the worst in the nation. And yet, last weekend, before the deluge shut us down, Art on the Lawn had a brisk trade, and as I made the rounds to visit with each artist, most reported good sales. Our customers were very middle/working class. They buy carefully, but they buy. And publicity does work. A young artist whose work I featured on the postcard and poster was very excited—she sold the piece to someone who came looking specifically for that painting (the large red/orange cat--see attached e-postcard).


Chris Hoyt said:
LOL! Amen to that, Chris! Spreading the wealth isn't the mantra of the rich.
They do spread the wealth. But now they're being told to, and naturally they will close their wallets even more. And their taxes are going to go up next year too, so they'll not be in any mood to spend.
I know two self made millionaires. And I got the above statemant about not spending from them. They do spend, and they do "spread the wealth", but they always want VALUE for their money. They won't just buy stuff, they want to need it or see quality. Not what we think is quality, but what they think is quality. Big difference.

The rich won't part with their money as fast as the middle class will. So I love doing shows in working areas or middle class areas. They WILL spend.
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