Art Fair Insiders

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


Well, Ellen and I made our first trip there for the show, we both got in.  It is a nine-hour trip from Saugatuck, we broke it up and left late Wednesday and stayed in Davenport, Iowa for the night, a river town on the mighty Mississippi.  Found a great restaurant--the Duck City Bistro, see my Tequila Report.

It is a three-day show with setup on Thursday.  Only 190 exhibitors, and supposed to have crowds over 200,000.  A recipe for moola if there ever was one.

First off, BS, no crowds of that number showed up this past weekend.

All 190 artists were looking strong, didn't see any blatent buysell.

This is conservative country, they buy real safe, tried and true, stuff here.  I took a chance with my tropical stuff here, they loved Ellen's cows, but only a few bought them.

Bottom line, this is a worthwhile show to try for.  You gotta show up to see what you will do.  For me, it was not as good as Artisphere(Greenville, SC, see my May blog) but I still made serious moola for the three days.  Ellen basically made all her money on Friday, she sat without a single sale for 10 hours on Saturday--what a drag!

So there, I have given you some meaningful meat.  read on if you want to learn more, enjoy the ride.


We arrived at the show around noon on Thursday, you have an all-day to set up.  Show hours are 11 AM-10 PM on Friday, 10 AM-10PM on Sat., and 10AM-5PM on Sunday.  I guess they don't want artists to have fun and go out and eat dinners at night because their show hours suck!  Sorry, Stephen King, the show director, you run a great show, but your hours are totally clueless.  There is no REASON to be there that late--what are you thinking!

When we got there an artist who was next to Ellen but two booths away from me(Clue, Ellen and I were side by side) was already there with his van and cargo trailer, he ended up keeping the whole rig there for five hours.  My neighbor, also decided to keep his rig there for about four hours.  We finally got them both to move a little further apart.  We then parked our vans at 45-degrees in front of our spots.  Don't ya just love neighbors like that.  Hint, they were both seasoned artists and should have known better, but basically, it was all about them.

We got setup with lots of weights.  You are pretty much on concrete, no room for dog-stakes and tie-downs.  I had 90-pounds of John Deere weights on each front corner.  We each bought four cinder blocks in Davenport and anchored our rears of booth with them.  Where we were located, was storm-central last year when a lot of booths took a big hit from winds.  Happy to report nobody took bad wind damage this year.

Here is some info about the show layout, wish the rest of you when you blog could be little more instructive about how a show is laid out.

Basically, the bulk of booths are on two streets parallel  to each other, Grand and Locust, I believe.  Then at the western end of the show (the two streets are running east to west) are a line of booths perpendicular to these streets. (Gee, I hope you guys passed high school geometry) These are booths for corporate interests.  At the eastern edge of the show on another perpendicular street are about 15 artist booths, they get half the crowd because everybody skips that street and crosses over the park to the other streets.   You don't want to be on that row, it sucks.  Stephen, put the corporate people there and the artists at the western most edge.  That way everybody has an equal chance to make money. 

Breathe easier now Stephen, because I an now done saying anything negative about your show.  From here on, it is all pluses.  It is a very well-run show.

All booths have ample room for storage behind.  There is room on most artists sides to hang art.

They have wonderful boothsitters.  They put water coolers behind booths so we can fill up bottles.  They have a great artist party.  They communicate well, you get booklet with a gazillion pages of info, from how to find a food store, to who has the best martinis in town.

They are very mindful of the weather and give lots of warnings and preparative-ness to help us.

They have an artist lodging program, which we took advantage of, where Des Moines people put up artists in their homes for free.  And we are talking about staying in really classy houses, with lots of art on the walls and ample wine cellars.

Teardown is organized and fair.  We got out in an hour and fifteen minutes on Sunday.  Lou Zale was packed and gone in 30 minutes--that guy is the King of Art Show Getaways.

So there, Stephen, I said a lot of good things, hopefully I will get a fair shot at jurying next year.  You sound like a fair person.

Thursday after setup, Ellen and I were able to meet up with Munks and Madonna, his beautiful and soulful wife, for dinner.  He took us to the Flying Mango Cafe.  It serves awesome Cajan and barbeque.  Had the best smoked brisket with a sweet potato pancake I had ever eaten.  Had my first mouthfuls of Templeton Rye Whiskey that can only be gotten in Iowa.  If you are lucky to find any.  Munks was doing the other show at the fairgrounds.  I think he will do a report on it.

We got to stay at the home of Dean and Diane Peyton.  They are recently retired, and are both living the good life.  They not only put up Ellen and I, but also another couple.  We all had our own bedrooms upstairs with our own bathrooms.  House came equipped with Henry the Golden Lab and Jack the Cat.  Dean had great wine to share with us.  Diane cut up fresh fruit every morn along with tasty coffee.  I must admit I was a bad influence on Dean and maybe led him down a bad path.  We both drank lots of Jack Daniels, Templeton and lots of wine.  Sunday nite, after the show, Ellen and I treated them to dinner and wine, they loved it.  We all had the times of our lives.  The artists sharing homes plan is a great bonus of this show.  Frankly, it made our weekend.

A little about Des Moines.

You think Iowa.  You think flat lands, corn fields going on forever.  Well, that is true.  But Des Moines is a lovely treed city with curving hills and beautiful architecture.  They have several colleges, a lot of great restaurants, and some of the nicest people you could ever meet.

The other two nites, after we finished at 10 PM we ate at Red China Bistro.  This is a sauve place with a fusion menu of Chinese, Thai and Japanese cuisine with a little Vietnamese thrown in.  Plus a full liquor bar and acoustic live music.  It was also a deal to eat at.  We ate good and light given the time of night.

OK, back to the show.  Friday we had the prettiest weather of all three days.  Beautiful blue skies with wonderful clouds.  Weather in the low 70s with gentle breezes.  Small crowds during the day, but they surged in the evening.  Many artists did $3-4K that day.

Then the show warned us that we might get really bad weather early on Saturday--like at 5 AM.  Think nasty storms and evil winds.  Everybody took proper percautions.  I nailed down all my booth legs plus had all the weights.

Well, Sat. arrived with no bad storms at 5 AM.  But then it proceeded to rain all the way to about 1 PM.  It was crowd-killer.  They never really came out.  Sales were still made, but it was pretty lightweight day compared to what it was supposed to be. One photographer, who had his booth destroyed at Columbus, was sitting on nearly five figures by day's end.

Sunday, we awoke to clouds and chilling temps.  Crowds were a mix of Friday and Saturday.  Friday brought out the older corporate crowd with money.  Saturday it was lots of young kids, some had money, some just were hanging out.  Sunday was mixture.

I made the bulk of my Sunday sales between 1-3 PM, then it was La-La-Ville after that.

Overall, you can't knock this show.  It might be in a lot of people's top ten.  You gotta try it for yourself.

Well, Aloha.  Gonna try and reboot my flagging golf game, and then on Thursday it is off to Boston Mills for Ellen and I.  Hope to meet up with Jim Wilbat, Bob and Patti Stern and of course Leo Charrette and lovely wife Carol.  We will all have a hell of a great time, and hopefully make some serious moola.

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Comment by Dave Piper on February 14, 2020 at 2:14pm

I did Des Moines once a few years ago and had a great show.  Big, big money.  You know those things you hear from people that seem to insinuate in person that they are big shots with the show...  Well, at that show, a supposed big shot came to tell me that my jury score was half a point behind the one perfect score and that I had the only second best score.  I have been rejected every year since.  The only year I ever got accepted to Gasparillo a big shot (perhaps not) came to tell me I had the most popular product in the history of the show and would I please come back forever.  Rejected each year since.  I no longer enter Florida shows in the past few years since I realized they had gone from poor to very poor. I believe the next time anyone at any show comes in my booth to tell me how special they are and how special I am, I will ask them to let me pull my truck in now and load out as I am now ashamed to even be there.

Comment by Carole Fleischman on July 4, 2011 at 12:00pm
Did anyone else do the Des Moines show?  It is helpful to hear from other folks with different mediums.
Comment by Nels Johnson on June 30, 2011 at 5:41am
Comment by patti stern on June 30, 2011 at 12:43am
Great report Nels, if you and Ellen want to catch a bite with Bob and I Saturday night, make a rez at Blue Canyon....
Comment by Nels Johnson on June 29, 2011 at 10:05am
Why thank you Kathleen for your astute observations.
Comment by Kathleen Neff on June 29, 2011 at 8:52am

I had to say I certainly enjoyed your assessments of Des Moines and the show...but, if people were really interested in learning the structure and layout of a potential that Des Moines might offer, they need to get past the nit-picking and read what you said, KNOWING why you said it.  It was constructive, entertaining (would you believe that Iowa was 'dry' when I was growing up there?) and useful for those who do shows seriously.  I agree with you when it comes to putting in your oar when reviewing shows ... Reviews should be useful for those who are making show decisions-from BOTH sides of the line: Promoters and Management as well as the Artists who "make it happen" -

Onward to 'nwxt' year! 

Comment by Nels Johnson on June 29, 2011 at 8:17am

well gee Chris--I really don't know  what is in Mr. King's mind.

I do know this, I am not afraid to speak up and address inequities as I see them, which is more than I can say for a lot of people who blog on this site.  There is lots of "yada, yada, yada... sometimes people are afraid to even mention the show they are talking about.

Maybe you don't read my blogs on a regular basis, maybe you do.  I was being a little sarcastic ,just to make the point that the show's hours are too fricking long.  The rest about whether I get in or not, is just a fun expression.  I will live or die by my jury score next year.  I don't think my comments here are going to affect it one bit.

Hope that explains my statement. nels.

Comment by Ruth Finkenbiner on June 29, 2011 at 12:25am
Nels - thanks for the blog, you've certainly changed my perception of Des Moines - old history - I used to travel there on business for my "real job" frequently when we lived in Dallas for a few years.  For some reason I always got asked to fly there in Nov or Feb or some other month when Des Moines had nothing more than a totally white landscape or wind blowing the snow around so hard you couldn't tell where the intersections were and what color the traffic lights were!  Sounds like a great show for us to add to our "potential wish list" once we decide to venture away from the Western US. 
Comment by Nels Johnson on June 28, 2011 at 6:46pm
Tanks from DownUnder, Annette.  I am going to do a seperate blog with the pics.
Comment by Annette Piper on June 28, 2011 at 6:02pm
Great post Nels and so glad to hear you enjoyed the show with decent sales.   The artist billeting sounds fantastic - a real opportunity to get to know the locals better.  I'll look forward to the pics after your nap!

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