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ST. JAMES COURT ART SHOW--THE WHOLE UNVARNISHED TRUTH--AS I SEE IT

Well, this show gets a lot of press.  

I read a great post on Facebook that had about 30 plus comments.  Some good, mostly bad.

Facebook is thin, you never get a lot of meat.

I am gonna give ya the whole feast, and dessert too.

No Papys, since a 23-year old Papys is now getting $85 per shot in Louisville restaurants. Pleez!

FIRST A LITTLE HISTORY

I first met my wife, Ellen Marshall, at this show more than 18 years ago.  So I have a romantic angle to it.  Hard to let go of the show.

May have too.  Read on.

At one time, every important artist out there did St. James, hereafter referred to as SJ.

The crowds came and bought, impressive sales numbers were made in all media.

Sadly, those days are a distant memory for most of us.

I have done the show for 20-plus years.  I am on the court in a great spot.  Next to my wife--very important.  I get fresh kisses by the hour.  We have our backs to the SJ mansions.  Plenty of storage room.  We have electricity  (Most do not).  A neighbor lets us use her bathroom.  She feeds us soup, sandwiches, even beer.  We get in very easily and setup.  Teardown is a piece of cake too.

So what's not to like about the show.

It always comes down to dollars spent versus dollars earned.

SJ gets a big "F" in my book.  The dinero is longer there, for what it costs.

In the old days this was a solid show, $4K plus every year.

Sadly, that does not happen any more.

OK.  A LITTLE MEAT ABOUT THE SHOW

SJ Court is only one of five art fairs run at this location.  Altogether, you have more than 750 exhibitors.  Just like Ann Arbor.

The Court show has exhibitors on both sides of the two streets on the mall.  The mall has two rows of artists.  Newbies get put here.  They do not always get the whole crowd.  It is a rite of passage.  You get on the mall, at least one time, and then hope for a better spot after that.  I was on the mall, once.

There are artists on a show called Belgravia Court.  This is a narrow strip of artists, tightly packed in back to back.  Just off the court on the south end.  It is considered a prime show to be in, along with the court.

One street over, to the east of the court is Fourth Street.  This show has artists packed in on both curbs of the street.

Then, another street to the east is Third Street.  There are two shows, one north, one south that have artists setup off the street facing the sidewalk.

Then there is an old church along Magnolia, which has their show with artists around its parking lot.  Then, there is  a scab show under an old filling station on Hill Street.

Lots of competition for limited spending by the attendees.

In the Court show there are lots of corner booths, double booths.  Most artists have ample storage behind.  Many have some room to hang on at least one side wall.

LETS NOW LOOK AT THE SALES SIDE OF THIS SHOW

First, I am a photographer.  I have very colorful images, many are tropical, many are humorous, some are hand-colored.  After 40 years in the biz, I have many friends in all media who do this show.  I  walk all the shows every morn.  I get reports from folks.  What is hot, what is not.

Also, when people come into my booth, I greet them, tell them about the work.  My nose is not in a book or on a IPhone.

I am a closer.  Give me an opening, and I will make sure you go home with one of my pieces, been doing 36 shows per year, for 40 years--and, making a living at it.

For most of us, this show is sliding into oblivion.

Yeah, about 10 per cent of all exhibitors make some serious money there.  The rest of us are struggling to make $3K now.  This used to be a $5K show for years, and then I saw it starting to slide ever downward the last five years.

A LITTLE MATH LESSON ABOUT SALES.

Lets just say you did $3K there.  Sounds decent for a three-day  show now.

Remember, $3K is now the old $5K.

Trouble is, the $3K does not buy you $5K of anything.

Back to the math.

Show fee is $550 for the booth, plus the jury fee.

If you live a five hour drive away (Like me) or longer, then you are looking at a  $200 plus gas bill.

Lodging.  Show is three days, plus a day before setup.  Many of us come in the night before the setup--especially depending on your Thursday set up time.  First ones, go in at 9 am, then next group (me) goes in at noon, then final group goes in at 3 pm. So you can have 4-5 nites of hotel bills.  I stayed at a Sleep Inn with a great rate--with taxes it came to $69 per nite, or nearly $350 for the five days.

Food, gonna run ya $40 per day easily--so there is another $200 gone.

You gotta replace that $3K of inventory you sold.

You are losing six per cent back for sales tax.  The another 2-3 per cent on the MCV processing fees.

All  told, when you add it all up, you clear about $1200-$1400 for the show.  And you were away 4-5 days.

Not a great return on your money.

That is why this show no longer really works for most of us trying to earn a living out there.

For the booth fee charged, there should be a far better return on your money.

Sadly there is not.  And, I do not see it improving in the near future.

SO, NELS, TELL US ABOUT THE FRICKING SHOW, I CAN NOT HOLD MY BREATH MUCH LONGER.

Thought you would never ask.

This year we had very cold weather two of the three days.  I think it affected crowd turnout.

Friday, we lucked out.  It was supposed to rain most of the day--never happened.  Crowds were thin.

Saturday, we had clear skies, winds, and a high of about 58 degrees.  Brrrrr!

Sunday, we had clouds, some wind, and it got into the low 60's.  Brrr!

Crowds were thin compared to years past.

Not a lot of good shoes people attending.

Forget about be-backs.  You got one shot at them.

Most of the crowds there could be called the "Walking Zombies."

They walked enmasse down the middle of the street, never looking into a booth.

A sorry state of affairs.

When they did come in, they bought very lowend.  Most of them  did not have lot of moola on them.

Louisville tends to be very Southern, very traditional and very conservative in their art taste.

Sadly, lots of art on the stick going buy.  Who juried these shows?

I saw very few gallery wraps go by me on any given day.  Mostly little matted pieces in bags.

I just do not see the quality people there anymore.

I also do not see a lot of the great circuit artists there any more.  They have written this show off.

IN CONCLUSION

Hey, you pay your $550 and takes your chances.

If you are a part-timer, then maybe a $3K return is ok with you.

If you live nearby, it is probably OK.

For the rest of us who try to make living out there--it is very questionable whether we should continue to do this show.

Bottom line.  The pie is being sliced way too thin.  There are not enough buyers out there for all the competition.

That said, Louisville is a wonderful town to be in, in the early fall.

I just don't know if I will be partaking of it anymore.

Views: 3799

Comment by beth clark on October 10, 2014 at 12:16pm

I participated in SJ/Belgravia (jewelry) for the first time this year, and my observations were similar.

This is a social, community event for locals.  Many people referred to it as an "institution."  Sometimes that means the art is a sideshow, and not the primary focus.  Seems true at SJ.

The distinctions between the various shows -- and the relative jurying processes -- aren't apparent, nor of much importance to the patrons.  

At the close of Sunday, I was handed an invitation letter for 2015 -- not personalized with my name on it, and not distributed by a person checking off names/booth numbers.  So were all my neighbors.  Either we're all so uniformly awesome that they want to waive application fees and make sure we're all back, or the fest management wants to ensure participation for next year….because exhibitor interest has been waning as of late?  (pure speculation on my part).

Many people collected my business card and indicated that they save cards, then make sure to "visit" or even "buy" from artists they admire…next year!  I wish I had the wherewithal and the balls to say I WONT BE HERE NEXT YEAR IF I DON'T SELL ENOUGH THIS YEAR.  I suppose its an innocent enough comment on their part -- maybe politeness, maybe rationale for why they look, try on, but don't buy.  That's ok, I get it.  But the subtext of this refers to the sideshow aspect of this show:  artists may be taken for granted, as if we are part of the "institution" instead of individuals presenting work for SALE.

In the end, after four nights of hotel, food, gas (I live in Chicago) and booth fee, I walked away with $1200 profit.  Not a loss, and I am early in my career of doing shows (third year). I heard good things about this show, and while I'm not completely disappointed, I'm not certain if I'll return.  I tried it, now I know what to expect.

 

Comment by beth clark on October 10, 2014 at 12:26pm

PS:  Mistura watches were showing at Belgravia.  The "artist" in the booth was the third "artist" I've seen representing their "art" in the last few years.  How do they keep making the cut?  

Comment by Dave Piper on October 11, 2014 at 12:12pm

Nels,  You are a fun guy.  Wish I got to see you more often.  I think you hit the nail on the head with the Saint James Circus.  I did the show for several years in the Belgravia section until they uninvited me to return as they were going to all fine art.  I then began doing the 4th street section where my sales doubled due to the fact that I believe that only 25% of the crowd bothers to do the baby step shuffle it takes to go through the very narrow Belgravia.  

I did find it interesting that I was evidently replaced with imported teddy bears with the made in China tags cut off.  That made my day.  Then, 4th street was great for several years in a row.  Great when it was sunny and warm... still pretty good when it was chilly.  The show began to go to hell the same year that I saw swarms of "Sarah" hats and read of the bad economy in Louisville.  

I did the show a couple more times after it was dying a swift death.  It has been about three years since I have done the show and I have done the math.  Nels, I figure I make more profit staying home and working toward any good show than wasting away in death valley.

It is such a shame to us old timers (done shows for 43 years) to see what is happening around the country to shows we used to be able to count on year in and year out.  I know that money has changed but get real... $750 for a corner booth at Bayou City and the shoppers must pay $15 to walk in.  I declined my invitation to today and tomorrows Bayou City show after being there fall and spring for 36 straight years.  I have watched the crowd go from so packed you could not cross the street to swing a dead cat at rush hour and never hit a soul.  

Here is my prediction that I hope never comes true... in five to ten years Bayou City shows will not exist.  In seven years, Saint James will expand to 1,000 booths and EVERYTHING for sale in every booth will be on a stick.  I wonder what would happen if Main Street Fort Worth changed their ways and grew their show to the present just under 200 booths with free attendance of half a million to many, many more booths and a gate fee.  I guess we would begin to tell people why that show was dying.

Comment by Dave Piper on October 11, 2014 at 12:35pm

About those watches Beth... they keep getting in because some shows no longer care if it is a scam.  Plus, I am one of three people that I know of that tells every show director I speak to about those watches.  If more people had the courage to speak up that scam would be long gone by now.  

I cannot even convince some artists that if they are rejected from a show they wish they were in and the watches got a booth, that is the booth they should have gotten.  Sheep follow sheep.  I believe that by now every major show in America that accepts those watches surly knows the scam and does not care.  

The Fort Worth TV interview last November has a long interview with the guy describing their import business and their many, many stores.  The TV folks thought it was a wonderful thing.  It is wonderful that they import $5 watches to sell for a hundred.  Just not at art and craft shows.

So sad that even some real major shows now simply fill a space because some jury with no knowledge made a mistake.  A real good show director knows how to fix a glaring mistake by a jury.  I tell show directors that the simple thing to do is reject the watches every year and accept their jury fee for as many years in a row as possible.

Comment by Barrie Lynn Bryant on October 13, 2014 at 6:57am

Wyoming doesn't have state income tax either, Oscar. And if you don't make profit, you don't pay federal income taxes or any other taxes.

Barry Bernstein's math was spot on, actually. Nearly everything costs twice as much as it did before the 2008 economic crunch. I found a photo the other day that someone took of me outside and there's a gas pump in the background with $1.49 on it. That was November 2003.

While hanging out in my hotel room this week I saw an ad on TV for a new I-Phone with a $169 monthly plan. WTF? That's where money is going, folks. Some people are just not into art anymore and some might not. The like gadgets and quite probably expensive call drinks and other "necessities."

I'm always interested in doing smaller shows. I've never been to St. James. I just finished a show in Florida that was my best ever. Maitland.

Comment by Barrie Lynn Bryant on October 13, 2014 at 11:38am

Richard, I know an artist who went to Cherry Creek from Florida and did zilch, zippo, natta. And he has great sculpture.

Comment by ZuSheng Yu on October 30, 2017 at 5:35pm

Thanks Nels, Oscar and others for posting these reviews and comments. I from East Coast (NY), the art busines is really slow in East Coast, and thinking to trying some Midwest art show. And Thanks ART Fair Insider Link that we share the comments here.

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