Art Fair Insiders

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

Des Moines Art Festival--Killer Show for Most

If you jury into this show and are accepted, plan on bringing plenty inventory.
Melanie Rolfes has already written a thorough blog about the nuts and bolts about the show.

I will try to give unique insights:

  • I have done this show three times in the last 10 years.
  • It is not easy to get into. About spaces for 130 artists and almost 1500 apply.
  • Des Moines is a prosperous town, lots of insurance and medical. Lots of young people with disposable income.
  • They are mostly traditional and conservative in their purchases.
  • Abstract does not do as well.
  • Many artists with big prices on their work zeroed.
  • I am a photographer and sell in the $30-$500 range. I did extremely well. Best three day show for me since 1999.
  • This is a very treed town with great old neighborhoods and solid houses.
  • Lots of new condos are going up downtown. Lots of new restaurants going up. I will tell you about them later.
  • Patrons wait all year for this show. They show up well dressed and act very polite. They think highly of their show and appreciate your presence here. Here is a little point that illustrates that:

    Not once, but twice I had a patron buy a $50 item and hand me $60. When I went t give them change they told me to keep it. They said,"You deserve it." I have never been tipped at a show before.
  • I only had one person, the whole show, try to take pics with their smartphone, that is a rarity.
  • They have lodging program where artists can stay in a patron's home.
  • I have been lucky to stay at Dean and Diann Payton' house all three times. They sometimes house two couples in their upstairs bedroom. They are nicest people ever.
  • When I walked the show I saw a lot of fresh new work, especially photographers.
  • There were a lot of artists with big prices there, and most of them did not fare well.
  • People were buying in the under $1000 range.
  • I saw lots of packages in people's hands.
  • They had a VIP tent right around the corner from my booth.
  • Artists were allowed up to 10:30 am everyday to imbibe all the bloody Mary's they could drink. I imbibed every morn. Did not hurt my sales one bit.

This show is run by director Stephen King. He is on the top of his game. Every detail is taken care of. He is lucky to have a huge volunteer committee to draw on. Overall, this is a very mellow show to do.
Yes, not everybody makes money at Des Moines, but the majority does. Anyone who aspires to big sales should give this show at least one try.

OK here is a little Tequila Report.

Met up with old bud John Stillmunks and he took me to the Flying Mango restaurant. The smell of smoked brisket permeates the air. The taste of Templeton rye goes well with the deviled eggs appetizer. You must eat here at least once. Each morn I ate breakfest at the Waveland Cafe.

When you enter thru the front door, the decorated carpet proudly proclaims "Best home fries in the whole galaxy." They are.


For great southern cuisine (I know, in Des Moines, yes) go to Bubbas in downtown. Try the fried chicken or the ribs. They make a mean Manhatten also.

Well, I think I gave you enough info to try Des Moines.
Later, gators.

Views: 485

Comment by Craig Roderick and Sara Beck on July 13, 2017 at 8:01am

Thanks for the report Nels.  I was in Des Moines a week before the show killing time between Omaha and Talbot Street.  Indeed a nice town to spend time in.  If you want something different in the way of food try an Ecuadorian restaurant called MI Patria.  It is in West Des Moines in a strip mall. More delicious food you can eat for $15.00 or less.  

Comment by Connie Mettler on July 14, 2017 at 10:38am

Des Moines is a classic '50's American city in the very best sense of that. A thriving downtown, verdant neighborhoods and most enviably a solid employment base that includes the State Capitol, Meredith Publishing, the Principal Financial Group, Wellmark (health care behemoth). It reflects these employers in the people who attend the show. Both of my sons who have worked in the financial sector and in advertising have had clients in Des Moines, traveling in many times from NYC and LA. 

Stephen King "gets" the marketing of the show to this group of potential buyers and is a player in the cultural activity of the city. Promoting goes on 365 days a year. One of the things I particularly like is that sponsors (and they are plentiful) if they have a presence at the show must do something beyond show off their product but must make a cultural contribution to the event, usually an art activity of some kind. 

This is a friendly show in an enviable position. There are no other big shows near and it has outreach from Minneapolis to Kansas City. I'm not kidding. AND they take care of you just in case you aren't making the sales. Thereby continuing to keep the quality strong.

Thanks for the review, Nels. Did you sell that image of the red truck that I like so much?

Comment by Barry Bernstein on July 14, 2017 at 4:38pm

Just so you know, Nels, I ended up with a decent show. Friday was great, Saturday was average, and Sunday bombed. After the show I had a nice gallery order and maybe one other. I'll know soon. So, it ended up all right. I have to work up to the last minute to have enough pieces for Ann Arbor.

I went out with Munks on Saturday night. We never got that round of drinks that you got us, but, I appreciate the thought. I hope you didn't pay for it. Lol!! It was great seeing Munks, who had just finished his nursing degree. It was the highlight of the weekend!!

Comment by Nels Johnson on July 15, 2017 at 7:23am
No luck on the red truck.
Thanks for restructuring my blog. Love the little black dots.
Comment by Connie Mettler on July 17, 2017 at 10:11am

Hope you didn't mind that editing, Nels. I know you're writing on an iPad and I want people to read this. You know I love your blogs. I do miss attending shows like Des Moines.

Munks, a man with a great heart and much passion. I hope his new career path is rewarding for all.

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