Art Fair Insiders

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

Being told our position on a wait-list

So frustrating trying to comprehend why providing artists their jury score and position on the wait-list of an event is such a difficult task for shows to perform.  A few do, very much to their credit and thank you to each and every show that does so.  Most do not.  Some actually get a pissy if you ask for the position on the wait list.

First point, we paid a jury fee for the jury process and that jury score.  Did we not?  And for that $25 to $50 jury fee, are we out-of-line to expect to be provided our jury scores, cut-off scores, and thus where we stand on a wait-list?  I hope show Directors will wade in on this with their rationale.  Educate us why they do not think this is valuable to us, or why they do not have the money to do so.

If a show is truly and honestly juried, each artist has been scored by each juror, those scores totalled to determine who is in, who is out and - who is wait-listed. That score determines what their position is in their medium - and on the wait list, does it not?  

As for communicating that information it has bee provided historically by some shows, probably currently is being done by some, and absolutely positively in this age of computers and the internet - CAN BE DONE.  Broadripple used to put the scores by individual jurors online based on application ID - maybe they still do.  Des Moines used to send out a PDF of the individual jury scores - maybe they also still do so.  Uptown used to send out paper forms with individual juror scores.  Most show do not bother, some  say do not even bother asking as we will not tell you. 

As artists, we realize we will not get into all the shows we really hope to have on our schedule.  Duh.  So we typically apply to multiple shows on the same weekend so we have hope of getting juried into at least one of those events.  Increases our cost of doing business substantially but under the current business model of how most shows are runs, seems unavoidable.  Shows have different application dates, different jury dates and different pay-your-booth-fee-by dates. Some shows refund if you withdraw before the event, some depending on how far out from the event, and others just do not refund your booth fee once it is paid.

I say this last part because that, IMO, is the chief reason for shows to let you know where you are on a wait-list (besides the "we paid for it in the jury/application fee" argument). If we are wait-listed, and another show says "come on down!" and they have a non-refundable booth fee policy, it would be nice to know where we are on a wait-list for the show we most hope to do, would it not?  If we were #1 or #2 is it not a completely different question to wrestle with than if we are #8 or #20 on the wait list? (yes, shows do now have wait-lists that exceed the total number of artists in that medium in that event - sometimes by up to a factor of 2 or 3!).

So this is the communication/courtesy factor:  if we are so far down on the wait-list that given how far down a show has historically ever gone, why not let us know our position on the wait-list and how far down you have ever gone on the wait-list so we can make a meaningful decision to either commit elsewhere or hold out - or even drive to the show and see if a spot opens at the last minute if we are high on the wait-list?  If show Directors and Promoters truly care about the artist base and the success of artisans, is this an unrealistic expectation?  To provide us what we paid for and what we need to make our economic/business decisions?

I think that is a rhetorical question.  It is not an unreasonable request.  Though I open the door to be convinced otherwise.

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Comment by Judy Christian on July 18, 2017 at 2:50pm

Thanks, Ron, I think that you meant me.

I have always been completely truthful with show promoters. 

 I have cancelled due to running out of stock. Pottery has to go through all of the processes, by the kilnload. I have been honest about that.

I have cancelled due to overworking my shoulder and not being able to pound enough out- and I have cancelled to do a more preferred show, and told the truth about that, too.

On the upside, I have been waitlisted, I called, was told I'm close to the top, then got in, more than once. These were shows that I had done before, so the promoter at least knew who I was.

I had hopes to get off Boston Mills waitlist this year, did not, now I wonder how many were on it.

I understand that I could not get in unless a ceramics person cancelled.

I'm sure there are some ways to get yourself off the list and in there exhibiting, but I don't know any of the tricks. -Anyone?

Comment by Connie Mettler on July 18, 2017 at 2:22pm

I am with Karen on why a numeric # is not sent to the artist for the waitlist. Balancing the show with variety in each media is important for the show. How many blown glass vs. flat glass? how many scarves vs. clothing vs. leather? how many abstract painters vs. realistic? how many wood sculpture vs. wood turners or functional wood? ceramics, the same ... 

On this other topic, I get phone calls from show directors saying, e.g., "so and so has been accepted to our show 3 times and 3 times they have cancelled last minute because of ______. What do you know about them?"

There is no excuse for a show not to refund in the case of an emergency, but proof should be made. We've all seen and know of situations where the artist cancels because something better has come along.

But what do you think about cancelling when the artist had so many good shows they are out of stock? Do you think there should be a refund a couple of days before the impending show is to take place? 

Comment by Ron Mellott on July 18, 2017 at 12:50pm

Sorry to hear of such a string of painful events - I think we all are. Our wishes are with you, Karen.

Agreed.  Waitlists exist for a reason - to fill empty/vacant/cancelled booth spots.  If the spot can be filled from the wait-list, I believe the artist should be refunded their booth fee. Otherwise the argument can be validly made that the spot generates more than none booth fee - which it shouldn't.

If cancellation is in such proximity to the show that the show cannot fill the booth spot, that is different.  In cases of real emergencies such as you went through, I cannot see why a promoter would not do so, less perhaps a processing fee for ... ? 

Sadly, what mucks up the water is some artists lie (IMO) about why they don't want to go to a show or "can't come".  They get a better offer from another show they wanted to do more, they want to take a weekend off because they are tired, the weather looks bad ...... these among others.  So artists will make up reasons to get their booth fee returned.  It is how a few mess up the landscape for the many.  It is a challenge that shows and artists have to work out together.  If you have any ideas on how artists might convey the reality of their situation to a promoter to get a refund - I think many of us would like to hear your thoughts.  

And if a promoter took the artist and their word, refunded their booth fee, and found out later they actually were in another show that weekend ........ why recourse should the promoter have and take?  Blacklist the artist for lying?  Good start.  I'm okay with that myself.  

The last comment here, why this refund policy issue should be addressed, is both parties have a vested interest in the outcome, don't they?  Obviously artists would like to get their money back. Financial issue. However if a show has published a brochure with artists names and booth numbers, and/or put that information up on their website, even if they get an artist off the wait-list, they will not be in the brochure.  Problematic.  If no brochure is published, not as much issue.  If artists do not get a refund, where is the incentive (other than playing nice in the sandbox or possibly being black-listed) to telling the promoter they are not coming?  And for the promoter, if artists do that, how do they perceive their show comes across to attendees if there are numerous empty booth spaces?  No one notices?  If they do, what do they conclude?

Challenges.  Though all this aside - sorry about your losses and bad things happening to those you love and care about.

Comment by David S. Hoornstra on July 18, 2017 at 12:34pm

Krasl is the only show that has wait-listed me, and I must say they did a creditable job. The first time I was sixth but by the time the show opened I was second, being notified of each promotion. 

The last time I started out second and moved up to first two days before the show opened. However, I was unwilling to gamble as they suggested doing, showing up and hoping, especially with Ann Arbor and its Tuesday setup the very next week. 

The last two years I have not applied due to other schedule conflicts. Sometimes I wonder whether that would not have been the show that kept me going.

I agree that we should get the jury scores and any other information they have that could help us be better artists and better business people. Instead I rack my brain to figure out where I went wrong.

Comment by Larry Sohn on July 17, 2017 at 1:52pm

How do you feel when being on the wait-list, I write to the show, asking the aforementioned questions about position etc.

No response, at all.

Like previously stated. They must have the scores, information turned in by the jury, in order to make their decisions. Why not disseminate it?

Comment by Judy Christian on July 17, 2017 at 12:31pm


thank you for taking the time to post all of that.


It is no better on the other end, as the artist cancelling.

Five years of caring for 3 aging parent in my home- I had to cancel for a parent's heart attack, 

a stroke, cancer and hospital, and death.

Never got any  $$ refunds, even though I contacted the shows immediately.

So, if those aren't good enough reasons to cancel, what is?

Sorry for the vent, but this looked like a good place to put one .


Comment by Steve Sawusch on July 14, 2017 at 12:28pm

FYI, people lie too. I was once told #1 on waitlist for photography only to find out that another photographer was pulled off waitlist before me.

Comment by Jeri Vitello on July 14, 2017 at 11:49am

Karen, thanks so much for sharing your insight.

Comment by Karen Holtkamp on July 14, 2017 at 10:42am

Ron, as a glass artist I share your wish that all shows would give us more information about wait lists.  Broad Ripple still does it, and St James Court gives info as well.

I also organize the art show portion of a fall art & wine festival.  The art show is small -- about 65 artists of good/high quality.  For us, however, management of the wait list is not as cut and dried as choosing the next highest score in each category.

Our jurors use a 1-5 scoring system and also give their overall judgment as to Yes, No, Maybe and Wait List.  It gets tricky choosing the final Yes group and also putting the WL people into descending order because the jurors are considering the overall curation of the show as well as the quality of each individual artist's work. 

There's a strict limit for acceptances in each media category.  Maxed out categories are usually jewelry, of course, and also painting, photography, pottery and wood.  Glass entries ebb and flow year-to-year.  So here's where it gets complicated.

Last year, for example, the jurors had accepted one outstanding photographer who shoots local iconic scenes.  Three more photographers had applied who also shoot local iconic scenes, and they were all good enough to be accepted.  However it would have been bad for the show to have a total of 8 photographers with 4 of them shooting the same city architecture.  So a second photographer was accepted whose style was unique and the other two were wait listed.

If and when a photographer drops out two months later, the artist called from the list depends upon the kind of photography being replaced.  If one of the "icon" photographers drops out, that gives a leg up to the similar folks on the list.  But if a nature-themes photographer dropped out, we would have resisted replacing that person with a third "icon" photographer.

The same thing happens all the time in the other maxed-out categories.  The scores are usually so similar, sometimes identical, on the wait lists that the deciding factor is which additions will keep the show interesting, well-rounded and full of variety both between categories and within each category. 

Now, try to explain that to an artist who's anxiously looking for answers to make their decision-making easier.  When I say, "well, you're either first, second or third on the list, depending" the response is understandably not so good.  Some artists get quite nasty and even abusive. 

I think this show-curation factor is far more important at small shows, where it's small enough that patrons remember everything they've seen from beginning to end.  Conversely, at shows with 400 artists an organizer can have lots of repetition in style and technique and get away with it.

As an aside, when I release notifications I always offer to give artists more information about their scores and judges' comments if they simply write and ask.  Usually only one or two ask, which continues to surprise me every year.  However I've also had artists ask and then use the feedback to vastly improve their application/display/work the following year.  They're the smart ones.

Comment by Kathy Winterburn on July 14, 2017 at 8:40am
Somtimes I wonder if they tell you that you made a wait list to keep you applying for the next year thinking you were close.

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