Art Fair Insiders

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

Marion Arts Festival has it pretty much figured out.

Here's a quick recap from the tiny in size, but big-hearted Marion Arts Festival. It's a one-day show but that's all it needs to be!

It's a tiny show, 50 artists exactly. It is very tightly curated with exactly zero duplication of subject matter between artists. If you get in your work will stand out. They are superb at jurying and making sure each artist in the show is unlike any other. 

Zapp to apply. It took me three years to get in. Communication is plentiful and crystal clear as to what is expected of you. Deb Bailey is the director and I wish the industry would clone her. Honest to God, she's on top of every detail and writes the most entertaining emails you've ever read. 

This was my second year. Last year it was 48F and raining all day, but I still made booth and expenses. This year I made booth and expenses by 30 minutes after opening...but that's because people shop as SOON as any booths are open. Like, buying at 8:00 a.m. when it opens at 9. The patrons there love art and they really support the festival. 

Buying energy was big in the morning and then trailed off for me. Other artists did well, most of them. Most know that this show has a great reputation and most said it nearly always lives up to the hype. I made a dozen sales including some pieces off my wall, but it was mostly print bin for me. Caveat: I only do a few shows a year as I have a demanding day job, so Marion was my 14th show, ever, and 2018 is just my 5th year of doing art fairs. I am still learning and getting my footing. Regardless, even I can tell when a show is worth doing, and this one is.

Load in and out is MUCH easier if you have just one vehicle. It's harder for me as I have a small trailer. For those with a van, many times you can pull right up to your booth. And there are no bad booth spots by the way. 

Weather was coming in so we were allowed to tear down and pack at 4:00 p.m. We pulled out just as the rain hit. 

Overall, great show. Bring your A-game!

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Comment by Connie Mettler on May 22, 2018 at 8:56am

I love one day shows! The audience knows they only have a limited number of hours to come and it is put on many calendars as "must attend." We did one in northern Michigan in Charlevoix for many years. As it dawned the buyers were already prowling the show site and bang, just like for you Lawrence, the buying started. And, like you it tapered off in the afternoon because this show knows its audience. It isn't a huge crowd, but sophisticated and knows what a jewel (the fair) is in its midst.

Deb Bailey is a pleasure to work with and had a great sense of humor. "Search" on this site for "call for artists: Marion Arts Festival" and you'll find some of the best invitations to apply you'll see anywhere and lots of laughs too. In addition as you note she is devoted to the event and is, to my mind, its star.

Thank you for this review. I think this is the first one for this quality festival. 

Was anyone else there who can chime in?

(What? you haven't heard of the show? My opinion is that the artists who get in don't want the competition from others and keep it quiet. That's why you're reading here -- for the Insider information.)

Comment by Lawrence M. Sawyer on May 22, 2018 at 9:31am

Connie, I almost didn't write this, because there's only room for 50, and it's easy to circle the wagons.  But I find these reviews sooooo valuable...actually the really negative ones are even more valuable than the "it was great" reviews. If it's flawed I want to know that up front. If it's great, I take that with a grain of salt. 

I also had a really interesting conversation with the potter next to me, who won Third-place Best of Show. This is just a total as-an-aside thing, but he has done Madison for 35 years and has only had one great year there! With the reputation that Art Fair On the Square has, I found that incredible. But then I developed a theory: Locals shop the same show every year. I would guess that on average, maybe 40-50% of people shopping a show are annual patrons. So if you as an artist go every year, it won't take long before 50% of the attendees or more have seen your work. After just a few years, most of the folks there have a seen-it view of your work. Sales will stagnate. Whereas if you go for 3-4 years and then sit it out for a couple, and come back with new stuff, maybe you look new and fresh to the audience? I don't know, it just seems like a break is good for everyone. 

I hope to do Marion for 3-4 years and then maybe back away for a couple. Maybe. Might make sense, right?

Comment by Connie Mettler on May 22, 2018 at 10:58am

Yes, I get it, Lawrence. Over the years you've written several very helpful reviews. And yes, the negative reviews are very helpful and can save you money and time. One of the reasons shows work in tourist areas (and why shows can flourish in Florida cities multiple times a year) is because the audience turns over, new people there every weekend. 

Timing, how often to go back to a fair, is another one of the sciences of the show. Going back to a show over and over can build your particular clientele and also give that person who just can't buy on a first viewing another chance to see you. It also can dissipate your particular audience. 

A good friend of mine, Ginny Herzog, does the former. One of her best shows is the Northern Virginia Festival of the Arts, held last weekend in Reston, VA. Ginny does commissions and has buyers waiting for her every year. She also doesn't get in every year, so like the rest of us keeps her fingers crossed, but amazingly has been able to develop this audience into fans who look for her to show up. 

There is a lovely show in Lafayette, IN, Round the Fountain, that we would try to do every other year to build up the demand for our art. So, I agree with watching how often you can go back.

Another question though: why would someone go to a show 35 years and only have one great year? Maybe he lives there and the expenses are low, because there are a bunch of other good shows on that weekend: Krasl, State College, Cain Park ...

Comment by Kathleen J. Clausen on May 23, 2018 at 12:14pm

Where is the Marion Arts Fair?

Comment by Lawrence M. Sawyer on May 23, 2018 at 12:15pm

Marion, Iowa. Very close to Cedar Rapids.

Comment by Barrie Lynn Bryant on July 9, 2018 at 12:13pm

I'm just playing around with the expenses for this show based upon reading your review. And then I'm wondering if it was really that profitable directly? It might have been, but feeling good about a show and how we are treated is also worth something to me. Also how difficult it is to do a show counts for something. How much time spent doing the show, preparing for the show, etc. also counts.

I figured your total travel and booth expenses for the show were $700 tops. The part I don't know about is how much you spend on materials, supplies, equipment, and overhead, and how much you might consider a percentage for profit. I can estimate those expenses myself since I've been in business a long time and know about these types of costs and projections. And these also vary widely between artists, even similar artists. My mortgage in Wyoming is $428, for example. I print on Hahnemühle Bamboo paper mostly, and it's $6 per 17x22 sheet, $4 per 13x19. My minivan cost $5000 cash and it's relatively low cost maintenance, plenty of which I do myself.

But I'm figuring this for fun today. So with a dozen sales, to cover your $700 travel and booth your average sale would have to be $58.33. If your actual average sale was $100, a dozen sales is $1,200.  Maybe your average sale was even more, like $150? That's just $1,800 gross sales.

You mentioned most of your sales were from the bin rather than the walls.


$112 fuel cost for 600 miles at 15MPG and $2.80 per gallon (this would be a little less for me since I'm in a minivan that gets at least 20MPG, but I'm 1000 miles from Marion so would have to figure for 2000 miles round trip, unless I had somewhere to go the next weekend close by or along my route)

3 hotel stays is $270 (so this could be less for you, but it wouldn't be for me, it would be much more since I'm much farther away from Marion)

Food $40 (more or less, I cook a lot for myself and am frugal and usually tight)

Jury and booth fee is $275 total

Travel and show expenses add up to $697. But you probably drove home directly after the show and cut out one hotel night. So maybe you spent closer to $600 travel and booth?

Again, I'm just speculating here. You gave such a nice review and I'm glad you feel good about this show. So you feel like there's potential for you to do better? That's good news, too.

Comment by Lawrence M. Sawyer on July 9, 2018 at 12:56pm

I can do better, yes. But there are many factors that play into my perception of a show. Ease of set-up, audience enthusiasm, whether or not my work is unique in the show mix, etc. Probably the biggest factor is whether or not people buy off my walls. If there is only interest in print bin work, then I'm not interested. I want wall action, or strong interest, because as far as I'm concerned, that's the best indicator of whether the audience is buying Art, as opposed to grabbing a $40 print on a lark, or as a gift for Aunt Sue. Wall buyers are buying art, and that's what I'm most interested in. I'm a photographer and the best way to appreciate photography is looking at it printed, and the bigger the better. So that's the acid test for me. 

By the way, my fuel economy is better than what you state; plus I burn miles and points for hotel stays; (I have a stash of about 800,000 across card sign-ups are my best friend...and my credit score is superb. I'm a "travel hacker." at any rate, back to the discussion at hand...) If you are 1000 miles away, it may not make sense. I run the same math for shows that have a good rep. but are 1000 miles away from me.

$1800 for a 1-day show ain't bad in my book, though I didn't quite hit that. Yes, my average sale was over $100. I'm still figuring this out and again, on just a few shows per year. This show is very pleasant and the audience buys; it's not any more complicated than that.

Anyway, I just write these reviews not because I think everyone should apply, but for those artists who may have heard of the show, I like to add my experience. 



Comment by David S Randall on July 24, 2018 at 10:05am

I am new to the fairs.  I sell my framed originals north of $1000. in my shop and galleries.  Some reaching over $5000.  However that it seems may be out of reach for most attending art fairs.  My prints framed may reach a slightly better price point $375. and up depending on sizes and framing.  Am I being unrealistic to even bring those prices to art fairs?  I see much offered framed at under $100. with a few running up to $2000. I'm not much interested in selling cards and a few prints. I don't have trouble selling my work but I'm unsure that I'm a fit at the fairs.


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