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What I learned as a Volunteer at Sausalito Art Festival

Most of you give the Artist’s prospective so I thought to share my experience as a Volunteer.

The Sausalito Art Festival is a major Fine Art Festival with 260 Artists from 41 States and 12 Countries. Booth fees are $1500-$3000, canopy included. Entrance fees:  $30-General and $100-VIP.

Sausalito and its surroundings have an upscale demographic and that reflected in the Artwork quality, price and Patrons spending.  I overheard a Lady jokingly negotiating a necklace down to “9.99” – it was a $1000 necklace that she just purchased.

They had over a thousand Volunteers.  I was stationed at one of the exists for security and to send people off with a smile.  Before and after my shift I walked around and visited most of the Booths.

This was a high-end Festival but what I learned can be applied to any Art Festival:

  1. Feel free to ask for assistance from Volunteers. I had my Volunteer t-shirt on with a name tag but very few Artists asked for help. If you need cold water or a break, please ask. We are there to make you comfortable. Don’t be shy, this is not a job for us but it is something we happily chose to do.

  2. Be engaging in your Booth: the Artists who were welcoming and ready to talk were the ones selling the most. Some Artists were on their phones in the back and avoided eye contact. Patrons have way too many choices and will skip those Booths.

  3. You might not agree with this, but Artists eating a smelly meal, when the space smells like a restaurant, is not very appealing. A quick odorless snack or the aroma of a fresh cup of coffee is fine. Yes, the days are long and one needs to eat. But that first impression is so important. 

Art Festivals are great and you Artists are awesome. It is always a pleasure to be surrounded by so much creativity.

Views: 502

Comment by Larry Sohn on September 5, 2019 at 10:10am

Well put however I disagree with item 3.  Choosing which food & drink as it appeals to or displeases customers. While some customers might enjoy the smell of tuna-fish on our breath, other's might be very displeased with the aroma of coffee. Each of us determines what is nice or not, in fragrance. Likely best to just refrain from anything that has a strong effect on the olfactory.

Comment by Connie Mettler on September 5, 2019 at 10:20am

I love this, Julia! Thank you.

Why did you volunteer? have you done this before? Do you live near?

Did you buy any art?

I totally agree with you about your tips for artists.

  • Eating in your booth is a total no-no.
  • Sitting on a chair without looking at your visitors is a no-no.
  • No phones allowed.
  • And another one I saw in a thread like this some time ago, no PDA.

Pretend you are in a retail setting and act appropriately. I know people who have been fired from their jobs because of using a phone in the store.

Comment by Carol Joy Shannon on September 9, 2019 at 7:50am

Nice to hear from a volunteer! 

Those observations are worth hearing again.  Artists who make real sales know those things, but everyone gets complacent, and when business is slow we are all guilty of the phone thing, so the reminders are good. 

(PDA's though?  Public displays of affection?  Am I missing something, Connie?  LOL)

I had to laugh about "asking for help." Any artist will tell you: we are either overwhelmed by volunteers, or can't find one to save a life.

I am mostly retired from "show business" but did 20+ shows for many years. 99% of them I was by myself.  I did everything by myself and was rather proud of that.  I considered the physical exertion my "gym time."  (I use a heavy weight umbrella style tent and Pro Panels, so with 40 lb corner weights...it was a good workout.) But in the last few years I could always use a hand with my tent.

I prefer to unload my van myself for many reasons, mostly so I know where things are.  If there is a time constraint, or dollying into a show like Cottonwood - it is great to have help, especially Cottonwood where there ARE volunteers for loading and unloading and I would gladly tip the Boy Scouts for their efficient system. 

But I can't tell you how many dozens of shows have too many volunteers wandering around on one day, only to never see them again, an hour later, or none at all on a Sunday, for example.

There are rarely volunteers to help me get my tent up. A group of teenage girls will wander by and offer to help me unload and if I decline that help, I will never see a volunteer again; an exaggeration but....

That may sound whiney, but I'm sure I'm not alone.

SOME shows will print a call # on the info and you can get someone to come by, but this is most often for boothsitting.  And some shows require you to Pre-schedule boothsitting times before the show starts -wait,  what?

Many shows have lovely volunteers like yourself who are pleased to stand and greet, hand out programs or sit in our booths -- but are older women like me and are unable to be of much assistance with that last tricky tent corner.

I can't tell you how many shows I've done where you hang your little read flag up and NO ONE comes by.  Ever.  You look across the row and your artist neighbor shrugs his shoulders.  "Nope. I haven't seen them either."

So, I appreciate your observations and they are all valid ones, but perhaps art shows could take note too, and do some real volunteer "training."  Gangs of teenage girls are useless to us.  We need men and fit women volunteering on load-in and load-out -- no, I do NOT want to pay a homeless man to help me load.  And shows need a system to better utilize the lovely ladies who will boothsit and bring coffee.

The best volunteers in my experience are in Oklahoma City (a 6 day show with thousands of volunteers), Cottonwood (where the aforementioned Boy Scouts raise money, gladly paid, for their physical labor), Omaha, where they have daily volunteer meetings and actually respond to artist input.  (They have a breakfast with a suggestion session, a brave option in the middle of a show! But one year someone suggested cold washcloths and the following day they delivered them.  They had someone buy 300 washcloths on Saturday, soak and freeze them and deliver them in baggies to all of us.  The same process was in place the following year.  We turned them in at the end of the show.) 

I'm sure I've left out some great shows with equally great volunteer systems, but those come to mind.

I don't mean to pick on teenage girls, and I've had some lovely ones help me out, but even though we are talking about "volunteers" it might be a good idea to put some thought into what the volunteers can and will do.  And how to find them to do it!  The great shows, and I'm sure Sausalito is one of them, have a volunteer coordinator as part of their staff, volunteer meetings, rewards systems etc.  The volunteers in OKC look forward to it every year, told us that, and would come by our tents to see if we were there that year. I  had individual volunteers who became good friends. I trusted them with everything.  

I've done other shows where I wasn't convinced the volunteers weren't the aforementioned homeless people, and I wasn't comfortable leaving them alone in my tent (we all have personal items, sometimes money etc.)

Artists pay big bucks for booth fees and should be aware of the pitfalls our gracious volunteer pointed out.  Art shows get big bucks for booth fees and should pay attention to what artists really need from them besides a 10 x 10 chalk mark on the pavement.

I know, I know, VOLUNTEERS -- but shows promote that they have them and many are very cavalier towards them, with them, and with US!

Comment by Julia Szabo on September 9, 2019 at 7:43pm

The Shows I volunteer for cherish them and that is probably the difference from a good and bad line-up. 

I just finished another 5 hr. shift at Mountain View Art Festival (CA) and it was very well run. There were people of all ages volunteering and we were treated with dinner at the end. The Artist were very thankful we were there.

Another takeaway for the Artists (nothing new but needs to be said again):

Know the Art Festival before signing up. Even if you get into a Show you might not do well unless you know the Patrons demographic and taste. While Sausalito is all about unique, expensive Art, Mountain View is mostly functional and affordable. The income level of buyers is not that different but their taste is: Sausalito - families, slightly older people; Mountain View - tech centered, younger crowd with small kids.  The two Festivals are 1 hour apart but they are really different.

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