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4 Bridges Arts Festival Chattanooga, Tn. Great Show in a Great City

Last weekend we participated in the 4 Bridges Art Festival in Chattanooga, Tn., a city of about 180,000 people at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains along the Tennessee River.  The Association for the Visual Arts runs the show and supports a very vibrant arts community.  

There is a lot of civic pride in Chattanooga.  The downtown has been totally transformed since our last visit about 10 years ago. There are new condos and apartments going up everywhere you look to the point that it was hard to navigate around all the streets closed for building construction.  In the Warehouse district alone, there are so many new and interesting restaurants it was hard to pick one to try. On Thursday night, between the traffic from people leaving the baseball game and other downtown venues we gave up trying to scout places to shoot later in the weekend.  In other words, Chattanooga is a happening place.

The show venue is the First Tennessee Pavilion which is an old factory building converted into a sort of indoor/outdoor event space.  There is a very high roof and short side walls.  Chattanooga was hit with the same storm that caused havoc at the show in Knoxville.  Some on the outside rim of the pavilion got some water in their booths but I did not see or hear of any significant damage.  On Saturday we had several strong storms in the afternoon between which there was some calm weather.  At about 7:00pm a strong storm blew through and it rained hard the rest of the night and into Sunday morning. Because of the venue, I do not think the weather impacted attendance.  

There were strong crowds all weekend of buyers not just lookers.  On Sunday I was thanking everyone for coming out in such bad weather.  One lady said "this is the biggest art event of the year.  If I don't come today I have to wait a whole year."  There is a parking lot around three sides of the building reserved for the artists and vendors.  You have to dolly in but that is not a big deal.  Just find a spot nearest your booth and park your vehicle.  We scouted the venue the night before, parked our trailer within 30 yards of the closest access point to our booth and left it there all weekend. Single booth spaces are 10 x 12 so there is about 2 feet of storage at the rear.   

Set up is Friday morning starting at 8:00am.  Everyone has to be open and ready to go by 6:30 for a preview party that runs until 10:00pm.  A dinner was served for the artists at 5:30 but if you have an assistant they are on their own.  At check in they made sure to tell us that if we wanted to drink during the party we had to wear the checkered wrist bands included in out packet. That's right, free drinks for the artists.  It was an open bar and the bartenders were quite willing to take input on how to mix your drink for your satisfaction.  We took full advantage of this opportunity.  

Unlike other preview parties we have been a part of, the attendees were making purchases.  We saw many packages go by.  We made a couple of small sales but others did better.  The oil painter next to us sold five pieces.      

This event has an admission charge so there were no early birds.  By the time we arrived at 9:00 am, other artists were taking advantage of the free breakfast.  In fact the show provided breakfast, lunch and dinner for artists on Saturday and Sunday.  In addition there were food vendors just outside the pavilion that gave artists discounts.  I had some of the best BBQ I have ever had from a local guy with a beat up trailer smoking meat on site.  

There was music all weekend on an outdoor stage and several bars inside.  A nice size glass of wine was $5.00.  But, it was clear that the focus was on the art, not the other stuff.  The music and beverages just made for a nice experience for everyone.

Our sales were very good, bordering on outstanding.  Others we spoke to were very happy as well.  I did not hear one complaint about sales.  The folks who attended this event asked excellent questions and wanted to engage with the artists.  I did not have one person pull out their cell phone to show me their outstanding photo.  Many were interested in the story behind the work and how it was done, refreshing.     

Load out was a breeze.  There was a light intermittent rain but nothing too difficult to deal with.  We were all packed up and on our way to dinner by 7:00pm.  

Accommodations in the area are reasonable if you get outside of downtown.  We stayed at a renovated La Quinta off Browns Ferry Road.  It had a new memory foam bed, beautiful bathroom with a large walk in shower, and was very quiet.  It is a dog friendly hotel, so if you do not like dogs do not stay there.  In our world if you do not like dogs there is something seriously wrong with you anyway.  

A word of warning, the lobby coffee is out of a machine.. stay away at all costs no matter how desperate you are for morning caffeine. We ate at a place called the Feed Company in the Warehouse district Thursday night.  It had a good bar and the food was OK.  Lots of young folks socializing and drinking beer.  It was a fun environment but loud.  

After long days at the show we opted for a place called the Acropolis about 6 miles from downtown on Saturday and after break down on Sunday.  As you might expect from the name, they have Greek fare along with other great options.  I had lamb dishes both nights.  Sara had beef and salmon.  All of it was outstanding to the point that she sheepishly had to tell me that their salmon was as good as mine.  The truth comes out after a martini.  For breakfast you cannot beat the City Diner downtown next to the Days Inn.  There are no stand alone Starbucks downtown but there are several local coffee houses.

This show was a major success for several reasons.  

  • First, the AVA was very well organized and provided good communication before the event so everyone knew what to expect.  We even got a e-mail a couple of days in advance warning us about the potential for bad weather to make sure we brought adequate weights.  
  • The art and the artists was the focus of the show.  The show was very well juried.  There was not even a hint of buy/sell.  All of the art was outstanding.  This level of art was expected by the patrons based on their comments to us.  
  • We were treated as guests and the stars of the show.
  • There was serious prize money awarded. Even though we did not win an award, we appreciated the fact that every judge came into our booth, introduced themselves, and spoke with us about our work.  
  • It was a nice size with 150 artists laid out in an organized way that made it easy for someone to find you again, we had several be-backs.  
  • This event is the major art event in the area for the year, not one of a series of shows saturating an area.

So, there you have it. We had a great experience and hope to be invited back next year.  Thank you Chattanooga and the AVA. 

Views: 796

Comment by Robert Wallis on April 24, 2017 at 11:54am

" I did not have one person pull out their cell phone to show me their outstanding photo."

That along with no questions of 'Is this a painting?" would make it a perfect show :-)

Excellent review!

Comment by Jacki Bilsborrow on April 25, 2017 at 12:10am

What a great review. It was so good I want to make it down to this one sometime. It sounded almost perfect. The rain was the only drawback for me but it sure didn't sound like it bothered anybody.

Thanks for sharing.

Comment by Jeri Vitello on April 25, 2017 at 11:21am

Thanks for writing such a comprehensive review.  I have little to add other than it was a genuine pleasure meeting you and Sara.  May all of your shows (from this point forward) exceed your expectations.

Comment by Al Scovern on April 25, 2017 at 1:44pm
I would say ditto to most everything Craig and Sara have said. This is a terrific show in every way, easy to do, absolutely warm and friendly customers, great art and very good buying energy. My only point of difference is that my sense was of a relatively light turnout, especially Sunday with an all day storm, but Saturday as well, and I spoke with some veterans who said the attendance was much lighter than usual. We did very well selling ceramics, which I think is even more impressive given the somewhat low attendance. In other words , those who came really were focused on the art and came to buy. And, this is the only show I've done that offers artists free beer for the weekend. The show directors seem to understand that it is barely possible to do an art fair without an infusion of beer, and I am grateful for their insight. I'd return in a second. BTW, Jeri (above) and her husband Gene made this an incredibly fun and entertaining show, sales or not.
Comment by Connie Mettler on April 25, 2017 at 4:16pm

The key to hosting a successful art fair: "this is the biggest art event of the year.  If I don't come today I have to wait a whole year." Yes!

I do remember the days when art fairs were such important events that everyone brought their umbrellas and were ready to face the elements regardless. 

Plus, the regular infusions of alcohol which made everyone relaxed and enjoying themselves.

Excellent report, Craig and Sara. It does your soul good to have this kind of outcome, doesn't it? I hear that Fort Worth (this same weekend) had similar results regarding the sales. I'm waiting for that report.

Comment by Kendra Bennett on April 25, 2017 at 5:17pm

Excellent review Craig. It was great to meet so many people that I see here on AFI. This was my 2nd year in Chattanooga and my sells were up this year. Crowds seemed to be lower on Sunday but I'm sure the weather played a part in it. I had one of the booths up against the wall that flooded. I always pick everything up at the end of the day and was very happy I did. The show staff was great they vaccumed up water several times during the day. My electrical box was sitting in water so they came along and took care of that and got my lights up and running so I wasn't trying to plug something in while standing in water. It was great meeting you Craig, Sara and Jeri as well. See you down the road.

Comment by Donald Golden on April 26, 2017 at 2:38pm

Totally agree with the above and it was a real pleasure meeting Craig and Sara, especially considering we were artists with somewhat similar artwork, but not even a whiff of competitiveness or ego from either of them.  How refreshing!!!  There was a ton of 2D artwork at this show, but I too had even better sales than last year.  Local artists told us to not fret over the rain as people still come out ready to buy because they aren't able to go out and enjoy other outdoor activities. They were spot on!  Look forward to seeing everyone down the road at another event!  Stay dry Kendra!!!

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