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A Trifecta of National Shows -- Des Moines, Cherry Creek & Ann Arbor (the Original)

Now that the dust has settled, and I'm back in the relative comfort of my home studio, I thought it would be a good time to share with you some of my thoughts on three of the biggest shows in the country. You all have heard of Des Moines, Cherry Creek (in Denver) and Ann Arbor. Many of you may have applied, and probably a few have done these shows in the past.

I was excited to be accepted into Cherry Creek. I'd applied every year since I began doing shows, and this year my work was top-notch. The new booth shot shows my work just exactly as it appears in shows where I exhibit with a single booth. My jury images are compelling, and represent my current body of work well. And I'd already had a good season lined up: Gasparilla, Vero Beach, Winter Park in Florida; Bayou City and the Woodlands in Texas; Brookside, in Kansas City (where it snowed and was 39 degrees)… so I was pumped for this best-in-class summer schedule.

I left a big hole in my schedule in June to prepare for these shows. Luckily I only made it to #13 on the wait list for Columbus, so I didn't have to make the trek to Ohio and wrestle with any Buckeyes for their hard-earned dollars. I made sure that I had enough inventory for four shows in a row, since I wouldn't be in studio but a couple of days from the time I left for Des Moines to the Tuesday setup for Ann Arbor.
So, on to the meat.

Des Moines Art Festival
A big show, the Des Moines Art Festival (DMAF) is spread out over several city blocks in downtown Des Moines. My location, at the very end of the show, was easy to access, and had plenty of room to park the trailer and pickup while unloading. Parking for artists is an easy two block walk away, with lots of space, guarded by a high cyclone fence. It was windy during setup, and for most of the show, but we had very little precip. Des Moines is noted for big storms, one of which took out several booths and a large tent a couple of years back. Crowds were good all three days, but Friday seemed slow.

We had a small tree behind our booth blow over with a loud crack, but luckily it didn't hit anything. Sold more work on Saturday and Sunday, many matted photographs, and a few larger framed pieces. I was happy with my sales, in the end, although many artists did not meet their expectations. DMAF is one of those shows with music, food, stilt walkers and other street entertainment, although none of it really gets in the way.

Awards were handed out on Friday night by Steven King, the director. Hours on Friday and Saturday are perhaps a tad long, with the show opening at 11 on Friday, and closing at 10PM. Saturday was even longer, opening at 10 and closing at 10PM. Sunday's hours are more reasonable, with an opening at 10 and breakdown at 5PM. All told, it's a well-run show, profitable, with many restaurants and hotels nearby.

We got acquainted with several of the microbreweries in the downtown area, most notably, Exile Brewing (, near the artists' parking lot; and Court Avenue Brewing (, the signature brew of the show. (Chris Vance did the t-shirts for the Court Ave./DMAF brews, and they are very very original.) We didn't get a chance to go in Raccoon River, also downtown. We stayed at the Holiday Inn on the edge of downtown, and there are a couple other hotels nearby as well, a Hyatt Place and a Marriott, both with discounted prices for artists (still pricey, though).

The "Other Show", an alternative to the DMAF, runs concurrently out at the fairgrounds, and since the weather was warm, not hot; and not rainy, attendance and sales there suffered. I imagine it would be the other way around if the weather were nasty.

Cherry Creek Art Festival
Arguably the best festival in the country, Cherry Creek knows it, and charges booth fees accordingly. While I was happy to have been accepted, a single corner booth at Cherry Creek runs a whopping $950! Electricity is another $50, and parking for an oversize vehicle is yet another $50. And you have to pony up for a State of Colorado Special Events Tax License ($8) and a City/County of Denver Special Events Tax License ($5). That out of the way, you do stand a pretty good chance of making your expenses back on top of a tidy profit at Cherry Creek.

The show is set on several long blocks around Cherry Creek North, an upscale shopping center in the Glendale area, southeast of downtown Denver. Access to freeways is good, and hotels are plentiful along Colorado Avenue, just a couple miles away from the show. Lots of restaurants at Cherry Creek, and down Colorado, too.

I got there a couple days early, and went hiking up in the Rockies, at Estes Park. Managed to see several alpine lakes and waterfalls on a ten-mile jaunt up to Sky Pond. It was nice to get out into the woods and just walk for a change. I also shot out on the prairie one evening, and put a few extra miles on the truck looking for interesting subjects.

Setup for the show is relaxed on Thursday. Get your booth packet in the morning at the show office on Steele St. (park in the Safeway parking lot across the street), and then setup according to your assigned time. We were never rushed, and got the tent up  and the art hung in calm, very warm weather. Our neighbors were from New Mexico on the one side (a very nice woman with absolutely gorgeous hand-made woven fabrics, scarves and shawls) and a painter who I'd seen on the forums before on the other, with a double booth.

We got done with the setup and went to park the trailer in the "oversize" lot. Parking for our section was behind the street, in a narrow parking ramp that could not accommodate a trailer over a certain size, so I paid to park it in a surface lot a block away. But oversize was a misnomer. My assigned, paid spot, was barely large enough to fit a trailer into, and if the space next to me hadn't been vacant, there would have been NO way I could have maneuvered my trailer into the very very tight spot. I was blocked in the front by vendor refrigerated trailers, and had to jackknife the trailer to even come close to sliding it into the spot. Luckily, it did fit, and we left it there for the duration of the show. Other parking looks to be available on the residential streets, but some of it is permitted parking only, and some it is time-restricted.

The show runs three days -- Friday, Saturday and Sunday. While it never seemed as if we were slammed with traffic, we were constantly busy wrapping, selling and talking with customers. I've never sold so many matted prints at a show. Karyn, my wife, was kept busy running between the tent and the trailer to restock images that we sold. When we pulled out of the show on Sunday night, we had only sold one large framed piece and one small one. All the rest of our sales were matted prints, in multiples and singly. But it was the best show, sales-wise, I've done to date. We definitely made money there.
The crowd has money, and I suspect that larger work might do well there, especially big wall-filler decor pieces. John Scanlan had a big booth right in the thick of things, for example. Our fiber neighbor had a great show, but the painter next to me on the other side did not fare so well. He had two walls with a single triptych on each. Beautiful work, well-executed, but he couldn't find a market this weekend. We did have a good time there, however, when we had time to chat.

The awards ceremony was very nice, held in the culinary demonstration area. Aaron Hequembourg won Best of Show here, as well as at Des Moines the week before. Crazy. Food was barely adequate, however, and we went back to the hotel and grabbed a quick bite before hitting the sack. (We stayed at the Courtyard which has a decent sized surface lot, and was fairly inexpensive, compared to the Marriott at the show site. It was still not cheap to stay in downtown Denver. Other hotels are out by the airport, but a bit of a drive).

Krasl Art Fair on the Bluff
Technically not part of the trifecta, nevertheless Krasl is a fine show, well-juried and pleasant to do. I drove home from Denver through Kansas, along I-70, looking for agrarian subjects, and had a day to prepare for Krasl before heading back to setup at St. Joseph, MI. The show is on the bluff, overlooking Lake Michigan. Very well-run by Sara Shambarger and staff, we were across the way from jeweler friends Marc & Wendy Zoschke. I won't go into detail about this show, but I was disappointed after Cherry Creek. Let's just leave it at that, shall we?

And, by the way, NEVER NEVER eat at El Cozumel in St. Joseph. OMG. Worst Mexican ever. And the hotels are an absolutely rip-off during high season in St. Joe. I paid an exorbitant amount to stay at the Comfort Suites in Benton Harbor for two nights. The show does have an artist housing program that we did not take advantage of. Perhaps next time. I would do the show again, however, as it is perhaps the nicest show in Western Michigan. A lot less work than the show I'm going to talk about next.

Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair (The Original)
The grandaddy of all summer art festivals, Ann Arbor is well-known in the industry for its long hours, wacky four-day schedule (Wednesday-Saturday), many vendor booths and kling-on shows (Kings Chosen, merchant booths) and general junkieness. Still, it's a show that many aspire to get into, and if you're going to do Ann Arbor, the Original is the best-juried. The Guild show on Main Street has its proponents; some folks swear buy (and at) Maggie Ladd's South U show, and the State Street show is the easiest to get into as an entry level show. If you want to be in the cream of the crop, the Original is the show you want to do. Many patrons only visit this show, since the crush of tourists and shoppers can be overwhelming at the other venues.

But this year, it didn't happen. The weather was beastly beastly hot, almost 100 degrees on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Crowds were anemic at best, and the Original and South U shows attract less lookers, since they are a bit further away from the downtown show. It was shocking how few people attended on the first three days of the show. Sales understandably were slow to non-existent. Saturday the dam finally burst, and I sold enough to make a decent profit. But for a show with five full days of work (a setup day and four selling days with hours from 10-9PM), the amount of work vastly exceeds the money made.

I love Ann Arbor dearly. My wife works in Ann Arbor, and we have a place to park the trailer and the truck. We drive 55 miles each way, every day, to sleep at home in our own bed. But after Des Moines, Cherry Creek and Krasl, we were absolutely tapped out.

Much has been said about the Ann Arbor Art Fairs. They are too big. The hours are too long. They could move the schedule from W-Sat to Th-Sun. They could close the show a little earlier. They could have fewer artists. They could have it in a cooler month. Blah, blah, blah. It's not going to happen. The merchants have pretty much killed the golden goose here. At least the Original is around the University, so there are no t-shirt and cheap jewelry booths to contend with. OMG. If I see one more Urban Outfitter bag I'm going to throw up in my mouth. It's the saddest thing. And many of the patrons agree. Too long, too much junk, too hot, too bad.

So there you have it. My impressions of the Trifecta + One. I have another killer schedule come fall. Arts, Beats & Eats, followed by Art & Apples, here in Michigan. Hometown shows. Then another road trip, including Plaza in Kansas City, Riverwalk in Naperville, IL, and two Texas shows. Maybe after that, I can rest. I'm gonna be needin' it.

This post is too long to add pictures -- when I finally get the shots off my iPhone and out of my camera, I'll do a pictorial essay. If you'd like that, let me know in the comments.

Views: 2096

Comment by Connie Mettler on August 8, 2013 at 8:56am

So much information, Jim! did you distill it? My post on just AA was this long.

Thank you!

I've participated in all of these shows (except Krasl) and loved them all. Des Moines has the nicest people attending and they will step out and buy larger pieces. Interestingly, we had the same experience with sales at Cherry Creek -- many, many sales, but few were large, but in the end it added up nicely, very nicely. Not long ago I was traveling and met up with a couple (both were MD's) from Denver and, of course, asked them if they attend the CCAF and their reply was, "no, everything is too expensive." Imagine. I guess my point is just because you seem to be in the correct demographic does not mean you appreciate art.

After you've been in this business for awhile there is that warm comaraderie that is apparent at these big shows, as you set up next to your friends and enjoy not only the meals but the excitement that surrounds these "event" shows. 

I'm right on board with most of your comments, including the price of hotels near St. Joe, higher than in Denver. Oh well, their season is short, what can I say? Still a wonderful setting and so comfortable after the streets of the other shows.

How long have you been doing art fairs? How many times did you apply before getting into CC? Which show did you gross the best? How many  miles did you put in on this trip? Did you shoot anything out on the prairie? We never did get there, but the last time we did DM and CC we drove down through Kansas and spent a couple of nights on the Tall Grass Prairie and then in Dodge City and did some shooting (a trip you might enjoy next year when you get into them both again).

Why do you think you have had such good fortune getting into the top shows this year?

And, yes, I'd love to see a photo essay. I know that is lots of work, but any chance?

Comment by Jim Parker on August 8, 2013 at 9:25am

Thanks for the comments, Connie. So many questions! ;-)

This is my eighth season. Started summer of 2005. I've applied to Cherry Creek 7 times before getting in on lucky 7. Cherry Creek had the best gross ever, and even with expenses, it still ends up being very profitable. This trip was essentially out and back, so about 1400 miles to Denver and back, with Des Moines at just about the halfway mark.

I shot one evening on the prairie, near the Lowlands exit on I-70. I also stopped on 1-70 further out, on my way home.

I can only attribute getting into top shows to having a point of view that is different from most photographers and a well-honed set of jury images. The artist statement works with them, and it's the result of about 5 years of trial and error.

I have to download those images yet. They are still in my little Sony NEX-7. I think they are also on the traveling drive, but haven't made it to my main computer yet.

Comment by Connie Mettler on August 8, 2013 at 10:10am

What is your background in photography, Jim? You didn't just start out 8 years ago, did you, inspired by how easy it looked ;)?

Comment by Jim Parker on August 8, 2013 at 10:25am

Nope, I've had a camera in my hand for more than 50 years. Dad gave me my first Brownie Hawkeye when I was seven. (See picture on my website, here.) I worked as an art director on national accounts in several agencies from the 70's to the early 00's. So I have a pretty broad background in design and photography -- directed many shoots and worked with a lot of very talented people.

Comment by Connie Mettler on August 8, 2013 at 11:04am

Given that you came into this business when it was on the "down hill slope", especially in Michigan where we tend to think it has been hit the worst, are your sales climbing steadily?

Comment by Jim Parker on August 8, 2013 at 11:08am

Definitely. Although it's completely unpredictable what shows will do well.

Comment by Connie Mettler on August 8, 2013 at 3:01pm

So you started in the darkroom, right? Your earliest work was traditional wet photography?

Now the big question: what images sold the best, the Western landscape images or the special ones you took (and of course included in your display) specifically to catch the eyes of the jurors?

Comment by carrie jacobson on August 9, 2013 at 9:54am

Oh, man, I love our work, Jim Parker. Gorgeous! 

Comment by margaret luttrell on August 9, 2013 at 10:32am

Thank you Jim, this is an awesome review......and a lot of work on your part. Invaluable to us all....

Comment by Virginia Dauth on August 9, 2013 at 7:08pm

Jim, Wonderful eye that you have for composition. Glad your shows are going well for you.


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