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ANN ARBOR ART FAIR--THE GUILD SHOWS ON MAIN ,LIBERTY AND STATE--SLOW AND LOW

THE A2 art fairs are in a slow descending death spiral.

Very few exhibitors are selling high end work--very,very few.  Just look at John Leben's blog, and he was in the best show to sell high end at, and it went nowhere.

I have done the A2 Guild show for 27 years.  Have been there for the glory days and now am there for its death throes.

The bottom line is this folks.

The show is too long and too expensive for the return on your investment.

You are looking at 11 hour days (Wed.-Fri) and nine hours on Sat.

This year we caught a break with the weather, it was unusually cool.  Had to wear a wool top while setting up on Tuesday and then again on Wed.

Most years this show is during the hottest week of the summer--usually accompanied by various rain.

This year we lucked out--we may never see this again.

Guess what?  The cooler weather did not really help sales.  It did not increase attendance.

The expenses for the average artist with a single booth are anywhere between $1800-$2400.

It can vary, depending on far you had to come from (gas) how much you pay for a room, how little you choose to spend on food, and whether you have to pay someone to help you with setup, breaks, sales or teardown/loadout.

All four art fairs charge the same price for a booth fee.  With a corner spot you are looking at nearly $800 for a booth.

So, when you figure in those expenses, the time to travel and the time to do it, you better be hoping to make way more than $5K at the show. 

Guess what?  Most people I know this year were lucky to do $5K.  And most of it was all lowed.

In my case, I did about 10 percent better than last year, which was my lowest ever in 26 years.

For the whole show, I only sold two 16x20 frames for $150 and one frame for $450.  All other sales were precious little pieces of paper from my browse bins.

I am on Main Street under a beautiful tree.  Restaurants are behind me and across.  I had a good vantage point to observe the crowds and what they were holding onto.

It wasn't very much.  

Only saw a few gallery wraps go by me the whole show.

At times there where huge empty gaps in the crowd.  That used to never happen.

As glass artist Susan Gott sharply observed, it was a river of people walking down the middle of the street.  Very few looked inward at booths.  Even fewer bothered to enter and check out the walls or the bins.

They do like to use our booths as phone booths, so that they can text whatever to their friends.

The crowds love to congregate in front, with dogs and carry on in conversation.

Probably Leben's show is your best chance to be in if you are there to sell original art.

One other observation.  I did not see the usual preponderance of squatter booths.  The tie-dyes and bonsai booths were not there anymore.  Betcha, the landowners raised the booth fee on them and they knew it wasn't profitable to do.  Also restaurants were empty at times.

I could go on with more, but I have said plenty about the sorry state of affairs of these shows.

As long as the A2 merchants think they can draw in crowds, via us, to sell their castoff items, they will continue.

I don't look for any creative fixes to this situation.

If you have never been, then I guess you take your chance and find out.

Sadly, many great artists have stopped doing A2 because of the sparse sales.  More mediocre stuff gets in, the smart buyers kiss off the show and there you are--THE DOWNWARD DEATH SPIRAL.

The A2 merchants think they can get away with this forever.

I got news for them--they are wrong.

This show will cease to be anything more than a glorified county fair the way it is going.

Gee! Can you say, "Sabbatical?"

Views: 1112

Comment by Robert Wallis on July 21, 2014 at 5:10pm

"As glass artist Susan Gott sharply observed, it was a river of people walking down the middle of the street.  Very few looked inward at booths.  Even fewer bothered to enter and check out the walls or the bins."

Geez, that sounds like a description of St. James :-(  I've been rethinking the wisdom of the large prestigious shows, and feeling that the smaller venues are the way to go. When you have to sell damn near half the booth stock to break even, something's wrong with that picture.

I'm also getting concerned about the directions photography is going in. The availability of cheap digital cameras is making it harder and harder for traditional work to succeed as I hear too many people talk outside my booth about going to Walmart and Costco to have canvas prints of their own made. New work has to be either so difficult to make they know they can't do it themselves or so unique they never would have thought of it themselves.

Back to your comment about Sabbatical; I declined an invitation back to St. James-Fourth Street this year precisely because the sales had dropped too low to warrant trying it again. When I can do far better at a spring time show in Louisville, by comparison, with double or triple the sales of St. James at a show 1/4 the size and half the booth fee with a tenth of the attendance, something has to be evaluated in a cold hard light.

I think it comes down to the best show to do is one where the customers can leisurely take their time looking without feeling they have to rush so they can "see it all".

Comment by Nels Johnson on July 21, 2014 at 5:47pm

Good comments, Robert--I couldn't agree further.

Comment by Scott Pakulski on July 21, 2014 at 8:38pm
Hey! I did $5965 on State Street! Almost $6000! Many people like my Lego and Little People photographs... So it was not all bad...
Comment by Nels Johnson on July 22, 2014 at 5:57am

you are one of the lucky ones--congrats!

Comment by Brian Billings on July 22, 2014 at 12:29pm

The thing that bugs me about art festivals is that everything looks the same, sometimes I can't tell one artist from another. I think to do well in this business now days, you have to have something really different. Yet something people can relate to, Scott did this perfectly. This is true especially when it comes to 2d art. The days of selling a simple landscape or still life and making good money are over. The traditional artists will have to hit the festivals with the older crowd or small towns.

Comment by Barry Shandler on July 23, 2014 at 8:43am

My conclusion exactly Nels after a long and boring sit on State Street.  It seems like disposable income has dried up as no one actually needs anything sold in the 1,200 booths.  I looked at old pictures from 6 years ago and you could not see my work due to the a booth packed with lookers and a few holding things waiting to buy.  What a change.   The glory days are indeed over but indeed some will still do well as in any show. 

 More than low sales, and high expenses,  the long hours are now taking their toll on me due to my 73 years of age. I will not be taking a sabbatical and will simply not be back.  I'm done with big inner city shows with long hours and high expenses.  I'm too old but also don't need the big bucks anymore.   My next six shows are local, drive home every night, $200 fee,  9 to 6 Saturday and Sunday and usually $1,600 to $2,200 in sales. 

Looking for Chapter 4 on your great  "A Pirate Looks at" ....series.

Comment by Dean Myton on July 24, 2014 at 1:00am

I was on Liberty Street and create one of a kind fine craft and my product is different than anything at A2.  This is my 2nd year and my 2nd successful year! This year I did over $10k (with a starting price point of over $100!) and am still answering emails about commissions!  I do not have prints, reproductions or bins of art that cost less than $10 bucks to reproduce that I can sell for $30 to $50.  

The problem as I see it is not the show as much as it is the lazy or spoiled participants (artist). Resting on your laurels gets you nothing when times change.  This is a second career for me and I started in 2008 at the bottom of the economic shift. I had to learn how to sell work when people were worried where their next dollar was coming from.

I had a helper at the show, so I had time to see some of the show.  What I saw was a lot of artist sitting in the back of their booths looking like they couldn't care if you  even looked at their work, let alone bought something. Very few even said hello to me or anyone else that passed their view. I saw artist spending more time talking to their friends about how bad the show was while at the same time my helper, a first time show helper hired through Craig's list, sold 8 pieces of my work using my sales training from the prior day.  I watched him from afar and he ended up following my directions to great success.  I make it a point to address as many people who cross my booth opening as I can.  I am horse after a show as long as A2, but as you can see by my numbers, it seems to pay off.  

Also, people are not the shopping sheep they used to be. They like to see new and different work from year to year. Many of the artist had work that looked just like last years, in fact it could still be last years work from the wining I read in this blog.  I make it a point to have new items up front so people who know me are interested to see what is new.  They don't always buy it, but they keep the communication going and come Holiday time I am inundated with call in orders for pieces like they saw at A2.  Bottom line, whereas I think it is true that the shows do not produce the volumes they did in decades past, I think that those good times spoiled a great number of life long artist and it is easier to blame the show instead of keeping up with the times and changing our artistic direction or sales techniques.

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