Art Fair Insiders

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

Artist Takes Art Fair into her own Hands!

Keeping up on the art fair news is one of my duties here as chief moderator/bottlewasher. I regularly read several other forums and belong to other organizations. Recently, member
Mark Zurek, posted a thorough show report on the Telluride (CO) Festival of Arts both here and at Larry Berman's yahoo groups for art show photographers. Read it here:
Toughing it Out in Telluride. Shortly after that another report appeared about Telluride at the yahoo group written by
Maria Arango. While Mark's report spoke of the excellent amenities and the beautiful location it also reported absolutely minimal traffic. While many artists would just chalk this up to fate (and decide not to come back next year), Maria surveyed the situation and that evening went back down the mountain (yes, it was held in a ski resort and you took a gondola to get there!!!), got herself off to a copy shop, made flyers about the event and posted the flyers on bulletin boards, windshields and any other surface she could find.
The result: Maria brought her own traffic and walked away with
much more than pleasant memories of a few days in the mountains of Colorado. I am so impressed! How many of you when faced with this situation would have reacted as Maria did? In a similar vein, I run the art section of Arts, Beats and Eats. This event is very popular and they report up to a
million in attendance.
Ralph Rankin, a Florida potter and photographer, has the first booth on the right hand side coming into the art fair. (To those new to the business, this would be the most highly trafficked spot). He stands in front of his booth in a sea of people from 3-9 on Friday, 11-9 on Saturday and Sunday and 11-5 on Monday and talks to everyone who comes past! He is amazing he just goes on and on. He does not have a helper. He is so pleasant and thorough that sometimes I expect him to show up on Tuesday :) His demeanor is a lesson to us all. Ralph and Maria may be extreme examples, but when you consider the high overhead of participating in this business you can see they may be working harder, but they are also working smarter! Here is Maria's story:
I wholeheartedly agree with Mark on this show's assessment but I ended up with a good show. I did the same show plus the Vail Arts Festival (on the previous weekend) 2 years ago. In Vail, I handed out invitations to the Telluride show since not many Colorado people were aware of the then 1st-year show. My "invitation" postcard had a 20% off discount on the back and my calendar for the remainder of the year. Out of about 60+ handed out, I got 12 buying customers in Telluride! Usually I don't get that good return on these, truth be told. At Telluride, same experience, oh so great the food and help on load in, oh so lovely the ride up in the gondola, oh so lonely "up there" with hardly any customers. So on the first night back in the town proper and while my fellow artists dined and wined, I spotted a copy shop tucked in downtown and light bulb!; I made a flyer right then and there with the aid of one of my woodcuts, some magic markers, a friendly copy-shop attendant and a spur of the moment creative rush: 1000 flyers for 50 bucks. I spent the rest of the evening walking around historic downtown dropping off stacks of flyers wherever I was told I could. I put the rest on car windshields (Lord forgive my intrusion, I was desperate) parked in the main public parking lots in the town. I went back and spent some time on Monday before departing picking up discarded flyers, case anyone wonders. Well, I'd like to say I made out like a bandit on the next day but that would be exaggerating a wee bit. I did almost what I had done at the Vail festival though, around $4800 gross receipts and $11K for the entire trip. The best part? I saw a bear on the ski slope on the way up to my booth on Sunday (I get up early) and I spent a glorious 10 days NOT in the heat of Las Vegas. Ditto Mark's comments on the mountains. Maria Arango For those of you who don't know much about woodcuts, lovely as they are, these are not a high end product. This wouldn't have been a few $500 sales and maybe an $850 and trickle of other price points. For Maria to have racked up all those sales is a lesson to us all. What a breath of fresh air! I'd love to have your comments below. Either feedback on Maria and Ralph's assertive sales efforts or your own stories. Tell us.

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Comment by Valerie A. Frank on December 31, 2009 at 12:47pm
Great article and inspiration!
Comment by Douglas Farrar on August 28, 2009 at 11:33am
We also send out postcards twice a year to let our customers know what shows we will be at. Then for those people we have emails for, we send out emails at the same time giving the lists of shows. We also send out emails about a week before the show to the people within 100 miles of a show. It helps bring people out. This year we only did one show in the Chicago area and one in Michigan City, IN. I sent emails to everyone in IL, MI, IN and had a good turnout from all three states. We had people from as far away as Indianapolis come to the show just to see us.
We have been compiling our list for 15 years and has over 3800 customers on it. This year we put on our cards that this was the last year of postcards and that we would be sending emails only. Our email list has risen by over 1400. To us that means they really want to know where we will be. We also carry cards and give them out in restaurants while on the road.
Comment by Kaelin Cordis on August 28, 2009 at 9:47am
What a great post, Connie! I just printed my flyers/postcards for the Zona Rosa Art Fair on September 18, 19, 20, and I'll be handing them out soon to friends, family, local suppliers, business owners I know, and anyone who looks even vaguely interested... I love the calendar website, and I think I'll include the card for that too. Is the two weeks before the event the right time to hand out, or can I start now? I'm just so excited, and I want everyone else to be too!
Comment by Connie Mettler on August 27, 2009 at 4:13pm
Another tool for your bag, Michelle. Do you know about the "mother" of this site, I set that one up specifically to bring patrons to art fairs...I carry business cards that say, "What are you doing this weekend? Visit Sign up to receive FREE newsletters about the top art fairs in the country.
Comment by Michelle Sholund on August 27, 2009 at 2:37pm
I like this blog. I am such a "die-hard" promoter, even when I am not promoting a show! I can't just sit back and hope people come into my booth, I have to be out there and talk it up. The night before an event -and if I am eating out - I too ask if the staff has heard about the show I am about to participate in and get their thoughts. If they have never heard of it I give them a flier/postcard as I always seem to have extra OR at least give them my business card as I have my shows listed there with info and links are on my website (printed on my card).

I also do my best to send out emails 2 weeks before an event and if I can, one week before the event too. I am finding so many people are changing their emails so it hard to manage an E-mail directory. Regardless, I usually get several results just because I let someone know I was going to be at a show.

The way I see it is there is a majority of people who love going to one show and look forward to it each year, however do they know where else they can get their art fair fix? They don't have the same resources we do in finding shows. Their options are either referrals, something they read in a newspaper (under Arts and Entertainment/Weekend sections) or if they happen to come across the show listing via a tourism website. There are so many people who are just happy living in their 5 - 10 mile radius that they have no clue what is going on 15-20 miles away. Why not do our part - if we are really serious about wanting to make sales - to let people know what is going on next while they are at the shows now? I always load up gift bags with info about future shows as well as my business card telling each and every person, "if you are looking for your next art fair fix, I have just put some info in your gift bag on where you can find me at my next show." I always get big smiles for this - going the extra mile.

Can I say I am so happy to know I am a part of a great crowd of forward, CREATIVE thinkers. Kudos to you all who think outside the box.


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