Art Fair Insiders

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

This is my first blog entry, I have commented and lurked for about a year now and thought it about time I contribute a bit more to this wonderful community, from whom I have learned much. So here goes...

I just did the BAM/artsfair in Seattle, WA it was my first time participating in this show and I am only a three year show veteran so I still have a lot to learn. First some background, I am a wearable fiber artist and I live in Massachusetts. I am sure you are wondering why then given all the costs, am I traveling to the west coast to show. KIDS. I have two children who have chosen to live in the west and if I want to see them, I have to travel. Plus my husband has a client in San Francisco which means we can sometimes bundle some of the costs. I try to plan 4 shows a year on the west coast so that I can have my kids visit me and stay with me while I am working. In general I try to rent a house or large apartment through Airbnb. If you don't know about them, check them out. They are sometimes less than a hotel room and with a kitchen you can save on a number of meals.

I managed to get a wonderful house about 1/2 mile from the site, so I could even walk there if I wanted to or if I didn't have to do any schlepping. From my perspective, the show was wonderfully managed. You had a choice of choosing an outdoor spot or being inside (or under) the parking garage. Because I was nervous about rain, garments are not so much fun to try on when wet, I opted for the garage. Load in was a breeze. You had an assigned time, they lined us up on one street, and sent us in as space would allow. Once you were in, if you were not driving an oversized vehicle, you could pull right up to your space unload and stay till you were set up.

The weekend was gorgeous, it didn't rain, the sun came out intermittently and the temperatures hovered in the low to upper 70's. The show had armies of volunteers who kept circling to give you a break and they had an artists only area, where coffee, water, soft drinks, snacks and lunch were provided each day. Oh and the crowds were huge! But, somehow, I must have missed the small print for the hours of the show 9:30 - 9:30 Friday and Saturday and 9:30 - 6 on Sunday That is 32 1/2 hours of being ON. Some would say that was an opportunity for sales, but after 6 on a Friday and Saturday night, well, let's put it this way, I would have had better things to do as did most of the crowds. I also missed the fact that this was not the only show. There were two other shows happening within in walking distance of each other bringing the total number of artists somewhere near the 500 mark. Way too many artists chasing the same dollars. All three shows were free entry so there were a lot of aisle walkers.

This show is both a fine art and fine craft show and I saw some pretty fabulous work. I did see lots of bags and large pieces heading for the parking lot. I didn't like the fact that the NYT, siding/window company and other non-art booths had the prime locations outside. There were a number of them at the entrance, so it was hard to tell what the show was about. For, myself, it was a barely break even show, but worth it because I got to be with my family. In my limited experience I am discovering that I do best in shows that are heavy on wearable art. My clients come in dressed in their artwear looking for new. I did not see a lot of artwear walking about, for the most part, they were well heeled but on the conservative side and my clothing, says look at me.

Load out for me was very easy also. I shipped my work and fixtures and rented the booth, so after I packed my suitcases and boxes, I hand carried them to my car. I did notice that there was a long line of cars and vans lined up on the street, so I think load out was probably less easy for most.

I am not sure I will do this show again. Not just because of sales but that 12 hour day just about killed me, it is a little bit too much for me.

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Comment by David Bjurstrom on August 3, 2012 at 10:30pm

Oh...no, Connie.

I meant that the show itself is entirely outdoors, in the open, with all artists in their tents as opposed to the BAM ARTSfair show which is partially outdoor but mostly under the cover of the parking structure.

Comment by Connie Mettler on August 3, 2012 at 6:46pm

Great review, Barbara, and thanks again David for chiming in with your information. I never knew all this info about this event, but can rattle off similar info about the Ann Arbor fairs, so can tell you really have the skivvy. And so, now the rest of us know about Bellevue!

Love the reason for the west coast travel, Barbara. Many artists justify lower sales just to be able to make these trips and combine some family time.

David, what did you mean the second show was "outdoor art" -- do you really mean it was all "yard art?"

Comment by Jacki Bilsborrow on August 1, 2012 at 10:46pm

Thanks Barbara for your report.  What we do to visit our kids!  It is nice you can find shows to do to off set your visiting expenses.  I have got to check out the airbnb to see what that is all about.  I have never heard of it before.

Comment by Ruth Finkenbiner on July 31, 2012 at 2:30pm

Barbara, good review.  You mentioned that you didn't know there were 3 shows, as a local, I can tell you most of the people in the area who would attend this event don't always realize there are 3 separate events, they just think of it all as the Bellevue Arts Fair.   We've only done the 6th Street fair, the lowest rung on the ladder of the 3 events.  The year we tried that show there were more than 600 booths between the 3 shows, David mentions 500 so maybe some of the shows have shrunk slightly.  There is a lot of competition for the buying dollars available which is why we have chosen to leave Seattle that weekend and travel east to participate in a different show.  We've had better success with a smaller 2 day show vs. the big 3 day show in Bellevue.  Just our experience, I know several other artists who absolutely disagree with me.  We all have to figure out what works best for us.

Comment by Kay Cummins on July 31, 2012 at 2:06pm

Nice review. 

Comment by David Bjurstrom on July 31, 2012 at 12:40pm

I would generally agree with your comments, Barbara. 

This is a well-run show (and at 60 some years old, it should be!). Load-in is good, though if you have an oversized vehicle (over 6'8"), you had to park in the oversize lot and dolly, which could've been a distance of 50' or a long city block, depending on how far "into" the garage your booth was located. I was pretty central and had to go the equivalent of around half a block. However, with my dolly, I had everything in with four big loads. Not a big deal.

Load-out was actually easier as the security fencing that blocked off the back of the show was removed and most artists were able to get right up to the show area. I ended up dollying around 50' feet to get out. Not bad at all. Some folks waited to be able to drive right into their booths, but most found that unnecessary.

The artwork overall was very good, though there was some pretty awful stuff (even given that tastes vary) and a few things that were more suited to a lower-end craft fair. But, that's true of most every show. There were at least a couple of buy/sell booths--a Mexican rug vendor, in particular, with a prime booth location. Disappointing to see the show let that stuff in.

There are sponsor booths outside on that main entryway aisle, but I didn't necessarily find them objectionable. They weren't blasting loud music and being completely obnoxious (a la Coconut Grove!) and you have to put 'em somewhere. It was mostly artists along that pathway.

In the nice weather like this past weekend, being in those outdoor booths is great, but when it's not so nice (this IS Seattle, after all), it can be ugly out there. I'll always gladly take a parking structure location.

The hours are very long and the crowd and sales do drop precipitously after 6 or 7 but there are still people around. Being in competition with the opening of the Olympics Friday this year may have had more effect than usual on the evening crowds

While there are two other shows in the immediate neighborhood, the one across the street is entirely outdoor and, while it did have many top artists, there were many more with very questionable quality. The booths there were generally placed much tighter together (narrow aisles) and the atmosphere was more carnival-like in some spots. However, the public doesn't usually get that so, yes, there's a lot of "competition" for the dollars available. The public generally walks each of the shows. The third show is a couple blocks away and is, in general, a much more "crafty" event.

This was my third time at the BAM show and it was good--a very nice profit--but not great. I sold in all price ranges from $95. unframed prints to $3000. originals. This year was not as over-the-top good as 2011, but I'll definitely take it and look forward to going back in 2013.

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