Art Fair Insiders

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

Being told our position on a wait-list

So frustrating trying to comprehend why providing artists their jury score and position on the wait-list of an event is such a difficult task for shows to perform.  A few do, very much to their credit and thank you to each and every show that does so.  Most do not.  Some actually get a pissy if you ask for the position on the wait list.

First point, we paid a jury fee for the jury process and that jury score.  Did we not?  And for that $25 to $50 jury fee, are we out-of-line to expect to be provided our jury scores, cut-off scores, and thus where we stand on a wait-list?  I hope show Directors will wade in on this with their rationale.  Educate us why they do not think this is valuable to us, or why they do not have the money to do so.

If a show is truly and honestly juried, each artist has been scored by each juror, those scores totalled to determine who is in, who is out and - who is wait-listed. That score determines what their position is in their medium - and on the wait list, does it not?  

As for communicating that information it has bee provided historically by some shows, probably currently is being done by some, and absolutely positively in this age of computers and the internet - CAN BE DONE.  Broadripple used to put the scores by individual jurors online based on application ID - maybe they still do.  Des Moines used to send out a PDF of the individual jury scores - maybe they also still do so.  Uptown used to send out paper forms with individual juror scores.  Most show do not bother, some  say do not even bother asking as we will not tell you. 

As artists, we realize we will not get into all the shows we really hope to have on our schedule.  Duh.  So we typically apply to multiple shows on the same weekend so we have hope of getting juried into at least one of those events.  Increases our cost of doing business substantially but under the current business model of how most shows are runs, seems unavoidable.  Shows have different application dates, different jury dates and different pay-your-booth-fee-by dates. Some shows refund if you withdraw before the event, some depending on how far out from the event, and others just do not refund your booth fee once it is paid.

I say this last part because that, IMO, is the chief reason for shows to let you know where you are on a wait-list (besides the "we paid for it in the jury/application fee" argument). If we are wait-listed, and another show says "come on down!" and they have a non-refundable booth fee policy, it would be nice to know where we are on a wait-list for the show we most hope to do, would it not?  If we were #1 or #2 is it not a completely different question to wrestle with than if we are #8 or #20 on the wait list? (yes, shows do now have wait-lists that exceed the total number of artists in that medium in that event - sometimes by up to a factor of 2 or 3!).

So this is the communication/courtesy factor:  if we are so far down on the wait-list that given how far down a show has historically ever gone, why not let us know our position on the wait-list and how far down you have ever gone on the wait-list so we can make a meaningful decision to either commit elsewhere or hold out - or even drive to the show and see if a spot opens at the last minute if we are high on the wait-list?  If show Directors and Promoters truly care about the artist base and the success of artisans, is this an unrealistic expectation?  To provide us what we paid for and what we need to make our economic/business decisions?

I think that is a rhetorical question.  It is not an unreasonable request.  Though I open the door to be convinced otherwise.

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Comment by David S. Hoornstra on July 20, 2017 at 10:39am

Judy and Joel bring out a factor we sometimes forget. Since some art fairs are sponsored by professional promoters and some by civic organizations, and both try to emphasize the "local festival" atmosphere, we can be romanced by that concept. Both promoters and civic groups stand to gain by a healthy artist population, but not everyone acts that way. When dealing with a promoter it behooves one to be all business. When the organizer is a museum or another non-profit, I am less inclined to play hard-ball since the money is going to a cause I am willing to support.

On the other side of the coin, some artists are hobbyists who might otherwise be throwing money into a hole in the water, while people like me can only afford to do art fairs if they get something for the art. If you only count the dollars, I'm a hobbyist trying to become a pro. If it looks like too much of a gamble and the rules say "no refund," I turn elsewhere.

So what I'm saying is, look at all the factors instead of trying to find a single rule. You can play nice AND play well.

Comment by Connie Mettler on July 20, 2017 at 10:17am

Thanks, Karen. When I mentioned panic when an artist cancels near show time you've exactly caught it. Many, many things happen and lots of dominoes fall over causing a lot of hustling behind the scenes to make the show work. 

I hope everyone reading here realizes this about the people who are organizing the show: "a whole bunch of them are trying hard to put on a good show and be fair to everybody in the process."

Comment by Judy Christian on July 20, 2017 at 9:02am

I am saying this with a smile, not meaning to offend anyone-

Can you believe that we actually feel gallant and that we are doing the honorable thing when we don't ask for our $500 booth fee money returned when we need to cancel? And accept that we have no idea where we are on the wait list- as part of doing business? All for a spot on the street for any type of weather for a few days?

Ask anyone else who runs another type of business, and they would say this is all nuts!

Joel, you sound spot on.

Comment by Joel Lockridge on July 20, 2017 at 8:53am

Clarification -- I have had to choose one show over another, but have not yet paid the booth fee for either one. Just the jury fee has been paid.

Comment by Joel Lockridge on July 20, 2017 at 8:52am

I've never cancelled out of a show I've paid the booth fee. I have had to choose one show over another, but I do let the show know as soon as I know. I have gone to shows so bad that I actually fell asleep during the show.

Also, I've been wait listed many times. I can't afford to drive 4-10 hours to a show and HOPE they let me in. Nope. The day I learn I'm waitlisted, I am scrambling to fill that spot on my calendar.

Comment by Karen Holtkamp on July 19, 2017 at 6:51pm

First, from the artist's perspective:

I have cancelled shows because of my own illness and have never received a refund.  Nor did I expect to.  The show's prospectus clearly states the last day to cancel and still get a refund.  When we apply and pay our jury fee we are accepting the show's rules.  In my view, an artist who cancels after the refund date doesn't have a leg to stand on if he or she doesn't get a refund.  It's the cost of doing business.

From the show organizer's view, several comments:

1.  Last year an accepted artist died the day before set-up.  I tried to refund his fee to the family but they wouldn't take it.

2.  The last two years in a row a particular artist has been accepted into my show and has then canceled (before paying the booth fee) because she decided to do another show.  There's no issue about money in this case, but I must admit I'm getting the feeling I can't depend on her.  I'm not going to blackball her, we all have a right to apply to multiple shows, but I will definitely have an extra spot on the wait list in her category if/when she's accepted in the future.  And I won't mention her previous defections to the jury, either. 

3.  Ron, I think you might be seeing things from only the artists' perspective on this issue.  There's a lot more fallout from a late cancellation than an inaccurate brochure.

The refund-cut-off date triggers a lot of activity on the organizer's end.  Once the participant list is "final" on that date I start planning the booth layout.  That involves first attending to everyone's location requests and then shuffling the layout around over and over again for many days until finally the layout has met preferences and also kept artists in the same category from being too near each other.  Last year when that artist died at the last minute, it wasn't a matter of just moving everybody in the row up a slot because category proximity got screwed up.  In the end, almost 80% of the booth locations changed because of that one absence. 

Aside from the layout, check-in packets that are personalized for each artist have to be altered when there are drop-outs.  If the cancelled artist had priority parking that has to be revised, documented and parking people notified.  On-site jurying materials need to be updated.  The website and other social media need to be updated.  Angry artists who are appalled their booth location was changed "without their permission" (I'm not kidding) need to be mollified.  And on and on.

So what seems like a simple artist no-show actually causes a lot of work for organizers at a time that's already crazy busy to begin with.

In summary, I feel that promoters and organizers are generally considered by some artists to be guilty until proven innocent.  And not just guilty -- greedy, manipulative, duplicitous, untrustworthy, etc., etc.  Yes, some are like that, but a whole bunch of them are trying hard to put on a good show and be fair to everybody in the process.

Comment by Connie Mettler on July 19, 2017 at 11:04am

I believe that shows should refund, with cause, but they really need to know it is a legit cancellation. I've seen abuse of this on the part of artists, Steve. Shows should not be the opposition, but the partner of artists, and the majority of them are. It is bad business on both sides to take advantage of each other.

Cool, Judy, getting called the night before after you've made your call.  That exactly proves my point.

Comment by Steve Sawusch on July 19, 2017 at 9:54am
I have not looked into the legal side for art shows, but if you rent an appartment, pay, leave, they keep your money and fill the unit with someone else (get paid twice for the same unit), they have to give you back your money because it is illegal.
Comment by Judy Christian on July 18, 2017 at 4:02pm

Thanks, Connie.

After sharing all of that, I forgot to get to my point. I never thought that any of that should hurt my  future chances of getting back into those shows, probably primarily because the shows still had my booth fees- which I expected to leave on their table. And it didn't.

I could see where a late phone call about the wait list could help- I was once called off a wait list for a show the next day- after I had gone to bed for the night!

Comment by Connie Mettler on July 18, 2017 at 3:26pm

Good for you on all this follow up, Judy, with the shows. Artists are dependent on good relations with the show organizers and some are timid about contacting them. You're paying your money, you are their customer, you want to keep channels open, so call if you have questions or need to clarify a point.

From running shows over the years, I know that as it gets nearer show time when someone cancels it is a panic to fill that space and that if you have called and talked to someone and told the show organizer that you are very interested in doing their show, and how to get ahold of you, that I always made a note of that and remembered it.

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