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

So I didn’t get accepted to my hometown Summerfair this year, and in a pissy mood I immediately went searching for another show that weekend, knowing the Summerfair jury would be devastated when they learned they had missed their chance to have me.  And sure enough, Zapp dealt up the Butchertown Art Fair held in a quaint historic suburb of Louisville, KY on the very same weekend, June 4-5.  Sold!

The show is set up on a tree-lined street in the 800 and 900 blocks of Washington Avenue.  Set-up was Friday evening beginning at 6, however the street was blocked off early so they let us in quite a bit early.  It was an easy drive to your booth to unload and then drive on to park on the nearby streets.

Rain poured down briefly on Saturday but Sunday was beautiful with a perfect temperature.

I’ll cut to the chase.  This show was awful on several levels.  Not because of the weather.  Not even because of my sales, which barely covered expenses (a problem I had never experienced in 10 years until this show).  Here’s how it went so very wrong.

The show had no business being on Zapp, which of course goes to a nationwide audience.  In my mind any Zapp show should be suitable for an artist who will have travel expenses.  Not this one.

Butchertown is not a real art show.  It’s actually a small, local craft fair that until this year had never turned an applicant away.  Let your imagination wander on that one.  There were some good quality out-of-state artists who had been sucked in by the promotional description on Zapp and they spent the rest of the weekend kicking themselves.

The show seems to be run by a community group who has apparently never looked at the business of art shows from the artists’ perspective.  I know this because when an artist complained to the organizer about several problems the organizer looked shocked and mentioned that that they were “giving back to the community.”  One of the ways they gave back was to spread informational booths throughout the show, and in fact I had one of them next to me.  The info booths were sponsored by – I made a list so I could tell you – a soon-to-be-built botanical garden, a community newspaper, a pet services group, a dance bar, a hospice and, I kid you not, a catholic church.

I had plenty of time to observe the impact of this, because due to no sales I had time to watch the neighbors walk by with their kids or their dogs and run into people they knew – “Oh hi!  How are you?” – and commence to have a 30-minute chit-chat in the middle of the street.  Many, many, many people attending this show didn’t bother to look left or right as they walked down the street.  They were there because it was a block party, and they had absolutely no intention of buying anything except beer.  We were the free decorations.

I observed that the botanical garden next to me would call out to people in the middle of the street and reel them into their tent.  Then the couple would hear the spiel and add their names to the email list.  Finally they would turn away and, as people do, remark to each other their impressions of what they’d just heard – looks like it’ll be nice, I wonder if there’ll be a charge to get in, that play area will be great for Cindy – and by the time they’re finished with their little recap they’ve passed my booth and eventually they look up to find the nearest beer booth.

I get the impression that the organizing staff is very proud of their show, and if it were a community event for a bunch of amateur crafters they certainly should be.  But as a show that’s promoted to professional artists who expect to find a venue conducive to selling their work, this show isn’t even close.

Oh, almost forgot to mention.  The show bestows three awards.  Great, except at least the last two years all 3 awards went to Butchertown residents.  Someone asked if all the awards stayed in town again this year and we learned that no, only two of the awards went to residents and the other one went to someone from “out of town.”  Since Butchertown is a village I assumed this meant the 3rd recipient lives a few miles away in a neighboring suburb. 

Like I said, this show is a community event.  The rest of us have no business being there.  Best of luck to them.

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Comment by Roxanne Coffelt on June 20, 2016 at 10:07pm

I did the exact same thing as you last year.  Didn't get in to my local show and decided I needed to go somewhere else.  My impressions were not quite as harsh as yours.  It is a beautiful neighborhood.  Load in and out were no problem.  I guess I did not get out enough to realize they had all those non-artist booths.  I thought the show was well organized.  

I really enjoyed doing the show, except for one thing:  No one was buying anything except for food and beer.  My sales were dismal, but I base my opinion on what I saw everyone carrying as they walked down the streets:  food and beer, no art.  Fortunately we were camping instead of paying for a hotel, so it kept our costs down.  If you are local and have some local customers that will come out to see you, it would be worth doing.  Unfortunately it is not worth traveling for.

Maybe a few years from now they will have evolved into a really nice show.  I know I won't be considering it again for a few years.

Comment by Karen Holtkamp on June 21, 2016 at 2:41pm

I'm not sure it's worth it even if you live in the area, and I base that on the demeanor of the attendees.  They really were there to party with their neighbors rather than to buy or even look at art. 

We have a show in the Cincinnati area that has a similar problem, except in our case it's truly an art show with wonderful work on display.  But the neighbors didn't get the memo that our stuff is actually for sale.  That's how I was able to see what was going on at Butchertown fairly quickly... I've seen it before.

Oh, and I had another clue.  Within the first hour of set-up, probably eight artists asked me if I'd done the show before.  "Nope, have you?"  No.  I knew then I was in trouble, just didn't know exactly what the problem was going to be.  Live and learn.

Comment by Christina L. Towell on June 22, 2016 at 10:01am

Great recap, Karen, sorry it was a bust...live and learn, indeed.  

Comment by Cindy Welch on June 22, 2016 at 5:00pm

This sounds like a show in a town over.  Let me say it's not billed as high art.  However there are plenty of booths there with crafts and arts, and I don't mean the vacation Bible school crafts.

It is in the downtown streets of this little college town.  So the atmosphere of the old buildings is quaint and pretty.  There are about 3 music stage with different music at each one.  They are far enough apart that the music does not overlap so that is not a problem.

The show is something like 9:00-5:00 on Saturday only.  The issue that we have found, and what is keeping us from going back, is that about 2:00 a transition begins from those who are shopping to those who are buying beer and huddled around the music stages.

It is a complete waste of time for us from that point on.  However we cannot tear down till 5:00 PM.  Even if we could "sneak" our stuff out by hand carrying or hauling it out on a dolly, our vehicle is too far away to  make it practical.  So after giving it 2 shots, we have opted not to return.

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