Art Fair Insiders

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

Several artist friends and I are dedicated to modifying the jury system as we know it.  We are emailing every show that rejects us and asking for our score and how it relates to the acceptance score and the waitlist score.  We explain that this information is essential for our growth in this business and besides, we paid for it..

The result has been mixed.  Some have embraced the concept and some have been completely pig-headed.  The most recent response was from a show I've done many times over the years and always have rated as a top show.  It is also held in my hometown of Milwaukee, WI.

I was rejected for the third year in a row and inquired about my score and my category.  The return email blew me away!  I'm sure it revealed more than the respondent intended.

It started off with a completely ridicules statement.  It said the scores were confidential.  Confidential?  From me?  I paid to be juried.  The score only applies to me.  Who are you protecting here?  The rest was all designed to assuage me and get me to apply again next year.  Then, in answer to my question about my category he dropped the bomb.  I had entered in the Digital category.  He said 2 artists from last year were re-invited and there were 22 applicants in my category.  Of the 22 applicants ... wait for it ... 1 was accepted. There will be 3 Digital artist in this year's show!

I don't know about you, but something doesn't seem quite right here.


Views: 5304

Comment by Robert Wallis on March 8, 2013 at 1:19am

Hell, for a 1 out of 22 chance, you might as well buy lottery tickets :-(

I don't know how the letters you guys are sending out rread like, but something along these lines are needed;

Dear Artist Chairman;

A serious issue in the art fair business is that of professonal development for artists and the show organizers. Not everyone is going to get into every show every time, whiich is understandable. What can be done is to provide meaningful feedback to the artists and at the same time provide a better rubric for judges. The days of a casual judging environement are past, and in these difficult economic times a more effective method of judging is needed to guarantee that shows are able to pick the best artists and at the same time enable artists to know what paradigms they need to meet. These are urgent matters that are highly important to the artist's livelihood and the fund raising for the sponsoring shows. These are mutually inclusive issues that deserve full consideration for everyone's benefit.

In order to meet these goals, which are affordable given the revenue streams that jury fees are providing, a more concise metric is needed which is supplied to the artist as well as the internal usage for the artist selection committees. Without this information, the artist is operating blindly and has no way of knowing what or where to step up their game and grow to a higher level. After all, the aim of the show is to present the best artists they can select for their customers, the fair goers. 

At this point, some sort of universal judging criteria is needed to finish this off. Then a way to quantify it is needed. This should prove to be interesting ;-)

Comment by Richard L. Sherer on March 8, 2013 at 9:20am
Will jurors understand use of nouns "rubric", "paradigms" and "metric". Good but simpler might be easier for their comprehension.
Comment by Richard L. Sherer on March 8, 2013 at 9:25am
Might add that the Colorado Saddlemakers Association (CSMA ) wrestled with on site judging criteria and score sheets for exhibitors for about three years. It always seemed that something new came up every year in the 8 that these judged saddle shows were held in Pueblo, CO. Biggest problem was new judge each year didn't have a clue as where to start. So we wrote a judges manual too, for preparation. I wonder if jurors coming in to jury art might not also need direction instead of throwing darts.
Comment by Connie Mettler on March 8, 2013 at 10:13am

R. C., this is a good and useful initiative. Good for you. Taking action helps relieve the tension of helplessness and can bring needed results. Hope you'll keep us up to date on how it goes for everyone.

On the second part, the competition in your category though, I'd like to know did the show let you know ahead of time how many openings there were in your category? Some shows, notably Krasl Art Fair, do let applicants know so they are fully informed when applying. That transparency is really good to know. There being only one space available for 22 applicants though is not a shocking thing. Jewelers face these kinds of odds with regularity. As far as I know Cherry Creek has the largest number of applicants, around 1500, I believe. Let's say 100 photographers applied for the 12 spaces for photography, the odds quickly mount. This is, of course, why we carry on and on not only on this site but at other venues about the importance of making the application and all its parts as strong as possible. I don't hear anyone denying that the competition for the best shows isn't pretty strong.

Comment by Robert Wallis on March 8, 2013 at 10:26am

Thanks Richard, I dashed that one off pretty quickly and was guilty of overestimating the judges. It'll be a wiser idea to use nickel and dime words instead of the two-bit ones ;-) It was  bad habit I developed when I worked for the government and had to deal with chair bound bureaucrats. One kicked back a purchase order that included a selection of Xacto knife blades and demanded to know what they were used for. I answered "for scraping detritus" and that was the end of it ;-) 

Comment by R. C. Fulwiler on March 8, 2013 at 11:15am

No, there was no fore-warning of the number of Digital artists that would be accepted.  As for Krasl, I appreciate that they give us the statistics, but I don't believe they give it before we apply.  How could they?  Fort Worth also tell us how many applied in each category, but not how many are accepted.

We never know what we're up against when we apply to a top-tear show, or maybe we do!  Over 32 years, I've made the cut at Cherry Creek, Fort Worth, Kansas City and many more, but really, if I knew only one Digital artist would be invited to participate with the 2 re-invitees, I would've saved my $35.  And, please don't mention the competition in the Jewelry category, we know there will be many jewelers displaying their wares!

Comment by Ron Mellott on March 9, 2013 at 5:28pm

Amen Rich.

I won’t speak for anyone besides me on this. Many seem to read these blogs, few comment. So I’ll blithely go on assuming – you all agree with me!

There is no consistent, tangible, meaningful relationship of any merit between most show management and artists.  No organization represents artists in a meaningful way.  Shows rarely ask our opinions.  Truthfully, too many artists do a poor job representing their issue by getting angry and abusive to show management.  Equally wrong.  The only relationship that consistently applies is we, the artists, provide a revenue stream to shows through the jury process.  This is nothing new, it is been talked about among artists for years as fees have risen.  The reality is that some portion of the event is paid for by that majority of artists rejected by the jurors.  Right and wrong are a separate but related issue.  Not much of a relationship.

Perhaps many do not respond to show management, or blogs, for fear of blacklisting.  Agreed that this a very real possibility as many promoters, like artists, do not take criticism or critiquing – hell, even feedback well.   It would be an ugly reality if shows are so petty and mean-spirited to blacklist artists for being upset and giving feedback. That said, I propose the only way things ever change in life, in relationships, in society, in cultures is by developing relationships through dialogue and respect.  And in this art world we have all chosen, it is no different.  Silence can be interpreted many ways, most not good. It may be promoters think the silence means either we don’t care or are unwilling to do anything about it – maybe that we can’t effect any meaningful change.  Not healthy if we ever hope to create a more positive, mutualistic “relationship”.  To which I say … “nay, nay”.  We do care and can make our voices and issues heard.

Being one of those crusading to see shows give us a modicum of respect by giving us our jury scores and cutoff scores back, I would like to add this. If we all start asking for our scores, they will hear us, and the issue.  If the few become the many, it will become a torrent.  At that point, show management still may choose not to respond – though neither they, their upper management, or their sponsors may be able or willing to ignore it.

A primary source of frustration on this point is that there exist models used by shows where the return of scores is routinely done.  So saying they "can't" just isn't factual.  Further, shows can also open dialogue with the online jury systems such as ZAPP, JAS and Entry-Thingy to return the individual juror scores to artists through their online systems, in the same manner we see our both assignments on our "My Zapplications" page.  It can be done, should be done.  It is a mindset not to do so. 

If show management does not understand why it is important to us, they do not make much effort to understand us as artists.  The shows choose their jurors.  If they choose the same types of jurors, how is our outcome to change?  If we routinely score low with the types of jurors a show choose, there seem only two possibilities to me.  First, the kinds of jurors they choose are not receptive to our type of art.  Maybe they don’t like beaded jewelry, or abstract painting, maybe these ‘experts’ don’t think wildlife photography or color photography is worthy of an art show, perhaps they don’t like the color red or horizontal images mixed with verticals.  Maybe they didn’t like the booth slide for some reason.  Who knows!!!  They do as it was the basis of their scoring of us – yet that is not communicated to us.  So we have no basis for change.  And just saying “oh but next year and new jurors” seems premised on the fact that everything we did is good and correct, and that the only variable is the jurors.

If jurors were that variable, I would not have experienced long droughts of not getting into specific shows, nor many of the artists I know that have applied to specific events for 10 to 15+ years without ever having even made the wait list.  So knowing how close, or far we are from getting in IS of importance.

Or, we adopt the second option.  That our work generally sucks.

Though, to soften the blow of that possibility, the reality here is that what these “art experts” choose often may have absolutely no relevance to what the buying public likes.  What a concept.  Nor hopefully to other show jurors. And the same jury slides may possibly perchance get us into other shows - as long as they don't use any of the same jurors of course.

What a system.  25 years of tradition unimpeded by progress.  And we consider ourselves smart and caring.  Hmmmmmmmm ………

Can’t we do better?  It seems we have somewhat of a common goal: a strong art venue for people to come find and buy artwork.  

Comment by Robert Wallis on March 9, 2013 at 10:27pm

Ron, I have the sneaking suspicion that the tight-lipped shows have a reluctance to share those scores because the unwashed 80% of artists that don't come close to making the cut will wise up and stop throwing jury fee money at those shows. They could easily lose the golden goose of cheap money. In your words, "The reality is that some portion of the event is paid for by that majority of artists rejected by the jurors.". That's a pretty lame business model which takes advantage of the failures by not telling them why they failed.

Comment by Ron Mellott on March 10, 2013 at 8:32am

Totally agree Robert.  Though acknowledging that is one thing, the artist community quietly and passively allowing it to continue to happen is another.  How many are not feeling the financial 'chest pains' of having to apply to more shows on each weekend at higher costs to create a show circuit that makes sense and is economical?  One of the downsides to shows may be that artists are canceling shows for that very reason .... personally, I have never seen so many shows go through so many artists on their wait-lists, even into their reject lists.   

I also think it is because shows have lost their way, their vision of what they are suppose to be and do.  Probably because many are not artists, and never run art show befores, which is more than just an "event".  It is challenging and takes an vision and expertise to make happen.  An art show is about attracting a certain group of people (art patrons) to come with the confidence, faith, that what you are telling them you will have (artwork they will wish to purchase) is there.  It is not about attracting 'bodies' that only want to look - it is about attracting 'buyers' that will do just that.  That axion in the art world is so on point.  If the buyers aren't there, artists turn away.  If the type of artwork the public wants to buy isn't there, they turn away.  The event fails.  Make take a few years to utterly fail, but it is failing.

And I have rarely ever seen a correlation between what 'art critics' like and what the public wishes to buy.  Art shows are not exhibits - they are about quality, original, creative and well-executed work that the public wishes to incorporate into their homes and lives. Am I missing something on this?

Jurors - critics!  How many go to see a movie because it is "critically-acclaimed"?  How many see movies they LOVE that critics HATED, or critically-abused?  I believe those who love and wish to purchase art are the same.  It may be necessary to have some level of juries, jurors, and "art experts" ... but truthfully, personally, I want to live or die by what the public says of my work.  I want to see the jury process de-emphasized in how shows are run.  Too many artists are having their careers, their fates, determined by jurors.  JURORS are the target of this process now - how to get past the jurors.  How to cheat, manipulate, bend and outright break the stated show rules to get past the jurors.  Knowing full-well that most show management will NEVER, EVER, enforce their rules. 

Great evolution of the business model, eh!

Comment by Bert Herrera on March 11, 2013 at 8:44am

Hey Rich, as we talked at Bonita this weekend, I totally agree with your point there.  I routinely send an email to rejected shows asking for a score and cut-off information on where my score ranked compared to acceptances.  I rarely receive any meaningful information from those shows. 

Ron, I agree with your comments.  Many art shows have become 'events', where attendees go to have a good time, not buy any meaningful art.  Prime example is Coconut Grove.  A lady in my booth was admiring my work, loving it, etc.  Afterwards she turns to me and says 'keep taking these wonderful shots, so we can come back next and enjoy looking at them'.  Once you've paid $10 to enter, $20 to park, $8 for a beer, have sampled various foods, have zipped line and listened to Verizon, then you might think of a little art.  As another artist I spoke with at the Grove said, 'this is always the elephant in the room, especially at the Grove'.  Well, that elephant's droppings will eventually impact all of us.

"And I have rarely ever seen a correlation between what 'art critics' like and what the public wishes to buy."   The nail is hit squarely on the head with this statement.  



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