Art Fair Insiders

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

Cape Coral Festival of the Arts (Jan. 11-12, 2014)

(I've reviewed the Cape Coral Festival of the Arts in detail for several years.  The logistics and background for this show are unchanged.  You can read last year's review here.) 
This was my fifth, and surely my last, visit to Cape Coral Festival of the Arts.  Featuring 300+ artists, craftspersons, and buy-sellers, it's certainly the largest show in SW Florida, and one of the best attended.  The citizens swarmed the show from just before the official opening until mid-afternoon on both days.  Well organized, well communicated, and logistically easy for setup and teardown.

But is it a great art festival?  Not by a long shot.  The Fort Myers News-Press got it about right in the lead paragraph of their story about the show in Sunday's paper: "Fried food and painted toilet seats caught people’s eyes Saturday at Cape Coral’s Festival of the Arts."  And so, I might add, did the purveyor of "handcrafted" lounge chairs that sold for $39 each, and the other booths filled with buy-sell, costume jewelry, and tschotskes. Don't misunderstand--there are some fine artists and craftpersons at this show, but in recent years they seem to be more and more outnumbered. Like the host city itself, this is an unpretentious show that welcomes all comers, is a little rough around the edges, and tries to be all things to everybody.  

Naples, it is not. And that stark fact provides a great opportunity to learn a lesson on choosing shows that match your target market, as opposed to chasing shows based on high attendance or somebody's top 100 shows list. 

There was a time, not long after I started in the business, when I had solid sales at this show.  I sold small work, framed most of it, and offered small matted prints at a $20 price point.  In 2009 I had 35 buyers at an average sale of about $60, and a little bit of follow-up business in the week or two following the show.  Even last year, long after I'd switched to canvases and dumped my 8x10 matted prints, I still eked out a bit over $2K, thanks to a few small canvas sales and a lot of 11x14 matted print sales, many of which were deeply discounted.

This year, I went with much larger work at much higher price points: canvases were mostly 24x36 and larger.  (Last year, 24x36 was my largest size).  Fewer 11x14 mats (priced at $45-$49, also up from last year) and 16x20s at around $80-85.  As a concession to the bargain-seekers that abound in this working-class city, I hung a half-dozen smaller canvases, 24x16 or thereabouts, and set out a binful of small prints at deep discounts for my annual "Clear the Nest" sale.

The result?  In 14 hours of beautiful weather, I sold zero canvases, three deep-discount items, a couple of $20 calendars, and a bunch of 11x14 and 16x20 mats, totaling $1000.  About half-a-box of business cards fairly flew out the door, most likely never to be seen again.  

And yet, this doesn't upset me.  Because sometimes, you can define your market not by looking at who buys your work, but rather who does not.  So the fact that sales were tough to come by this weekend is actually good news.  Now, if sales lag in my next two shows (in downtown Sarasota and St. Pete), I've got a problem.  So..., stay tuned!


Booth Fee: $326, single check or online credit card, payable with application, cashed quickly
Attendance: High, but few strollers or sales after 4 PM either day
Weather: Fair both days
Number of artists: Over 300
Music: No
Food court: You betcha

Buy-sell?: Ditto
Artist amenities: None
Good show for: Beginning artists; those with low price points ($20-100) and/or kitsch. Small items sell best, as patrons have long walks and parking/access points are tight

Awards: Yes (Judge never walked in my booth, just gave a quick glance from 15 feet away, but paused long enough to place helpful initials on my booth sign)
Setup: Friday night check-in from 6-10 pm; access to street 8-12 midnight; Saturday setup began 6 AM. 
Teardown: 5-7 PM Sunday.  Streets re-opened just after 7 PM 

Views: 500

Comment by Connie Mettler on January 13, 2014 at 12:01pm

What a business! You pick your neighborhood, you do your best and as they taught me in Catholic school "God will do the rest." 

I just found this article from the Cape Coral Daily Breeze: http://www.cape-coral-daily-breeze.com/page/content.detail/id/53799...

It is a long article with lots of details including the name of every artist participating. Almost makes you think the writer was being paid by the word. Still there is info to be gleaned for anyone thinking about this show and I noticed a bunch of AFI members were there with Geoff this weekend. Were your sales similar?

And this link includes a video: http://www.news-press.com/article/20140112/NEWS0101/301120041/Art-f...

Comment by Ruth Jellema on January 13, 2014 at 12:50pm

I was also at Cape Coral.  In my long career it's one of the few shows I've never done.  We decided to stick around the Fort Myers area this month, so decided to give it a try.  Geoff described it very well - a mix of artists that you see at the "good" shows next to absolute junk.  Tons of people coming by - most with no interest in art.  I was expecting it to be somewhat like the Delray Affair which I've done a couple of times and I think that's a pretty good comparison.  My only big surprise was that my sales were great.  Both days I sold some of my best, highest end pieces.  Saturday I also had steady business on smaller pieces.  I can't explain it, but I'll sure take it.

Sorry, Geoff, but I can't resist:  if the judge stayed 15 feet away from your booth, how did he manage to sign your booth sign?  Extra long arms?

Comment by Geoff Coe on January 13, 2014 at 1:00pm

Ruth: Glad you had a good show!

Comment by Jim Parker on January 14, 2014 at 4:28pm
Our friends Marc & Wendy Zoschke won Best in Show at Cape Coral this year. They are jewelers with some very interesting work in silver, fossils and glass. Well deserved. I haven't yet heard how sales were for them compared to the past couple of years.
Crowd wise, Ft Myers and Cape Coral are not my audience. Glad you at least covered your costs Geoff
Comment by Geoff Coe on January 14, 2014 at 5:46pm
Jim, thanks for mentioning the Zoschkes. I've seen their work and it is amazing (I was trained as a geologist so I love fossils). I'm glad they won.

My costs for this show are really low since I live 10 minutes away, so the threshold dollar amount for re-upping is low. But even that threshold didn't get met this year, although there was some profit to be had, so I'll go elsewhere in 2015. The point of the post, especially for new artists, is that there is more to show selection than geography, costs, and attendance. Finding out who buys your work and then going where they go is a productive way to approach show selection. . .one that has to be reevaluated in light of changes you make to your show offerings.
Comment by Nels Johnson on January 14, 2014 at 8:36pm

That is a very well thought-out response Geoff.

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