Call for Artists, Making Money at Juried Art Fairs, Craft Shows and Festivals
(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...
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
Food court: You betcha
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