Art Fair Insiders

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

Can you come up with a better headline? Or perhaps we can use mine as the entire bottom line on the recent A.B. Dow Museum Summer Art Fair 2021 in Midland, Mich. It wasn’t a pleasant experience, at least for me. It was my second-worst art fair in seven years of doing shows. Here’s my short summary: The good, the bad, and the yucky.

The Good: Relatively low booth fee. Relatively easy load-in/load-out. Plenty of free water which was great when the temps were 90+. Some artists told me they had ok sales (though I didn’t see a lot of art being carried out). Traffic was decent on Saturday but seemed down by at least half on Sunday. The local newspaper described the crowd as "in the hundreds."

The Bad: It was billed as a “premiere fine art and fine craft fair.” It was not. There were some good artists there, to be sure. A fantastic ceramic tile artist and very nice pottery. Some great painters and paper artists. But the organizers also allowed in very questionable vendors and didn’t follow their own guidelines. One vendor was selling dog bandanas, for example. Another selling baby clothes. There was one booth selling bird houses with prefabricated plastic solar-panel tops and the bottoms looking like they had been dragged through a bedazzle factory. And the kicker? Stuck between a drift-wood artist and acrylic spin artist was an entire booth simply selling catnip. Catnip is not art. Keep in mind this was a juried show with a $40 fee. 

I’m not sure which art category catnip falls into. I was in Mixed Media. Perhaps catnip is Mixed Greens? The guidelines clearly say no prefab parts but on my quick survey walk, there were multiple vendors using obvious prefab mass production pieces and some blatant buy/resale. One vendor took two pieces of prefab, drilled a hole in one, and simply glued them together. Those are show killers for artists.

I’ve done this fair in the past and done ok, sometimes better than ok. It’s close to home so there are no extra expenses. And I love the arts and theater the Museum brings to the community throughout the year. It's a tremendous asset for a small city. But even with that, I’m staying away until they come up with a show that supports artists better. It’s hard enough to get buyers to pay for art in the hundreds of dollars. But when the show’s price point is eroded by $15 and $20 items (did I mention the booth selling deer antler chews for dogs?), it makes for a miserable weekend and a miserable way to support artists. It appears they let in everyone who applied – and that’s never a good sign on a show’s trajectory. Some shows improve over time; some slip. This one has slipped over the edge into the category of “I wouldn’t do again even if it were free.” I know the pandemic has made it difficult for some organizers to restart their shows, but this one sacrificed on quality which is the death knell of any serious art fair. They used to have more than 100 vendors, they struggled to get 80 this year (and far fewer on the art side of the ledger). 

Oh, almost forgot The Yucky: To put the "icing" on a really bad, hot, no-sale weekend, a seagull pooped on my hat just as I finished breaking down. It was THE most fitting ending to an art fair I’ve ever had.


How about you? What were you doing this weekend? 

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Comment by Cindy Welch 17 hours ago

Steiph, I don't do fine art shows.  I sell vintage home decor and furntiure I've refinished/repurposed.  Even the better shows we've done where categories are limited to a certain number of artists, you still find the made in china.  In one show we do the application says each booth should have no more than 10% wholesale, which we know is mostly made in China.  I have never had much, probably not even 5%.  However I see booths that more than 10%.  I don't know that such rules are ever enforced unless the artist is no longer wanted for other reasons ... but this one is the reason given.

Comment by Steiph Zargon 22 hours ago

For some reason, your story reminds of the tale of the "Foo Bird".  Deep in the heart of the Amazon Jungle, three trepid explores all get S*it on by the giant Foo Bird... their subsequent experience is not unlike the one you had at that show.  BTW:  Been there, Done Dat!  really sucks to think you're at a fine art show and see many many vendors with "Made in China" on ther merch.

Comment by Connie Mettler on Thursday

I'm remembering a prizewinner at one of the "biggies" in Wisconsin: air plants.

Comment by Cindy Welch on Thursday

This show sounds like some we did in he beginning.  I was afraid of the big shows starting out.  We used these smaller dollar shows to get our feet wet so to speak, practice setting up on “game day”, and so on.

The shows we do today are still not fine art shows.  I don’t do fine art.  But we have moved up to better shows that feature vintage, repurposed, antiques, etc.  Check out www.vintagemarketdays.com to learn more,

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