The Resurgence of Art Fairs

What a year it has been on our planet! Is there hope for our business? Art fairs are a cultural treasure and 1,000,000's of people attend them every year in our country. Will they survive? I'm kind of thinking there is a touch of eagerness in the air. Do you feel it? This just in from ZAPP, the software company that helps artists and art fairs connect.


1. Some of you were actually exhibiting at art fairs in May and June this year. Did you last year?


2. Can you imagine what this amounted
to in $$$?

Do the math ... how did the festivals stay afloat?


3. Impressive! Back to 2019 figures? Do you think we're going to get back to that?

When do you think we'll be back to normal? Will you be there? 

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  • I think that we are like any other industry out there in that the art show business may go through a bit of a shakeup.  Restaurants and hair salons are two others that quickly come to my mind as not everyone is making it through the pandemic.

    I assume that some artists will not return as well as some shows may have to make changes.

    Much of this is not going to hurt those of us that are still standing. It may even get better.

    Larger shows may switch around a bit, and smaller ones that don't go out may do better.  My larger shows for early summer were cancelled so I did two small one day shows here, Ohio.

    Did fine.

  • I had a horrible year in 2018.  I realized I just did not have the stamina to do as many art shows or go as far as I had envisioned when I retired.  Plus every show had awful weather.  So I worked on getting other streams of income, redid my website, got into some galleries.  In 2020 every show I was scheduled for was cancelled or went virtual except one.  I have asthma and would not go out without a vaccine so I did no shows for 2020.  My gallery sales (once they opened up) and my website sales were good.  I realized how much money I was spending on show fees, hotels, meals, and gas.  It was eye opening. I've decided to scale down and focus on Virginia.  I have four shows for this fall that hopefully will happen.  I was hoping to do them without a mask but I just put in an order for KN95 masks.  I had planned on retiring from shows in 4 years but I may do it sooner.  At the very least I'm planning on staying with Virginia shows for 2022.

  • I shared with others your purchase of the "death industry" stocks ... a good idea. Good luck with the dirt industry.

  • The plan going foward is to do 3 shows and build 2-3 trick saddles from May to September. That should be a double whammy on income. On the COIVID scene, I sold my "death indurstry" (yes that is what it is called for plots, caskets, urns and memorials) stock in early summer after the vaccine reports were good. It returned 115% over 12 months. I'm back in with the two leading industries stocks, but also building up infrastructure industries: dirt and trucks. Two hands at a bench can only produce so much and investing can be fun. A good plan for artists woild be to invest $100 after every show regardless. It would build up over time especially for the youngsters. 

  • Very interesting, Dick. We are the same age. I've been trying to scale back also ;) Are you saying that the stopping of the events has made you completely revamp your plans for selling at art fairs? and you don't expect to do as many in the near future? My guess is that many people in our age group are looking at spending our time in other ways. I'm putting in place some good people to help me with my business, and I am grateful that when I moved 3 years ago I was able to move our inventory and equipment to other homes. It was very painful and laborious! 

    But you, like me, are not shut down totally and can continue to find markets for our work because of the long building of relationships and clients, a fabulous retirement plan ... 

  • These are three good questions that artist should give some thought to. I’ll be 78 next month and have about $50K of art show leather goods sitting on the shelves waiting for the next show. Until 2019 and COVID, art shows were about 1/3 of the cash flow for my business. The other two being new saddles and tack, and restoration of antique saddles. Here is how I see it.

    1. Jean(74) and I did not do any shows in 2019 or 2020. We are both vaccinated, do yoga and work out with strength/mobility trainer weekly. She had a hip replacement this spring so going back to shows will be interesting for her. Physical condition is an important part of our business plan. The 2019 show season was a no brainer. I canceled everything in March and received refunds. Loss of this income was worrisome, but as soon as I announced I would be around all summer, saddle orders flowed in like crazy even though rodeo performances by trick rider clients were being canceled.  We thought about 2021 shows but I had enough saddle orders to keep me busy and a waitlist filled up for 2022. The surge in the variant confirmed that this was a good decision.
    2. Summer art shows in Colorado resort areas have come back in 2021 but it has been a mixed bag. The professional promoters have been busy. One who gave me a roll over allowed me to donate my space to another artist. Some others put on by art associations and service organizations (Rotary etc) have come back, but others have not to date. Being in resort areas the shows have to be looking at the resurgence in vacation travelers to consider reopening their shows.  The Memorial Day show in Estes Park, CO (Rocky Mountain National Park) opened but the Labor Day show has not. The Park is now on reservation admittance because of the crowds.
    3. From what I see other artists posting about their 2021 shows in the east and Midwest, I think the buyers will be back. During the COVID interim, I have had show clients contact me for belt and holster orders and drive down here to the studio (a hour from metro Denver). Our plan is to only do three shows in 2022: Memorial Day, Labor Day and one in between. I was all set for 2019 with an expanded inventory that would reduce the pressure to rebuild between shows, and now I have to sell it down. So much for that plan. No kidding, I have 1000 belts in inventory of which 600 are put on the wall at shows. Gun sales are up in Colorado, and I think holsters should move well. The other part of the story is the build up of supplies in 2018-19 to maintain the expanded inventory which now need to be built down into product to be sold.
  • Thanks for that correction. Diversity in all manner contributes to the energy of the fairs, I'm glad to hear that. 

  • Connie, at Ann arbor, guy on my right, glass artist, sold alot of work, he is maybe 32 years old. Couple across me on the right, she is a acrylic artist, sold most of what she brought, perhaps 26 years old. directly across from me, jeweler, she is perhaps 40 years old, across on the left, sketch artist, young 30's. So , the next generation is here! but I think they are all on  instagram or whatever, to get them here we have to convince them that old age is not contagious, just with some luck, inevitable

  • Cool podcast, Mark. I listened to it all and it reminded me once again about my answer to the question, "where are all the young people in this business?" It is a business for adults, adventurers who have life experience, those who have explored many options and can handle the discouraging aspects of the business: bad weather, rejections, low sales, long hours, unexpected situations, high overhead who can turn those issues into learning situations. Like you, oftentimes the exhibitors are well educated, have held other jobs, hopefully have some solid financial footing and most often a lifelong urge to be creative, dabbling in art when young and continually being fascinated and curious, exploratory, and able to bring to the marketplace mature one of a kind work.  

    Thanks for sharing this ... what's next for you?

  • Did 3 shows so far in 2021: Chicago Old Town, Ann arbor, Geneva. Off to Sun Valley next week, then Golden Colorado.

    At Ann Arbor people were exuberant again to be outside at a show! Even though we had a rainstorm, of biblical proportions on day 2, still tied for a record show for me. 

    And for my 15 seconds of fame, such as it is, from the Ann arbor show a producer called me, and interviewed me for a podcast. The premise of the interview was apparently supposed to be advice for younger people for alternative careers. We got pretty far off of that topic; if you have nothing to do for a few minutes, here it is, audio only:

    I think they were expecting an artist story, you know, the sculptor's version of which end of the paintbrush do you use. I am mentioning this here as a) someone else may get a few laughs, and b) you never know where the power of an in-person show will lead to
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