Art Fair Insiders

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


While I am happily typing away this morn I wanted to address one of my pet peeves about street shows right now.

The escalation of booth fees at shows on all levels is really getting out of hand--especially in this economy.

I just did my app for the Milwaukee Lakefront show on Zapp this morn.  They want $500 for the booth fee.  I have done this show many times over the years and it is not the show it used to be for sales.  The economy there is not good and sales are off.  When I last did it three years ago I barely cleared $2K in sales for a show in the old days where I could do $5-8K.  So now they want $500 for a booth which will account for 25%  of my total.  And, this does not include gas, hotel, food and the cost of replenishing goods sold.  Sorry folks this is not a good business plan for any sole proprietor.

I know, show directors are going to say,"Well we gotta pay for security,police, porta-potties so we need that kind of money.  BS.  We are also paying for nice large salaries that these show directors now make.

How do they expect most artists to make a living with these kind of fees and our meager returns on sales.  Most people are off by 50-40% on their grosses over past years because of our economy which is worst we have seen in our lifetimes.

These fees kill the chances of most newcomers to get in our biz.  Too high of cost for too little of return.  Only the well-off and most successful will thrive.  These fees will kill the street shows.

Naples, an already over-saturated market has routine booth fees of nearly $500 and most artists are not gettong a five-fold return on their money.  It is a recipe for failure.

Love to hear some feedback from those 6000 lurkers of you out there.  

I mean doesn't this rankle your feathers a bit.  How can you sit back there blase and think well that is just the way the biz is.  Guess what, we are all on the way to the Poorhouse with no salvation showing on the horizon.  Show fees can not continue to escalate like this in these times.  Nobody wins.

OK now I am off to play golf, with luck I will do better on the links than I did on the streets last weekend.  Come on folks, chime in and stop being lurkers.

Views: 6007

Comment by Pat Sorbini on November 22, 2011 at 9:34am

I think we just have to pass when this happens. I used to do a one day woman's festival that cost $80 and usually made me over $800 and it was 2 blocks from home. They changed the date (It traditionally was 2 weeks before Christmas, perfect for this type of show) and moved it to an "artsier" venue. Sales started to tank. The show now costs $135 for one day. I passed as did many of the other women artists. Greed smells bad. I like to stay around $100 a day for booth fee and over that I really need to calculate the ROI. There are lots of shows in Upstate NY to choose from. If I feel like they are getting too much of my sweat in that booth fee check I pass.

Comment by Ruth Finkenbiner on November 22, 2011 at 9:55am

Not seeing a lot of increase in booth fees in the shows we do up here, a few increased by $10-$25 for the booth fee, where we've seen huge increases is in the application fees.  Shows that used to have a $10 app seem to have increased to $30, $40 and even just saw one that is pending for us in ZAPP that is $50.   Given that we're double or triple applynig to shows on some weekends, that is killing us right now.

Comment by Jacqueline Webster on November 22, 2011 at 10:22am

This directly impacts how many shows I can do in a year.  And it's not just street shows.  There some fairly well-attended holiday shows in my area, but with high jury and booth fees, and additional electric fees, plus these places are tacking on 30% to 50% commission, I just can't do it.  Plus one arts center has a hanging fee if accepted, and more than one expects you to do at least 8 hours of gallery sitting on top of the fees and commission.  Are they nuts?

I just can't do the high fee shows.  I don't have the money and I don't make enough.  Thankfully my husband is pretty supportive, but like Pat anything over $100 per day is questioned, even if it's in-state and I can sleep in my own bed.  I can see that municipalities are raising fees for permits and such for show promoters, and we end up on the short end of the stick because "it" always rolls downhill.  This year I am voting with my (limited) $$ and only aiming for shows that make economic sense to me.  I can't drive 8 hours to make $60.

Comment by Marjorie S Rawson on November 22, 2011 at 10:29am

Thank you so much Nels for taking the time to write . I, too, am drawing a line in my checkbook for booth fees. I just cannot afford it and feel I am being ripped off. I agree with your statement:


"Well we gotta pay for security,police, porta-potties so we need that kind of money.  BS.  We are also paying for nice large salaries that these show directors now make.

I believe there is a false impression that because large crowds are present and they see a lot of activity they assume that equals sales. Sadly, it does not.  I also agree with what will be the division of the "rich" artists able to pay the booth fees and the not-as-well-off left to struggle and dwindle.Hmmmm. Sound familiar?? Seems the rot of our country has seeped into our sacred ground. 

Comment by James E Sluss on November 22, 2011 at 11:01am

I helped an artist friend with her booth at the Kissimmee Art and Craft Show.  After some negotiating, she paid $50; the original fee was $150.  There were promises of advertising; however, my guess is that 25% of the space was empty.  The turnout was sparse and one out of town photographer I talked to, with beautiful and prize winning work, sold one small print.  My friends experience was mediocre, living close to the event reduced the pain.  In their defense, entertainment was mostly good. 


Comment by Ruth Jellema on November 22, 2011 at 12:16pm

I did not apply to Lakefront because of the high JURY fee.

Comment by Bruce Meyer on November 22, 2011 at 12:19pm

While I have not a show in a few years, I still follow the venue closely.  I remember a discussion Don Ament began a number of years ago where he posited that the large shows should not really charge any booth fee.  With a jury fee of the amounts that have become common and a $0 booth fee, enough artists would be encouraged to apply to do two things: It would generate much more in fees from the artists due to many additional applications, and would increase the quality of the jury pool.  Many good artists are being priced out of the market while b/s "artists" can afford the fee.

The shows pay the musicians to the gate, why not the artists?  Do those who promote the shows really think that the show would exist if the artists did not come?

Comment by lori kay on November 22, 2011 at 12:29pm

Lisa the Dunedin show in November is a craft show not fine art perhaps you should try the January show it is fine art and you will be on more equal footing. The crowds in Dunedin are always good, it's up to us to close the sale. There are a few more expenses than snack cakes involved with producing a street show, permits, insurance, police, city workers, staff, advertising and yes Nels port-a-potties. American Craft Endeavors is not a non profit so these services are not donated they must be paid for.

Ruth I agree the app fees are getting outrageous and that money is pretty much pure profit, maybe the jury receives a nominal fee but quite often not. I will not apply to a show with more than a $30 app fee, I would rather spend time researching new shows with more reasonable fees.


Comment by Ruth Finkenbiner on November 22, 2011 at 1:21pm

Lori - I understand your comments but if I look at my top 5 shows for both 2010 and 2011, 70% of the shows had app fees over $30, if I hadn't applied, I would have had far less sales.

Jacquelyn - I agree applying to more than one show on a weekend will result in wasted app fees but we have a relatively short season for summer shows and therefore need to ensure we have a show each weekend. The only way to do that is to apply to multiple shows.

Comment by Don Ament on November 22, 2011 at 1:27pm

Hi Bruce, hope things are well with you. Yes, I even posited that not only could shows have no fee, they could even pay the artists to exhibit. Similar to the musicians, as you mentioned. I suggested that shows who have a gate fee could re-direct a percentage of the gate into a fund for the artists to either reduce the booth fee, eliminate it, or actually pay the artists.

I put it out there as something of a completely out-of-the-box idea for a show to consider. I mentioned that a show like Arts Beats Eats could do it because of the huge number of patrons, and that was before they had a gate fee. I suggested they could have a gate fee, and give artists a cut.

Well guess what, now they have a gate fee, so step 1 is already in place.

Yes, I do believe that show applications to ABE or a similar show would skyrocket if, instead of artists paying $400 for a booth, they would GET PAID $400. Back when I made those posts on the NAIA forum, I ran some numbers, and I do recall that the numbers I presented on that forum were extremely encouraging. A show like ABE, that brings in, what, 100-200-300 thousand people or more--- put $1 from each paid admission into the artist pool..... and, well, let me grab my calculator here and let's just do it again:

200,000 paid admissions at ABE = $200,000 into the artist fund (assuming $1 per)

Divided by 200 artists = $1000 paid to each artist

Their applications would go through the friggin roof.

The problem is that the increase in applications would not be enough to offset the loss of $200,000 for the show, so you would have to adjust the numbers and you would have to figure out other ways for the show to make up the $200,000. But I think it could be done, in fact, I know it could be done. Show producers know how to make money and they know how to shift budgets around, and they could do it. Jon Witz at ABE could do it, because he is a genius marketer.

The only missing ingredient right now is finding a show with the all-in guts to take this idea on, run some numbers for their own situation, and take a look. Then, they would have to be a visionary leader who has a long-term view of their show, their artists, and the health of the entire art fair industry.

Without this type of visionary leadership by some show, you can forget about show fees coming down. Every time I get a rejection, it comes with the lovely and exciting note of how sorry they are for me, but "once again, we had record numbers of applicants". That fact convinces the shows that they are doing everything right, because why else would all these artists be clamoring to get in their glorious show?

: DA :


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