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Fairhope......Art Fun in the Deep South for some!

It was the 65th year of the  Fairhope Arts Festival this past weekend. In a cute suburb of Mobile Alabama, the show hosts 236 artists throughout the town's main cross streets. It's 300 dollars to participate with a prize chest of over 10 thousand dollars. The show is a three day event that starts at ten each day and ends at 6 on Friday and Saturday and then on 5 on Sunday.

Load in on Thursday at 6 pm was pretty uneventful and was easy to maneuver as was load out. The show is set up in quads with each participant having two open sides if they prefer. This is a nice touch but they are very strict that no one is anywhere outside the lines drawn for your booth. I got chided for having my pro panel table too far out in the aisle. So you have a ten by twelve spot and you definitely need to stay inside those lines. There is no storage behind your booth so that extra two feet better have all your packaging stacked up tightly.

The committee running the show are very nice and there is breakfast each morning. The first morning they served shrimp and grits- I was in heaven. Anytime I get close to an ocean or a gulf I am on the search to find the best seafood. I grew up a Jersey Shore girl and although I live close to the Smokey Mountains now... anytime I can find good seafood that doesn't get flown in or frozen, I am a happy camper. Coffee and drinks were also available. There was a a nice awards dinner on Friday night. Drinks also were delivered multiple times a day by a great group of volunteers.

So now down to the nitty-gritty. The show says that close to 250 thousand attend this fair. There were a lot of people there, unfortunately, they didn't seem to pull out their wallets too often. I am a contemporary encaustic artist and for me personally, this was not my show. If you were into realism or jewelry or driftwood or anything nautical- you probably did very well. But if you did anything a bit out of the box it wasn't probably going to be good.

I watched the crowd a lot since I had a lot of time to do that... and I saw on the first and second day many prints and flat packages go out. There were not many framed works leaving the show in my area. On the third day I remarked to the girl next me.."the people at this show are just on a hike"...they weren't walking in anywhere or stopping to look. It was a bit surprising.

I did have some last minute sales that helped pay for expenses but basically I worked for nada this weekend. It was a pretty weekend (no tents down this year) which wasn't unpleasant, but when it's an 8 hour drive home and not much to show for's never easy. I realize this business is like that, one show up, the next one might be down, I can handle that by now. I can also handle disparaging comments but this show had more than I have been used to. I need to vent on the website " things people say at art shows" - I have some good ones from Fairhope. When one guy with a strait face said my work looked "like a cat fight in a rain storm"...I just had to shake my head and laugh. Might have to work that into my art next time on purpose- I do have a bunch of cats so that's a distinct possibility. That was only one of the more unusual-smile on your face things said to me- we will leave the rest to your imagination- I am not above taking a good ribbing. Things happen.

There were really wonderful people there too, and great food- the Bistro on Fairhope Street was terrific and we ate the best MahiMahi sandwiches at Merl's - my best suggestion if you decide to do this show. Also, the Fairhope Brewing Company makes three nice brews...try them all. 

One thing I think needs to be said is that there were a lot of "scabs" all over. Many local artist's set up on the sidewalks across from us and stores rented out space to hawk buy/sell. Next to me were two painters with all their work leaning up againt's a storefront and next to them at a store directly in front of me, was a woman painting a tree all day, which brought crowds over consistently. This, I think took a lot away from those of us who paid a booth fee to show. It was all over, in fact there were quite a wide mix of things in the show anyway. I came in off the wait list after not getting into Winter Park this year ( they used the review I did last year for AFI on the Winterpark website- and of course- I didn't even make the cut.)....yea, that's my life just have to laugh.

All in all, Fairhope is  a perfect show for some..... with great food, mostly nice people and great weather. It just wasn't the show for me and now I know. But if golf shirts, kaki pants with the occasional Auburn or Alabama hats are your demographic.....this is your show... and I wish you, and the Fairhope Art Festival  much success. 

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Comment by margaret luttrell on March 23, 2017 at 11:01am

This sounds like the show to do.....Thanks for the heads up Nick......Your dinner alone makes me want to apply....much better than canned peas, cabbage and frozen fish patties......Just sounds like a higher end show all around. 

Comment by Nick Cantrell on March 23, 2017 at 10:50am

The Eastern Shore Art Center's Outdoor Art Show coincides with this event, adding another 150, or so, artists. To the consumer, it appears to be one big show. However, I've found over the years that there is a more stringent jury process for the Eastern Shore Art Center Show. The quality of work seems more consistent. There was and always is some high quality work in the Arts and Crafts show, but it is interspersed among varying levels of quality. There is not much in the way of scabs or distractions on the end of town where this show takes place, and a zero chance of being next to someone selling noise makers, puppets, or cheap sunglasses. In previous years there was one parking lot with a scab show of rinky-dink stuff, but we were pleased this year to find that the building had sold and the area was under construction - NO SCAB SHOW. There, booths are set up on either side of the street with enough room for back stock (typically) behind your booth. Perhaps this end of town is worth a look for some of you? 

Over the course of 3 years at this show, I have done anywhere from $3k-$7k and won second in painting 2016. The awards dinner is nice with a low country shrimp boil, salad, cous cous (sp?), potatoe salad, wine, and beer. It's a great group of folks. 

Eastern Shore Art Center

Comment by Len Jagoda on March 21, 2017 at 7:32pm

Paul - Money is tight and purse strings had gotten tighter over the last several years; although I have noticed a more positive attitude and increase in commissions in the last 4 or 5 months. I don't have Barrie's good fortune; my experience is that higher priced items sell better on day 2 or 3. Often because I find that people like to think about it before spending more than what is considered an impulse buy.  On several occasions only one of the spouses is interested but the other is off doing something else. To keep peace they may want to include the spouse on the decision (that often means no but when it is yes you have a relationship that you can build on).  For me, having a third or even fourth day is a good thing and when travelling some distance, and extra hotel night is a marginal expense for the opportunity.  

Comment by Paul Flack on March 21, 2017 at 4:55pm

Nice review, maybe I missed it, but, it is a two-day show at most. Probably would work best as a one day show. Three days is unnecessary torture. 

Comment by Joel Lockridge on March 21, 2017 at 4:52pm

Margaret, it sounds like your booth was close to mine by that description. I was nearly in front of that bow tent. I'm sorry your show didn't go better for you! I did pretty well, and this is a favorite show of mine. I also love the local brews and admire a vibrant downtown area. I had some amazing sushi at "Master Joe's" not far from my booth on Saturday evening. I never win awards, so I wasn't surprised. But still, good variety of artists and lots of familiar faces. Good to see them all.

Comment by Barrie Lynn Bryant on March 21, 2017 at 4:08pm

By the way, the two originals I spoke of went to Auburn and Montgomery homes.

Comment by Barrie Lynn Bryant on March 21, 2017 at 4:02pm

I did well at the Chamber of Commerce sponsored event both years and loved their hospitality. I liked doing Fairhope in conjunction with Gulf Breeze Celebrates the Arts, but went to Winter Park instead in 2014 where I actually didn't sell as well. I sold a major original at Fairhope for $3,200 early Saturday in 2011 and then in 2015 a small original for $1,250 early the first day within the first four hours of the show opening. Both of these sales were to new customers who had never before seen my work. I won an award the second year as well, plus we were set up directly in front of the Hampton Inn and they "sponsored" us which came with fringe benefits. I have good friends who do this show and have done it for years.

One issue I find hard to understand is that when applying I thought the CofC event was the show to do. Now it seems the one sponsored by the Museum is the one to do, meaning that the quality of work is higher. It's hard to understand how that can be. Seems the CofC has a bigger and better awards dinner and offers better prizes. I don't know now if this is still true since we cannot come back to the South any more due to health reasons so I'm not researching it anymore.

But the potential to do well was there when I was there. We had plenty incidental sales as well. Funny thing is we have an excellent customer in Mobile and one in Daphne, both of whom did not come see us in Fairhope. They have condos on Pensacola Beach and thus bought from us at Gulf Breeze Celebrates the Arts.

Comment by Cindy Welch on March 21, 2017 at 3:01pm

Len, I know you are right about how they would not be there w/o the show.

Due to no tent right now I am turning my sights towards indoor shows.  As of now, there is really no feasible place for scabs or interlopers to set up right outside the shows I am doing.  The shows are being held on private property or parish owned property where they could/would be run off.  No easy access sidewalk, etc.

Comment by Len Jagoda on March 21, 2017 at 1:08pm

Margaret - I wouldn't worry about being politically correct. The important thing is making your point.  Interloper might be perceived as a more gentle word but it doesn't change the meaning. I like your use of the word "scab" because it conveys accurately the lack of consideration and abuse of the show and its participants.  I applaud your making a clear image that got my attention and conveyed the message. 

Comment by margaret luttrell on March 21, 2017 at 12:35pm

Cindy the amount of people on the fringes showing their work was pretty excessive in my area. Catty-corner from me on a lot next to a storefront were two large tens full of children hair bows and buy/sell sun dresses. Even most of the stores that were up and down the street I was on had tables and racks out in front of their stores selling. Most had a person sitting there all day to make sales. I hope I haven't offended anyone by using the word "scab"....that is what I have always heard it's an awful word really- didn't realize until I saw it in print.....I just don't know another word that explains these interlopers any better. I guess that word "interloper" would have been better. So sorry.

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