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Fairs See Huge Crowds When They Weather Recession

Are you wondering how the fairs are doing this year? Tales of events being cancelled, others growing, artists starving and artists thriving got you confused?

Here's a thorough look at the economics and challenges of it all by AP writer Tom Breen at the Yahoo News:

"Fun-seekers venturing out to farm fairs, art festivals and other mainstays of the American summer are finding either crowds or cancellation notices this year — and sometimes for the same reason.

Many festivals have met their demise when national sponsors pulled away and lawmakers slashed grant budgets, leaving organizers without enough money to buy tables, tents, portable toilets and other fair basics. That has many wondering whether their events will ever mount a comeback, though the ones that downsize stand a better chance than the ones that cancel entirely."

The article covers events at Watkins Glen, NY, the Ohio State Fair, the Alameda County Fair (which broke attendance records), and many other places across the country.

In Allentown, PA, when they had to slash their budget in half the organizers reported increased attendance!

Lots of food for thought here: Fairs see huge crowds when they weather recession

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Comment by Suzanne M. Parish on August 13, 2009 at 9:41am
Let me start by saying that I am an artist who sells in the most diluted art market out there today, jewelry. Together with my husband, we hand make all of our jewelry. Tom does the cutting and polishing of 70% of my stones for the wire wrapping I do, and then I still do some beadwork. We plan for shows, submit the photos and applications, and we study the business constantly to improve marketing. Each spring we go for continuing education at William Holland School of Lapidary in Georgia, so we can also improve our product every year. It is our profession, not hobby, so we work very hard at it everyday looking to offer our customers the best possible product and service. For that reason we get so frustrated with the perennial problem at the shows where so many artists who do such creative work, but also decide to dabble in the jewelry making business, even though it is not their primary business and not what they do best. A prime example of this is, a wonderful watercolor artist comes and puts out a full display wall selling jewelry as well. One artist I spoke to about this, bragged that as long as the work is less than 10% of her business, the show committee won't do anything about it. She only juries under her watercolor work but sells her jewelry after her early set up when the show auditors go thru. This not only is deceiving show auditors, but I see it as an injustice to the art show shoppers. They are getting tired of seeing too much jewelry at the various venues. We hear this at almost every show we attend anymore. I don't worry about the competition, just the fact that the customers are frustrated with this problem. At a recent show, we encountered seven tents in a row, all with jewelry for sale in a row of ten artists. Even one artist who created fabulous dog accessories had jewelry she made for humans! It is a terrible challenge for both the show organizers who work hard to balance the items offerred for sale, and for the people attending the shows. The topic needs some further discussion and consideration by all artists, as to the message that too much jewelry saturation in the show system has a negative impact on all of our customers. Art show browsers will eventually quit coming out if they think that all they are going to see is, "just another jewelry show".
I do understand how difficult this is on show chairmen as well because I have organized a show in the past and I had to play hardball with some artists. A participating artist at the show I helped to organize, pulled out jewelry along with wood carvings, when they had not juried under jewelry or listed it on their application. I then had to ask that they remove the items and I explained my rationale for the request and they obliged curteously. It isn't easy to have to ask an artist to pull some of their stock, but I feel the customers will appreciate it in the long run. As a jewelry artist, we have heard the customers express their frustrations with the large volume of jewelry in the market at almost every show. We have had to learn techniques on how to diffuse their disgust/rankor, and validate the frustration, but also point out that each artist creates their work with a different flair. We also suggest they send the show authorities their feelings in writing as well so the "powers that be" get the message from the consumers, not just the frustrations from an artist. Diplomacy here is essential, as well as getting the feedback to the proper source so we can make appropriate adjustments to what is being presented to the public.
I realize this may raise the ire of some people, but I do hope that it does make some folks re-think how this problem is perceived by the art show consumers. Remember those perceptions affect our business bottomline.
Comment by Connie Mettler on August 13, 2009 at 10:15am
Suzanne,

I totally understand your frustration. Most art fairs that I know about do not allow artists to display anything in their booths that was not in their jury slides and all are expressly told that if they did not jury in the jewelry category they cannot display jewelry.

This rule is commonly enforced and it is printed in the prospectuses of the shows. You, and others, can fairly discuss this with the organizers of the events you participate in. It is totally unfair and against the rules of fair play even to allow exhibitors to display media that is out of their category.

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