HAE Sarasota, A Pleasant Surprise

Over the years, I have been as critical as anyone regarding the Howard Alan Shows. I think he has too many shows and has diluted the market, at least here in Florida. This is exacerbated by the fact that many other promoters saw HAE's success and have copied his business model leading to a further dilution of the market. No show is special now because there are so many of them.

To compound the problem, all the big shows in Florida have expanded their events to create circus like atmosphere's charging entry fees and adding more food, more sponsor booths, more music, and as many other things that distract from the thing that made those shows great, which is the art work.

Increasingly every year, I felt that we, the artists, were just the draw to get people to come and then the show tried everything they could to take their money with items that would make them money. Increasingly, I felt used as my gross sales declined and the attendance grew. Many of us have stopped coming down to Florida because it wasn't a viable market anymore. This could be difficult for some because we need the cash flow to pay for all the spring, summer, and fall shows that are due now and in the next couple of months. Enter the Howard Allan Shows.

The first thing you notice about the HA shows is that they haven't changed much over the years. He has a formula that works. Thirty years ago, we only did HA shows if we couldn't get into the blockbuster events. To their credit, they were and are loyal to their artists. If you supported them, they supported you by letting you have a space. That worked for a lot of people and artists preferred to do HA events because they could count on having a space in their shows.

Another word for not changing much is "consistency." That is a good thing. As shows got bigger and bigger adding more and more annoying distractions, HA stuck to the formula that the art is, not only the most important thing, it's the only thing. There are no food vendors, no music, no begging artists for donations for silent auctions, no t-shirt booths, no poster booths, no beer, etc., etc,. There is only the art. Ironically, as I was whining incessantly about all the crap at shows, I avoided Howard Allan events. I should have been paying closer attention.

I have done the Coconut Grove Arts Festival for over 30 years. I have won my share of awards there and numerous purchase prizes, when they made an effort to cultivate buyers. They used to have a pre-show event, starting at 8 AM on Saturday. The patrons would commit to supporting the artists by buying show bucks weeks before the show. They would get to see the images at pre-show events during the week and they would make notes as to who they wanted to buy from before the show started. This was fantastic.

For me, a few years in a row, I would have my best show ever before the show even opened at 10 AM on Saturday. CGAF has the record for my biggest single art fair day and it has been my best show ever. Sadly they cut this out a number of years ago, added a gate fee, brought the food vendors closer to the artists, added beer hawkers, replaced the appropriate live jazz with raucous music, appealing to a younger crowd that had no interest in buying art. Last year was the tipping point as they added a t-shirt/poster booth kitty corner to my space and parked a golf cart across from me and left it there all day. So, I didn't even bother to apply this year.

I had a choice to make to replace the Grove show. There was St Stephens. If I did that, I might as well go ahead and do CGAF because they are in the same area. I could have done Arti Gras, which I have never done. Arti Gras like CGAF, charges a ridiculous gate fee. Someone said it was $12. Someone else said it was $16. Either way, that was unacceptable. I wasn't about to support that. I could have done the rotary Sanibel Island show. I did that show once and I didn't like the fact that the show is run by ex-military types that were control freaks. I felt that I had to ask permission to go to the bathroom. So, that was out. That left the Howard Allan Sarasota Show. I'm glad I did it.

Set up is the morning of the show. This starts at 3:30 AM. You get to drive to your booth, unload your display and work, and then go park. If you arrive after 5:30, you have to dolly in. You are not supposed to start setting up your tent until 5:30. It takes me over an hour to unload, so, by the time I parked and got back to my booth, I could start setting up. Set up is really easy. There is plenty of space to drive in and unload.

There is more than enough free parking for artists. Since there are no vendors, there are no huge beer trucks, food trucks, etc. that you have to fight and work around. Take down is even easier, as there again is a lot of space and load out is staggered because everyone packs up at their own rate. One real pet peeve at a lot of shows is that the show tries to control load in and load out. I've often said that if you leave it up to the artists, it would only take a couple of hours to get in and out. If the show controls this, it will take 8 hours or more. HA allows the artists to control the set up and take down, so, of course, it is a quick pleasant experience.

The show opens at 10 AM. People start arriving at 9:30. There are only artists booths. As I said before there are no food booths, beer hawkers, etc. Consequently, there are no twenty somethings drinking and checking out the girls. There are only people who are serious about the art. I had many great conversations and a lot of compliments because, lo and behold, people were there to look at and buy the art work.

The one thing that everyone says about Howard Alan Events is that he brings in the crowds. I found this to be true. The streets are wide. Where I was, the booths faced each other. there is a section where booths are back to back. You get 11-12 feet, so, you aren't packed in like sardines. I'm guessing there are only 200 booths. Certainly, there aren't 400 booths. I saw everyone twice.

As a patron, it is an easy show to do. If you want eat something there are some really nice small restaurants around the show. The street is clean and wide so if the show had a lot of customers, there were no bottlenecks. A block away on a side street there is a farmers market with some great things to buy. You wouldn't know it was there unless you walked down the street. The area is upscale but not glitzy. Just my kind of place.

I never post numbers, but, everyone I talked to had a solid show. Some had a great show. My price points are $80-$800. I only sold only a few pieces under $200. I love making sculptural non-functional teapots. I used to sell 6-8 per show. The past few years I maybe sell 1 or 2 if I am lucky. Here I sold 6 teapots and all 3 sizes. Saturday, was kind of slow for me. On Sunday, I had a 3 hour period where I couldn't write fast enough. I will definitely do this show again next year.

In conclusion, this is a hassle free show, with plenty of patrons, free parking for artists and most importantly sales. Howard and Debbie have a strong presence at the show. They stop and talk to everyone numerous times. Debbie found it necessary to help fix up my booth with foliage, which I appreciated and enjoyed. When I think about how annoyed I was the past few years with the shows I did on this weekend, with how good I felt after this one, I had a good laugh. There were no negatives in Sarasota only positives. I liked it so well, I am going to do HA's Coconut Pointe show next weekend in Bonita Springs.

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  • Thanks so much for this review, Barry, including the time you took to describe the evolution of your opinions.  There was much that rang true.

  • Nice review, Barry; nobody shares their depth of experience better than you, and I'm glad you had a great experience up there.

    I did the Sanibel show, and although when I first did their gig I felt the same as you about the ex-military control-freak feel, I didn't notice it at all this year.  Maybe those guys have all retired. 

  • Great critique, Barry!  It's comprehensive, informative and there's a lesson there too...so nice to read a positive review, thanks.  Hooray for Howard and Debbie too, so thankful that there are still some folks who are lovers of art and know how to focus on that and not all the other "stuff".

  • Love the review Barry. Glad you have crossed over:). I love HAE shows. If they have a show in my type market area than I am guaranteed a good to awesome show. One of my favorite conversations I heard at an art show was from a kid whining to his mom that there were no kids activities. The mom told the kid they were there to enjoy that art. That was at an HAE show. I love that. It is hard to find a show that is all about the art. HAE also has a heart when we as artists have deaths in the family or other serious circumstances. There website and other social media has a ton of promo we can take advantage of as artist. on Tuesday I delivered a painting, Cgaf sale, to a clients home. They toured me around there home showing me their art collection. I recognized over 10 pieces all collected from HAE shows over the years. The couple was encouraging me to do their local HAE show next year. My point, HAE attracts art collectors. I know many artists avoid promoter shows but for me there are two promoters, HAE and AFFPS, that run shows that are extemely important for me to stay alive as an artist.

  • (Hi Barry, I liked this review so well I edited it to make it more readable). ...

    Bravo. Telling it like it is. Good information. AND the BAD -- yep, too many shows; yep, have to get up too early for us oldies; ... what else?

    The good -- it is only about the art. The neighborhoods are good. The gawkers and chasers are not there. Good restaurants are nearby. The shows are held in places where the "good shoes" people like to hang out and there is plenty of parking for them so they aren't hassled. Debbie will critique your booth and make it look better. Both Debbie and Howard are very hands-on. 

    Are all the shows as good as Sarasota? i don't think so. Are they worth a try? Yes. This is a very professionally run operation. They stick to the fundamentals and have a formula that works, maybe not phenomenally, but very decently. Las Olas (Ft. Lauderdale) and Sarasota are lovely places to spend the weekend.

    (Bet it cost you a lot less than being in Miami at The Grove too. That bottom line looks much better.)

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