Call for Artists, Making Money at Juried Art Fairs, Craft Shows and Festivals
It's a sad commentary on my state of mind, perhaps, that I started to post this with a show date of "July 20-21" before catching myself. When you aren't sure what month it is, it may be time to go home and take a few weeks off!
I wish I were able to. But alas, the "Northeast Extension 2011" from Fort Myers, FL continues, and so do the bills...so I can't help but be a little testy about this past weekend's visit to Collingswood NJ.
Not that the show sucked. And not that it was great, either. The source of my ire is that I only saw the first act of the two-act play, thanks to some dire forecasting by the weatherman.
Act 1 was reasonably OK: Saturday morning dawned sunny and not too clammy, at least, for August in the Philly suburbs. It was only a 15-minute drive from my Extended Stay motel in Mt. Laurel, and upon arrival the local cops had the area nicely cordoned off. Although I didn't see the promised volunteer who would direct me to my space, a patrolman and an artist who'd done the show previously made it easy to find.
The booths run back--to-back for about five blocks along the center of Haddon Avenue, logistics which lend this show a unique choreography: Per the show instructions, you drive alongside your (nicely marked) space by 6:45 am and unload onto the sidewalk, then park your vehicle in one of two nearby lots and walk back to your space. Setup, we were told, begins at 7 and not a moment before (this gives artists' vehicles a chance to exit through the normal driving lanes). Then, at 7, you move your stuff off the sidewalk and set up in the center of the street. (I was wondering if, at 7 AM, someone would fire a starter's pistol or ring the Liberty Bell, or something. Would there be a prize for the first artist to spring back from his/her tent, hands in the air, with the setup complete? But I digress.)
The plan worked pretty darn well. A few folks had begun setting up early, and a few artists ignored the instructions that said that if you arrived after 6:45, you'd have to dolly in from the parking lot. One artist on my block arrived just before 8 AM and drove right along the curb, nearly running over several of my tent poles. But all in all, one of the easiest setups I've had all summer.
Saturday crowds were respectable, though hardly elbow-to-elbow, at least until 1 PM when it started getting hot. Although no one was buying big, they WERE buying, at least from me, and from a purveyor of metal sculpture fashioned from rods of some sort (think metallic "art on a stick"). Although the crowds were appreciative, they were buying small: 8x10 and 11x14 mats, mostly, and there was little conversation about the more expensive gallery wraps. My neighbors, who offered an interesting, though not inexpensive, array of canvas paintings as floormats, zeroed out on the day, and my neighbors on the other side (a fine jeweler and a glass artist) weren't raking it in, either. All of us were hoping for better sales on Sunday.
But it wasn't to be--which brings me to my earlier rant about the weather forecast.
At some point between Saturday morning and the weathercast on Sat night's 11 PM local news, the forecasters amped up the intensity of the Sunday forecast. The 40% chance of thunderstorms morphed into "60% chance of severe storms...with possibility of hail and wind gusts of 50-60 mph." Which completely changes the equation for us artists, especially after seeing some of the carnage from some of the recent AFI posts.
Sunday hours were scheduled short, 11 AM to 5 PM, so I opted to get some early morning work done on my website and keep an eye on the forecast. The 9:30 AM forecast hadn't changed, so I gritted my teeth and drove over to the show, where I found several of my neighbors in the parking lot comparing radar screens on their iPhones and shaking their heads glumly.
"Storms are coming sometime between 10 and 11, and then again between 2 and 3," they said, confirming what I'd heard before I left the hotel. "W e're packing up." At that, dark clouds began to loom just to the southeast, and thunder rumbled. After some commiseration, I walked up to a couple of the police officers, who'd heard the same thing from their captain, who was in a golf cart nearby. Asked the captain if he'd talked to the show organizers. Yep, he said. "There was some talk that they'd close the show around 3, but nothing was decided." Given the forecast, a 3 PM shutdown would make it safer for the patrons, but wouldn't help the artists, and might put them right in the crosshairs of the worst weather.
So I did the math: 60% chance of storms. Some chance that they'd have gusts up to 50-60 mph. Some chance that if that happened, even with a Trimline and a foul-weather game plan, I'd have some work damaged. Multiplied by the fact that I am 1,000 miles from my Florida home, and anything damaged would take me three weeks or more to replace...and in the meantime, I had 4-5 more shows to do up North.
And so, for the first time in my show career, I packed up early. And as if to taunt us early departers, the skies cleared by 11 AM, with hardly a drop of rain. But by that time, of course, I had dollied most of my work to my van; by noon, the tent was disassembled, and by 12:30, the sun blazed hot on my van as I strapped my tent poles to the roof. I decided to seek out the promoter to explain why I was leaving (she completely understood, so they're won't be a "penalty" if I decide to apply next year). Then, I strolled the show for a few minutes to say good-byes. I'm guessing that maybe 20 artists left early. And I couldn't help noticing how light the crowds were. Who knows how many residents saw the forecast and stayed home?
I grew up in the Philly 'burbs, and I know that thunderstorms there are notoriously fickle. Sometimes they wither and die; sometimes they move in unexpected directions. And sometimes the dire forecasts, sadly, are right.
So, despite the fact that my hotel room was only 10 miles away, I don't know to this moment if the forecasters were right or wrong, if the show closed early, or if the crowds took a second look at the skies and ventured forth to make it a successful day. I know only that I've got a vague feeling of an opportunity lost, and I can't help feeling a bit like I--and the other artists who stayed, and the folks who cancelled their plans to attend--all might have gotten screwed by the forecaster.
I'm 100% content with my decision. But I'm curious: How much stock do you place in forecasts? What do you see as a bigger threat: wind or rain? And how much does the distance you've traveled to do a show weigh in your decision to stay or go?
And, if you were at the show: How WAS the weather, anyway??