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Howard Alan Arlington Festival of the Arts 2015 - Event Review

This was my first Howard Alan event. I had previously juried into at least two previous HA events which were cancelled by the organizers - Baltimore Inner Harbor and Georgetown... One killed by the Gran Prix and the other by apparent inability to reach agreements with the local govt...

Location, Location, Location: I think location had a great deal to do with whether your sales that weekend were successful. I was located way out on the end of the event and positioned across from event sponsor vendors. Not an optimal location-since we were not on a popular ingress/egress route... Only people determined to walk the entire show were the most likely to see our booths. Thankfully, on day 2 of the event, we saw more foot traffic  

We did have a small amount of back storage b/c there were two lanes of traffic directly behind our booths which were open all weekend. Noisy? Well, yes.

I think the event vendor/sponsors should also have had the opportunity for prime central locations, given they were paying for the opportunity to offer their goods and services.

This would have also allowed some sharing of the pain of being located next to or adjacent to a vendor as a fine art exhibitor. Surely the event organizers and promoters might have considered this when laying out the event. That would at least have made being stuck out on the lonesome end of the event a bit more palatable. I have to think that the organizers surely understand that fine art shoppers are less likely to linger near replacement window vendors... regardless of whether they are giving away a fine art print...

Advance Booth Location Requests: The event paperwork indicated that one could request a space location preference over a week in advance. However, since there was no event map showing booth locations, how could one request a location? It is my understanding, however, that some/many exhibitors were able to request a location. I cannot confirm this information. There was no set-up map. This is a new one on me. It was the first time I have ever encountered an upscale fine art event with no booth layout map with numbers.

The booth location information I downloaded from the event site the day before the event was a spreadsheet which, despite some sort of set of landmark references with geographic map references, was incomprehensible unless you were it's author.

When I called the central office for some clarification, the office was unable to provide any information which helped. They tried their best, but said not all events got maps made before the event.

So, how were advance booth requests made and granted? The only maps I saw charted parking locations for exhibitors on a tiny thumbnail map which was not optimal for exhibitors trying to figure out where to park or how to get there.

Set-up: The event staff onsite at 4+A.M., when I arrived, had their act together and were very cheerful/helpful in getting folks to their locations. But it was disappointing to note as it became light, just where I was located - which was far, far, away from the center of the event and adjacent to the vendor event sponsors. I have to imagine the vendors were just as excited at being strung out on the end of the event as those exhibitors were who also ended up on the tail end of the event. The hand-turned writing exhibitor was able to arrive just before wait-list calls were made and get set up in timely fashion. But if you had a sophisticated display, with lighting and a one person set-up, you were glad that they allowed for an early-bird arrival

Big Plus: Event staff were very supportive throughout the entire event.

Big question mark: were there booth sitters available? Out on the frontier where we were at, we spotted each other on the booth sitting so that those who were on meters could feed them or run for the potty. Having a booth assistant would have been very helpful, but wasn't an option for me on this weekend.

Parking: I paid for parking in a nearby bank lot. $35 covered parking for both days and was worth the price, as I had no one to booth sit, and was not close to any of the meters you could credit/debit card pay for the whole day. Unfortunately, I was unable to collect a receipt for the parking charge. This allowed for me to dolly my work out on Saturday and back in on Sunday.

Sales:  I had no sales on Day 1. Zip, Zero, Nada. A talented blown glass artist sold one piece on day 1 (to my knowledge) and an encaustic painter also sold one nice piece (maybe more). An abstract painter appeared to sell a few pieces, while a photographer who sold prints on canvas seemed to do OK. A nearby moderately-priced jeweler didn't seem very busy. And she indicated that location and the number of jewelers in the event made for a very competitive sales environment. But, that seems to be the constant in most of the better shows. I wonder what these events would look like without the usual 20-40% women's wearable population...

The hand-turned pen guys were a cipher and I couldn't get a feel if they did OK or not on Day 1, but later conversation seemed to indicate they did OK

In conversation with a passing vendor, he suggested that if you weren't netting weekend total sales in the range of 3-5k$, you were losing money in such an expensive venue to travel to and exhibit.

On day 2, there seemed to be a different customer population at the event and I managed three modest original painting sales, each under $200.00. But I sell no prints. Many painters and photographers say that without print sales, they would have difficulty making expenses or a profit. So despite the upscale market and blank walls, many a customer didn't know that there was a difference between a print and an original.

I also noticed that parents with children in tow, who would likely willingly buy their children a 400$ playstation or x-box, had difficulty in seeing the value in purchasing their child a work of art at a fraction of the price-despite watching their children light up when they saw a brightly colored or textured work which obviously intrigued them. Perhaps it's because they didn't come with spare games or internet connections.......

Perhaps that is a failing of the gen x,y and millennials to understand the value of art in a child's education - because they were without art in their educations during the 80's, 90's and 00's.. It certainly wasn't because I failed to mention the advantages of instilling an appreciation of art to the parents of the children who wanted to rush in and touch my work or try to pull mom and dad into my booth. The parents just don't get spending money on art for kids despite easily being able to afford it in such an affluent location

Sales - Long and Short of It: I covered booth costs and application fee and most of my mileage. I had no hotel or food costs to speak of. No hotel, because of friends in the area and no food expenses b/c I was able to help an exhibitor out of a dead vehicle battery jam (in the dark) during set-up. They offered to buy me lunch on both days as a way of saying thanks. I was very grateful for their kindness.

Teardown: The weather threatened for the latter half of Day 2 and rain had been forecast.

There were a couple of blatant early packdowns and escapes that likely impacted the traffic out on our lonely end of the event empire. It wasn't obvious that they were family emergency issues or anything else. I couldn't tell if management made note of this unprofessional behavior or not. There was plenty of typical sneaky tear-down that only exhibitors would spot.

Event staff were trying to communicate to the exhibitors what the weather window would be after close. Many of those without smart phones found this very useful.

Sadly, an hour after close, it started to rain and if your weren't packed and gone, you got wet. I managed to get my panels, lighting and art packed and loaded without getting wet. But my carpet took a minor hit and my tent and sand-bags got wet. Out on our end, there was no imperative to be packed down in an hour to re-open streets.

Event staff were great. Logistics like maps and shared vendor pain - not so much. The police and emergency personnel did a fine professional job and mostly had a decent sense of humor for the antics associated with an art show. I did not hear of anyone losing work or having their set-up vandalized during or after the event..

Would I do another HA event?: HA events have a good reputation and perhaps my positioning was luck of the draw or show balancing - this being despite a very early entry and early acceptance. But you'd think that those who made the effort to get their entries in early and pay in a timely fashion might have some preference in their location.

But you cannot allow folks to request a location prior to an event unless you offer a map of the lay-out. Otherwise, it might seem to some that preferential treatment was being provided to some over others. Again, I have no way of knowing how location requests were handled.

I had no way to ask for a location, because there was no map of the event available.

I would give their events a few more tries if accepted... just as I would most other promoter's events... to see if results changed based on chance and location. I usually don't say never again unless something heinous goes down or there is obvious malfeasance on the part of the promoter.. So, I'll gladly post another review of their events if I get the opportunity. The event itself was well run and staffed by seasoned professionals who obviously did not see this as their first rodeo...

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Comment by Melanie Rolfes on April 30, 2015 at 4:48pm
Hey alison, glad the show worked for you. I didn't mean you only had an hour to break down. We just did and were driving out less than an hour later. Also,they allowed vehicles to come in one hour after break down. That is what I was trying to say.

We sell large pieces to the condos.

Mark nice review. My of will get use to a Howard Alan show. They work a bit differently from other shows and it works IMO, especially once you get it down.
Comment by Alison Thomas on April 30, 2015 at 9:41am

I did okay, not great but okay.  My first show of the season is usually this coming weekend so it was nice to have an earlier show and bring in some income but the Sat. morning setup and hotel situation made it a lot of work for a little bit of income.  I did horribly on Saturday and much better on Sunday.  I think the show has promise and it was very well run.  My largest sale was to a person living in DC so it apparently is pulling from other areas however the demographics of the show area is mostly younger people living in condos so sale of large art could be a problem.

Someone on another review mentioned only having an hour to break down.  That was not my experience.  I know we took more than an hour and others did as well and no one from the staff said anything to us about it.  There are plenty of parking garages in the area that can take vans but I had issues at the hotel and ended up leaving my van in a garage for the weekend.  Luckily we had another vehicle to go back and forth to the hotel.

Comment by keith wilkie on April 29, 2015 at 7:22pm

Interesting review.  This is my first HA event as well (admitted to earlier events subsequently cancelled).  I'm a painter, and while my first day was slow, the second day was incredible with repeat customers coming back for day 2.  I sold seven original paintings from 8x10 up to 24 x 36.  Not an all time record maker, but one of my best shows ever.  Ditto on the setup map!

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