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I went to the NAIA Show Director's Conference in Indianapolis and what I learned there

In 1995 a group of 25 artists met informally in Chicago at the Old Town Art Fair to discuss concerns and interests of the current state of affairs in the art and craft show world. The concept of the National Assn. of Independent Artists (NAIA) was born out of that meeting and the organization was officially formed and named in March 1996.  The stimulus for this meeting was a near riot at an art fair in Charlotte, NC, that April.  What sounded like a gunshot went off and the huge crowd stampeded down the street smashing tents and artwork that was in the way.

Artists decided that it would be a good idea to adapt some "best policies" to present to art fairs in order to avoid this kind of occurrence happening again. I was at this first meeting and it was exciting to join the group to see if working together artists could improve our working conditions. The NAIA has done a lot of good things for artists, but to artists the most invisible one is the Show Director's Conferences.

I've attended most of these conferences, always held in conjunction with an art fair so the directors can see how events are held in different parts of the country and to learn how they can improve their shows. Last week they met in Indianapolis with our sponsor being the Broad Ripple Art Fair. In attendance: (photos below)

     Dave & Carla Fox: Art in the High Desert
     Sharon McAllister & Jeanne Seehaver: ArtFest Fort Myers
     Jay Snyder & Craig Thompson: ByHand Cleveland
     Brian Wood: Cedarhurst Center for the Arts
     Antonia Lindauer: Cherokee Triangle Art Fair
     Terry Adams & Tara Brickell: Cherry Creek Arts Festival
     Vaughn Griffith & Mary-Sue Bartlett: College Hill Arts Festival
     Peggy Finnegan: Colorscape Chenango Arts Festival
     Stephen King, Angie Lolbet & Beth Johnson: Des Moines Arts Festival
     Patty Narozny & Elise Richey: Hot Works
     Sara Shambarger & George Barfield: Krasl Art Center
     Georgie Kelly & Mary Fourhman: Madison Chautauqua Festival of Art
     Nichole Smith: Newport Arts Festival
     Linda Beckstrom & Lynn Pritchard: South Shore Frolics Festival of Art
     Lisa Konikow & Connie Mettler: Arts, Beats & Eats
     Sarah Arnold: Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival
     Lisanne Robinson: Sebastian Art Festival
     Leah Charney: Zapplication
     Artists: Les & Ella Slesnick, Marji Rawson, David Rosenberg, Rich Fizer, Kate Strong, Teresa Saborsky, Carroll Swayze & Mary Strope, Admin for NAIA

As you can see from this list it is an excellent mix of events from the big name festivals to smaller volunteer run events. This makes for great dialogue as, depending on your point of view, just about every issue has a different answer.

This year's conference was a dialogue among the attendees addressing what artists feel are the most important topics at today's shows.

The first presentation was on the costs of doing art shows presented by Terry Adams (the guy with the really big budget), Sara Shambarger (smaller budget) and two artists, Carroll Swayze and Rich Fizer (really small budget). The budget for Cherry Creek is well over $1,000,000 and Terry presented a pie chart for where the money comes from and where it goes. How much is funded by jury fees? Make some guesses in the comments below.

The next topic was Booth Images, facilitated by Carla Fox and Stephen King. Everyone weighed in on what the booth image meant to their show and how important it is. The general consensus was that shows use booth shots for two purposes:

  • to get an idea of what the presentation will look like at their show and
  • to see that the work that is presented in the art images is related to the final presentation

They also agreed that indoor shots or outdoor shots were not any kind of a deciding factor, they just really wanted to see how your art would fit into the finest possible presentation to the attending public.

This was followed by a cocktail party. We were asked to attend as our favorite artist, work of art, or style of art.

Nichole Smith as "Mixed Media", Jeanne Seehaver as "Annie Liebovitz"

Stephen King as "Stephen King"

Who is this show director who attended as "Andy Warhol"?

Connie Mettler & Lisa Konikow attended as "Art Fair"
Lisa took first place and Connie took third place in identifying important works of art. We were proud!

Leah Charney as "The Lady in the Hat" by Matisse.

Would you believe that this is the face of Zapplication?

The next entire day was spent on buy/sell, identifying imports and production work. Carroll Swayze presented a paper with excellent research to help directors identify imposters and buy/sell people. Some show directors google every applicant to make sure that the applicant is the actual artist. We all shared our personal experiences and resources for finding buy/sell. All agreed it was best to find out these agents before the show and allow them to make their case rather than wait until they were in the show, causing disruption on many fronts.

That evening we rode a school bus to the Preview Party on the lovely grounds of the Indianapolis Art Center. Congratulations to Patrick Flaherty, the new director of the Broad Ripple Art Fair, for this excellent gathering. Then back to downtown Indianapolis to make some last connections with one another and promises to weed out the buy/sell.


Even at a party the directors are still reviewing booth images! This is Teresa Saborsky, Jeanne Seahaver, Terry Adams, Carla Fox & Leah Charney (back to camera)

Peggy Finnegan from Chenango Colorscape and Terersa Saborsky, director of the NAIA

Almost all of us returned on Saturday to Broad Ripple to see the show, meet friends and BUY ART!

Summation: much of substance does get covered at these conferences but nothing beats the interaction with fellow directors and the networking that continues through the year.

Views: 718

Comment by geri a. wegner on May 27, 2011 at 6:56pm

Hi Connie, sounds interesting.  I don't know much about NAIA, is it supposed to be an advocate for artists?  

 I would say not more than 2% comes from jury fees for the expenses at an art festival.  

Comment by Connie Mettler on May 27, 2011 at 8:39pm

Yes, it is an arts advocacy group that speaks for the artists as an organization -- a group holds more sway than individuals.

Pretty good guess! But I'm not telling yet.

Comment by Bruce Meyer on May 27, 2011 at 10:41pm

NAIA was a great concept when they were all about advocating for the artists.  They have lost their way in this endeavor.  They can regain the stature they have lost in recent years by ... advocating for artists.

Starting with #1,  An artist must be returned their booth fee if the booth space in filled from the waiting list.  Period.

Until this is the prime advocacy of NAIA, their effectiveness is diminished and they will be of minor importance in the art fair world.  There is no reason other than greed that a show would keep a booth fee if they garner another booth fee for the same spot.  A small (very small) administrative fee may be appropriate, but an artist may cancel at any time for any reason and the booth fee must be returned if the space is resold.  What is so hard to figure about that.

Unless, of course, the artists are mere pawns in the game.

Comment by Carroll Swayze on May 28, 2011 at 8:42am

     I agree with you about the NAIA advocating for artists.  I was at that Charlotte Art Festival when the crowd stampeded through my booth to get away from what they thought was a gunshot.  I was also at the first artist town meeting at Festival of the Masters when the NAIA was being formed.  I have been a member on and off since.  I am a 41 year veteran of the Art Show world and a new board member of the NAIA.  We are working hard to discover and deal with the big issues that artists are facing now.   The recent conference is definitely proof of that.

     But I need to correct something that Connie said.  This was an Artist & Directors Conference and was advertised as such.  It was not a Directors Conference.  It was a two day, sit down meeting where both Artists and Directors were able to talk calmly together in a casual setting to address problems in our industry and try to come to some sort of a workable solution together.  It was a start to what I see being the trend of conferences to come.  

    The downside was that we only had 8 artists attend.  I am a working artist in this economy so I realize the problems that artists have in fitting something like this into their schedule but I have to say that I'm glad that I was there.  It was exciting to be able to speak one on one with some of the top show directors in this country and to have them listen to our issues and then explain theirs.  They have issues and parameters just like we do.   But they need artists to talk to them and tell them when they have issues.  Then together, hopefully, we can find solutions to the problems.

      I am an idependent artist all the way.  I do not join clubs and I do not like meetings.  I was there in the 70's when you could drive to Coconut Grove and get a space.  I've seen good times and I've seen bad times.  I still believe that there are people out there who want to experience the personal connection that happens between a buyer of original art and the artist who created it.  I joined the NAIA because I believe there is power in numbers and I believe we need a voice out there now more than ever. 

     We need more voices if we are going to be effective.  A membership in the NAIA is a good investment.     

   PS.  Bruce:  I believe that it is illegal for a show to sell the same space twice.   They have to send the money back if they fill the space.  Please call the NAIA Action Line.  We have someone who will research that and contact the show for you. 


Comment by Jim Parker on May 28, 2011 at 12:35pm
It's not illegal for a show to keep the booth fee if the show states upfront that an acceptance is a commitment to show. I got NAIA involved one year when Vero Beach cashed my checkbefore sending an acceptance, then refused to refund because I was unable to attend. NAIA was powerless to do anything. As a matterof fact I never got any response back from The Action Line at all as to a positive outcome. I did however, get a letter from VB saying that they spoke with their lawyer and were not obligated in any way to refund the booth fee. Caveat Emptor.
Comment by Bruce Meyer on May 28, 2011 at 3:38pm

I was on the NAIA board when we wrote the current advocacies.  I did not think the advocacy addressing cancellation was even close to being strong enough.  I have heard little since that is strengthened in any way and should read simply this..

"If an artist cancels his or her participation in a show at ANY time for ANY reason AND IF the booth is resold; the original artist MUST have his or her booth fee returned."  Period.  No time windows; no partial fee returns; maybe, just maybe, a small administrative fee.


I would love to hear from any show directors who could explain to Carroll why this is not only legal for them to do so, but also why they feel it is fair and just.

Comment by Barry Bernstein on May 28, 2011 at 5:10pm

To answer the question, I believe very little of the operating expenses come from the booth fee.  In fact, sometimes I wonder why there is a booth fee at all, since we generate millions of dollars in taxable income that benefits local business, city, and, state taxes.  Do the Rolling Stones pay a rental fee for a stadium where they are playing?


The only way the NAIA or any group of us can have any real power is if we act together, no matter what the issue. Some people call that a "Union." That seems to be a dirty word these days and takes a commitment that we, as a whole, are not willing to undertake.  I might want to point out that actors, writers, and all the people connected with the performing arts have unions.  All professional sports have unions. And, they never had any rights until they all agreed to go along with what their union proposed.  The rationale behind unionizing was that these groups generated vast amounts of dollars when they held an event, like a football game, or movie, or live performance.  They weren't getting their fair share of the money they generated and took a great risk in unionizing.  If you look at those "artists," they are all compensated correctly for taking that risk.  We aren't because we are not willing to act as a group, in unison. I'm not advocating that we should unionize.  I'm just saying that until we act as one, we have no real power.

Comment by CM Fox on May 29, 2011 at 12:10pm

Some of the show directors were also artists, so there were a few more artist voices there.

Nice wrap up Connie.


Comment by Carroll Swayze on May 29, 2011 at 1:02pm

You're right Carla, but it still was a very weak showing of artists. 

This is all good information.  We are much stronger as a group so to me it's to our benefit to join the only group out there that advocates for artists. 

As far as refunding show fees for cancellations when the show fills the space, I have heard of a couple different shows not filling empty spaces beause of legal issues of reselling a retail space.  I am going to research this and get back to everyone.   I like Bruce Meyer's suggestion:

"If an artist cancels his or her participation in a show at ANY time for ANY reason AND IF the booth is resold; the original artist MUST have his or her booth fee returned."  Period.  No time windows; no partial fee returns; maybe, just maybe, a small administrative fee.

Comment by CM Fox on May 29, 2011 at 1:08pm

There are some issues with this for shows. I've tried to explain the the problems this can cause shows....the refunding anytime for any reason part. But many artists don't understand this. So its not a black and white issue that it at first appears to be. (Is anything?)


Bruce & I have butted friendly heads on this one. 8-)






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