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Call for Artists, Making Money at Juried Art Fairs, Craft Shows and Festivals

"It's a paycheck": Cape Coral Festival of the Arts (Jan. 12-13, 2013)

Cape Coral Festival of the Arts, located just across the ($2 toll) bridge from my S. Fort Myers home, is probably the easiest show I do all year, and it's certainly one of the most community-oriented.  Except for 2010, which featured bone-chilling cold and the never-before-experienced thrill of seeing ice fall off my flaps when I unzipped on Sunday morning, the crowds always turn out for this Rotary Club show along Cape Coral Parkway.

But are they here for the art, the food vendors, or just a couple hours' stroll in the sunshine?  As is often the case with this show, results were mixed.  Among the 15 or so artists I spoke with late on Sunday, nearly everyone  said their sales were down from 2012.  For the most part, the declines weren't catastrophic--most folks still made money--but shoppers were definitely not buying big.

My sales were near $2K, not great but a decent enough paycheck given the low booth fee ($276.80, if memory serves) and my ten-minute commute.  Crowds were pretty steady both days under warm, humid skies buffered occasionally by cool breezes.  But it can be a tough show to sell because of its large size (over 300 artists) and long end-to-end layout, which creates a long walk for the aging populace.  Entry points are at one end of Cape Coral Parkway or the other, and if you're located just inside one, as I am every year, you'll get lots of raves, but few sales, from folks who have just arrived and want to see everything else first.  "I'll see you again on the way out" is the phrase of the weekend--and although a few customers were true to their word, there weren't enough of 'em to make this the big payday it was in 2012. 

This is the third show in a row where sales lagged last year. And although it's tempting to say, "well, sales are going to suck in 2013", I'm gonna pass on that conclusion, for now.

First off: Jeez, it's early yet!  Two or three shows don't make a trend, let's at least wait 'til March before we push the panic button

That said, I suspect that this long-running show might be showing a few cracks in the foundation.  The fine folks at Rotary raise a lot of money from booth fees, and it's in their best interest to have the show be a big one.  That takes a toll on the show quality, which is several notches below the likes of Coconut Point, Estero (Miromar Outlets), and, most importantly, Bonita Springs, taking place on the same weekend a half-hour to the south.  A number of artists, particularly jewelers, commented on all the buy-sell lining the streets.  There was a very high percentage of photographers, including several whose work, IMHO, wasn't up to even a minimal professional standard. Other 2-D artists seemed to be under-represented. 

I think this would be a better show if it were smaller--maybe 200 artists--and more tightly juried.  That would make it easier on its customers and give the exhibitor list a needed pruning. But I don't think that's gonna happen.

Other notes:

* Logistics are well managed.  Setup, in particular, is surprisingly easy for such a large show.  It's a late-Friday setup, advertised to begin at 8 PM. You pick up your packet in a shopping center one block north of the show center and hang a colored tag on your dash, depending on whether your booth is on the north or south side of the median-divided parkway. When all is ready on the parkway (which turned out to be 45 minutes early this year), the barriers part, and you drive right to your space and set up with your back to the median.  There's minimal room for storage, but most of the parkway has a well-trimmed, woody hedge that will support empty boxes and bags with no worries.

* The show doesn't give artists their booth assignment until they arrive on Friday night, which even in these times of Twitter, doesn't give you much time to inform your fans, followers, and past customers.  On the other hand, the show has lots of repeat artists from year to year, and you'll usually get the same, or nearly the same, booth location.  So net/net, it's pretty easy for past customers to find you.

* Artist parking is located in two grassy lots adjacent to the parkway.  It's a tight space, but manageable.  It's pretty easy to stage your vehicle near your booth an hour or so before the show ends, too, which helps with tear-down. 

* Speaking of which, the show tells you that the parkway reopens at 7 PM, only 2 hours after show close.  That's cutting it tight for many of us. (When the Rotarians came by with a friendly "25 minute warning", I took stock of my situation and decided I wouldn't quite make it.  So I hauled my neatly-stacked stuff  across the street to a sidewalk, moved the van to a parking lot, then hauled my stuff yet again down- and up-hill through a drainage ditch to the van.   Imagine my irritation when I finally got everything packed at 7:25 and saw that the parkway was still closed.  Next year I'll tell them I'll need 10 more minutes, thenkyewveddymuch.)

* The food vendors are plentiful, so you won't go hungry.  But best of all, there are a plethora of fine Mom and Pop restaurants of every ethnic variety you can imagine lining the parkway, and a Perkins that's a favorite pre-show breakfast spot. 

I like this community a lot. Compared to the golf-centered, gated-community sameness of much of Southwest Florida, it's refreshingly independent, unpretentious, and multicultural.  Given the large number of artists that live in and around the area, it would be really cool if this show could develop a vibe to match. 

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Comment by Leslie Peebles on January 17, 2013 at 6:26am

I made expenses there only because I found a place to stay with a friend of my brothers. All I could see anyone carrying was buy/sell. The show was certainly "juried by check". I got very discouraged and will not go back. My friends who do functional crafts and photography did okay. 2-D fine art did not.

Comment by Geoff Coe on January 17, 2013 at 12:10am

Interesting. I did 50% cash!

Comment by Ellen Schneider on January 16, 2013 at 11:33pm

I also did this show and was down just a bit from 2012's show. So overall I was happy. I think there was less foot traffic, maybe due to the extreme outbreak of the flu or just because it was absolutely gorgeous weather. People were actually complaining that it was "too hot," "my backs getting sunburn," I have way too many of "insert comment here." For me the common form of currency was credit card. Almost 80% of my sales. I'll be back.

Comment by Geoff Coe on January 16, 2013 at 5:06pm

That's OK, Bill.  Stay safe, you guys!!

Comment by Geoff Coe on January 16, 2013 at 2:36pm

Thanks, Nancy, for weighing in. Sorry your sales were down. 
I ran into one of my neighbors this morning who had visited the show.  She is about 70, Midwestern, and has gone nearly every year.  She commented that the number of jewelers was just nuts: "Seemed like it was every other booth."  She didn't have any awareness of buy/sell or production work, but when I explained it, she nodded, saying, "Yes, a lot of the jewelry just didn't look, well, very CREATIVE." 

Comment by Nels Johnson on January 15, 2013 at 7:31pm

Gee, for all the people I saw exhibiting there, I see verylittle feedback.  Are you all chickens?

Comment by Scott Martin on January 15, 2013 at 10:55am
In response to shows being down here in fl. We're down almost 7k after 4 shows over last year. Way less transactions and having difficulty creating any urgency for sales. So if your thinking of traveling from up north for only a few shows possibly plan on doing 30% less or worse and make sure that it would still be worth it.
Comment by Richard L. Sherer on January 15, 2013 at 9:31am
A neighbor had an aggressive male peacock. He decided to take over our back porch. Loud squaks and he would try to spike you. I kept a shovel by the door to chase him off. A coyote finally got him. He was a pretty guy when doing his display, but no tears shed for him.
Comment by geri a. wegner on January 14, 2013 at 11:00pm

Nels, get rid of the peacocks as fast as you can.  They are very invasive and loud and obnoxious.  Only those of us that don't live near them enjoy seeing them.

Comment by Nels Johnson on January 14, 2013 at 9:58pm

Meant three peacocks.

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