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