Art Fair Insiders

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

I used to do Howard Alan Shows.   He has “regulars” who do many of his shows.  I was one of them.  He  and Debby knew my work well.  They know the work of their regulars.   Some weekends I would call about a show I hadn’t even apply for and he would say, “Sure, I’ll find you a space”.  I liked Howard and Debby, and though their entry fees were high, they put on many good shows.  But then they implement a $15 jury fee for each and every show we applied for.   That’s when I quit applying.

When I started doing art festivals in 1981, there was no such thing as a jury fee.  Then, in the mid-eighties I saw my first one.  It was $5.  Until then, shows funded their own juries to assemble the best mix of artists they could.  Now, 25 years later, shows treat the jury fee as a revenue stream, a cash cow from hundreds, even thousands of artists they know will never get anything but a “Dear John” letter.  Good shows today get more than a thousand applications and charge upwards of $40.  Do any of us really think it costs $40,000 to jury an event?  The bottom line is we are often funding shows in which we do not participate.

Two years ago, when I was accepted to Main Street Fort Worth I was rewarded not only with a $20K show, but they reduced my entry fee 10% because they got so much money from an overwhelming  number of jury applications.  Why should we, the few who got into the show, be subsidized by the many who were rejected?  Why not reduce next year’s jury fee by $5 so all applicants could benefit?  Why not reduce the jury fee to what it actually costs to jury the show?  Then charge the lucky ones who actually do the show enough to cover the costs.  Seems like a common sense approach.

I recently sent a $25 jury fee to The Des Moines Arts Festival through Zapplication and went off on a road trip to do shows in Memphis and Pensacola.  When I got home and caught-up on my email, I found  one from Stephen King the director of The Des Moines Arts show.  In it, he said he thought my digital photography should be moved from the photography category to the mixed media category.  The email said if I agreed I should respond by a certain date.  The date was long past.  So, I thought, since I had not responded, at least my application would be juried in the right category.  Right?

Not so.

On my next visit to Zapp, I found my category had been changed to Mixed Media!  Then I got an email from the show giving the statistics of the applications.  In photography there were approximately 100 applications.  In mixed media there were over 150.  Needless to say, I recently got my “Dear John” letter from Mr. King.

What did I get for $25?

Here is what I wrote on the Des Moines application to describe my work in 200 characters or less:

“Images of wit & humor from my imagination. By blending digital files in Photoshop, I work to emulate traditional darkroom photography. All work is produced to archival standards.”

Here are several statements taken directly from the Des Moines application:

In addition to the rules of exhibiting, the following guidelines/restrictions apply to the jury process:

5. Photography may only be submitted for jury in the photography category.

Photography – The process of capturing images that begins with a camera lens, then printing the images, by chemical or digital means, onto a surface. The photography category includes traditional film photography, hand colored images, emulsion transfers and digital photography that has not been excessively manipulated to achieve results beyond what could be done in a traditional darkroom.

Mixed Media – Includes any combination of a variety of materials to create an original work of art.

In 31 years of applying to thousands of shows, I’ve never applied in any other category unless photography was divided  and there was a Digital category.

Back in November when I got Mr. Kings email, I replied that I thought he should put me back in the right category and that his email intimated I wouldn’t be switched without my permission.  Recently, I emailed him asking for my jury fee back “ for cause”.  I didn’t get a reply back then and I don’t expect I will now.

Just what is it we get for our jury fee?

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Comment by David O Williams on October 25, 2013 at 10:49am

Instead of just not entering juried shows/fairs where the fee is too large, perhaps artists should contact the organizers and let them know that you are not entering because of the fee. As long as there are artists that entered, there is no incentive. But the organizers may have no idea how many and the quality that is bypassing their event. 

A little activism may help reverse this trend or at least drop fees down to a reasonable level.

Comment by Virginia Dauth on December 20, 2012 at 7:57am

Well Kudos to you, Thanks for paving the way and hope that other shows will follow your lead.

this economy is tough on everyone and as you already know, the toughest on those of us who are selling a commodity that most see as a luxury item if they purchase art at all.

Comment by Jo Ann Lucarelli on December 19, 2012 at 10:49pm

The Lake Mary Heathrow Festival of the Arts will be the first in 2013 to announce NO JURY FEE!

We have made many positive changes to enhance the experience for our artists and hope this is just one more! We DO appreciate and value our artists!!

Comment by JoAnne Hauser Warren on December 15, 2012 at 10:29pm

I'm surprised with all this comment no one mentioned telling it like it is in the artist survey. If we all mentioned that the increased fees are in direct conflict with the decreased sales of the present economic times...if they heard it enough maybe some of them would listen. I've had an all right year....not like the old days...but ok, as my friend Monica says mediocre is the new good. Just like no boss is going to give you a raise if you don't ask for it, no promoter is going to cut fees if we don't suggest it. I'd like them to spend more on jurors who know the different media,and advertising and while I'd like a cup of coffee in the morning I can bring my own water to shows and could live with less catered "artist parties" if it meant the show could reign in on some fees. Also if you're filling out a Sunshine Artist or Art Fair Source book etc. survey, make sure you mail it in not give it to the promoter...Have you ever wondered about that show that you got into that was ranked in the top 100 and you were like

Comment by Richard L. Sherer on December 15, 2012 at 3:18pm
I respect everyone who has been in this business for the long haul. I have been doing shows for over 20 years now. I don't feel like I have to apply to a Cherry Creek up the road to be successful. I have found lower tier shows that are consistently successful for me and a cursory look at Zap last night turned up three more possibilities for 2013. I have always been different since I was a kid and never run along with the herd. I rather work harder and make money regardless of what others are complaining about.
Comment by Robert Wallis on December 15, 2012 at 2:50pm
Those of us that have been around the bush more than once know that nothing stays the same or we'd all be driving '55 Chevy's. That model moved on and our model of doing business has to move on.

Richard has it right; we need to research our shows better, we need to listen to the customers better. If the customers keep asking about something, take that as a sign of something else to add to your repertoire. Those simple items can be what makes the booth fee or the gas money. Yeah, some of these things are boring to do and they are repetitive, but so is a day job.

Just because the onus is on the artist to do more business grunt work, that doesn't let the promoter off the hook either. I've said it before, the promoters need to step up their game and deliver more for value received. A hooker is going to deliver more for the $40 than we've been getting; 20 seconds and not a kiss afterwards. A statement in advance in the prospectus that states what the criteria are for judging, how they are weighted, and then reporting of results from all judges and not the average, and finally what the cut-off line was for acceptance. With the availability of inexpensive voice recognition typing programs it isn't such a big deal to deliver judges comments.

This industry is going in different directions. Nels was close when he said it was going toward commercialism. If we don't get off our duffs and professionalize it for the better good, it will go commercial and all we'll see is Wal-Mart in little white tents.

We have to start demanding more of ourselves and the promoters to deliver a package that the public still sees as desirable. The industry has evolved and is still evolving. Hell, I still remember artists leaning work against curbs in the street and no one knew what a tent was. We've changed from that and we need to go further. It's a creative business, but a business nonetheless. Let's make sure it's treated like one, and it's serious business.
Comment by Rick Paldino on December 15, 2012 at 1:58pm

Debate is good...... Listen is good.. Learn is good. Develope and change for the better is good,,, for both sides. There are a lot of shows that I'd like to get into but have just quit trying. How long can I throw my money resourse at something that does provide a service toward my business. $40.00 a year for 5 years trying to get in, times the booth fee $500.00. That equals a bad economical decision making on my part. How much of my work do you think I'm going to just give away without some productive results. One of my daughters is a CPA, she makes me look at it that way, where I would not other wise,,, I'm right brained. The times are changing and to think we can continue to do business as usuall is week thinking, for both sides.

Comment by Larry Berman on December 15, 2012 at 1:42pm

Here's an example of what no feedback or the wrong kind of feedback gets you.

I know a juror (no names) who told me he didn't jury an artist into a show because there was something wrong with the artist's booth. Then the same artist applied to another show that was juried by the same juror and was rejected again. My question to the juror was did he tell the artist there was something wrong with their booth after the first jury, and if he didn't, did he think it was fair to reject the artist a second time for an issue that could have been fixed.

I think everyone agrees that we should be given feedback that we can grow from. Maybe there are better or easier ways for shows to give us feedback. Maybe there should be a discussion on how it can be done. Like audio recorded feedback emailed to us or text to speech. I keep seeing all these commercials for Dragon Naturally Speaking and it started me thinking.

Larry Berman

Comment by Timothy Sullivan on December 15, 2012 at 1:17pm

Risk is inherent in any business, shows take risks, artists take risk.  I don't object to the risks, I object to the process.  Whether show directors want to provide additional info regarding the jury process and results or not, there is a question of fairness here.  A simple pass/fail grade is insufficient as the result of any jury process, and that will continue to be what we get from the vast majority of shows unless we find a way to negotiate a better result.  

It is also a normal part of business to negotiate terms and conditions.

Comment by will connor on December 15, 2012 at 12:59pm

Richard,  With all due respect, I don't need anyone to tell me to "quit complaining and get to work."  I've been working at making a living selling at art shows for 20 years and when I see something that I feel needs changing I'm going to "complain" and "whine" or whatever you may want to call it.  And I have and will continue to take grievances, constructive suggestions, etc directly to shows, or even through the NAIA, in an effort to keep these venues focused as market places where artists can sell art.

A similar discussion about jurying took place on the the Art Fair Review Facebook site, where some there, again, told artists to quit "whining" and to "just not apply" if you have problems with the way the jury system works.  Not a good solution.   

Connie tells us it's "not us against them."  I think that's true for the best shows (of which there are very, very few).  There are some big shows that are focused more on bringing in lots of people for there sponsors and whether artists sell well is secondary.  A lot of other shows are muddling along, maybe doing their best, but not doing it very well.  And there are promoter shows, some of which (not all) simply, grossly oversaturate their markets so that the only people, besides the promoters, who can make enough money are the buy-sell vendors.

All is not well in Art Fair World, and I'm going to keep complaining until I give it up.


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