Art Fair Insiders

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Krasl Art Festival, St. Joseph, Michigan—Finally, a good show

This show was last weekend, second weekend of July.

A two day show with Friday setup.

Held on the lake bluff in downtown St. Joseph.

200 exhibitors setup on both sides of the sidewalk, the show extends about eight city blocks.

Most can pull right into the curb and setup.  Pretty easy setup and teardown.

The Show has been going on more than 25 years and attracts a good crowd.  A lot of Chicago money here with a mix of Michiganders and folks from northern Indiana.

Pretty conservative and traditional sales for artwork.  New stuff does not play well here.

In my humble estimation, this is the best show for sales in Michigan for fine art.

I will take it over Arts n Apples, Birmingham, Ann Arbor or any other Lake Michigan coastal cities shows.

The middle class in Michigan has little disposable income.  They will spend it on good drinks and food but not so much on art.

Mainly small pieces out of the bins sell best here.

Every once and a while somebody hooks a big whake for a big sale.  But there are not enough of them around.

The Show is on Zapp and run by the art center.  Lots of volunteers to help everybody.  Free water, free Saturday breakfest, and plenty of booth sitters.

The one big disconnect with this show is the location of the artist lounge and snacks.  It is all the way at the south end of the show.  It is a long trek that most do not make if they are at the north end.  Even the middle.

That should be improved, Krasl are you listening?

This is not an easy show to get in.  Tough jurors and lots of competition.  But it is worth vying for.

This is the same weekend as Madison, Cain Park and Corn Hill and in some years, State College.

If you are waitlisted there are good chances of being called. Lots of people playing off one show from another.  Vets know what I mean.

I have gotten in more then 15 times over the last 25 years.  Most times this is a 5K-plus show for me.

But this year, all shows have been off by 30-40% in sales, that even includes Fort Worth.

People are holding back big time on art.  And this being felt industrywide, it is not just me.

So, I was not expecting to do nearly as well when I prepared for this show,luckily it turned out better.

I think it helped that I debuted three new images and one made me killer sales.

This year like most in the past was a mix of hot, humid July heat mixed with soothing cool air off the lake.

If you were in shade it was almost 15 degrees different.  

Temps were in the mid high eighties both days.

But hell, it is Michigan.  If you do not get it now, when do think you are going to get it.  This is not Florida.


I am sitting at a great restaurant in Saugatuck while writing this blog.

It is going to hit 87degrees plus today, good time to be inside with A/C.

Sorry for the folks suffering on the asphalts of Ann Arbor.

Anyways, this place is called the Southerner.  Located just out of the north side of downtown Saugatuck.

The place sits right on the river with awesome views.

I am at the bar facing 50 varieties of bourbon I could order.  They have an Evan Williams on the rocks for $4.  You can chase it with a $2 Hamms beer in a can.

Then eat the Nashville Hot Chicken sandwich on a big toasted homemade biscuit.  Chase it down with some tasty homemade baked beans. Sandwich for $8 and beans for $2.50.

Um, um, um. Life is good.  

If you go to Saugatuck, my home base for the summer, you gotta come here.  They are the berries.

OK, actually this was a bourbon and biscuit report.

Back to Krasl.

So Saturday was hot, humid with cooling lake effect breezes.  The crowd slowly built.

I started off with a $500 sale.  I was happy, considering the last two shows I did, I did not gross $3K total.

Sales came along regularly, mostly out of the bins.

People were buying everywhere. About 12:30 sales ground to a halt.

Til 6pm, show close, I did maybe another $500.

I was sleeping in my own bed, forty five minutes away.

Oh! I forgot to tell.  The show will put up artists for free with patrons here.  That can be a big saving.  More money for margaritas.

Sunday weather same as Saturday with a little more cloud cover, kept it a little cooler, then the fricking sun burned thru about noon, and it was hot, hot, hot.

Crowds were smaller and not buying as much.  Couple of artists hit home runs, but for most it was ho-hum.

Show ended at 5pm and I was home buy by 6:30.

A good time was had by all.

Oh, and my little dear retiring wife, Ellen, bought a Beamer, and we are flying at the speed of sound down the interstate.

Just kidding.

 It it accelerates way faster than my Ford van. 

God almighty.

Later gators.

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Comment by Barry Bernstein on July 24, 2019 at 7:49pm

Just because Nels had a good show doesn't mean that everyone did. Nobody around me had a good show. We all fried in the sun. I wanted a space in the shade. Didn't get it.

Don't kid yourself. None of the amenities are ever free. It's added to the booth fee.

I'm convinced that the 2 biggest reasons why shows are down this year is 1) the weather. It's been 95 at every show with the heat index above 105. 2) Something like 60% of Americans who were expecting to get a tax refund ended up paying. Usually, we get a share of that refund. Not this year. Very few people that I've talked to this year are doing well.

Speaking of amenities, there used to be a party for the artists after set up with food and drink. It was somewhat classy, catered by local restaurants and wineries. This year the so-called party was for locals and artists. You got two tickets for one beer. If you wanted a glass of wine you had to buy an extra ticket. If you wanted some food, you had to pay for it. They had a taco truck with the worst tacos I've ever had. In the past, the hotel, which was centrally located and accessible to everyone, had a lounge with food and drink during the day if you wanted to take a break. None of that happened this year. There was no chance of ever making down to the art center for whatever they had for us. It was too far away and I needed to stick around in case I had a serious customer.

I don't know when they dropped all the perks. I'm guessing it was when Sara left as director. I haven't done it since then. I've been doing Cherry Creek, which is the week before. I only applied when I didn't get in. Maybe I'll go back to Madison.

Comment by Connie Mettler on July 23, 2019 at 12:39pm

That is such a busy weekend with so many options. Out of all of them we did State College when we were first starting out in the business. We did okay with sales, but it was a long way from home and 4 days long and we only did it a few years. Best part was we made a lifelong friend there, photographer Bill Coleman and we returned to State College many times. We often applied to Krasl and never got in (this was when it was heavily grandfathered, it would have been the closest show.) Heard great things about Madison and did it a few times, but no great shakes. Tried Cain Park which started the whole "amenities and hospitality" services that are apparent at so many shows today. It was a pleasure to do: great food, park behind your booth, quality art all around, in the diverse neighborhood of Cleveland Heights with well-educated people who appreciated the arts and the show organizers liked us and Norm's work, so we did that show for 20 years. The show is in a park that is in a ravine -- you should have been there the year of the downpour ... 

Comment by Judy Christian on July 23, 2019 at 12:19pm

I appreciate the review! I have been happily doing the Central PA State College Show for the past 10 years and am still doing well with it. I also lived in the area, so slept in my own bed.

However- I finally finished my move back to Ohio end of May. Officially living in Kent, OH. So I'm open to shows that may be a bit closer. 

Comment by Julia Gourley on July 23, 2019 at 11:18am

Nels, thanks for the thoughtful review. 
Rest assured, the loss of the of the mid-show Boulevard Inn location for artist hospitality is not forgotten.  It has, however, been challenging to replace.
We heard many reports of great sales (and a few sold out) from your colleagues.  
We always strive for great sales, a fun and easy show, and stellar weather.  Glad this year met all expectations for you.
All the best!

Comment by Nels johnson on July 22, 2019 at 12:14pm

I had space 119 near Boulevard Bistro, very shady.

For me, I will always take Krasl over any of the others.  No hotel, minemal gas and great sales.

After that Madison is always my next pick.

Do not want anythin to do with State College or Corn Hill.  Cain Park was a greT Show when Harvey ran it, it is not nearly as great now.

Sure would be great to see some comments about the blog.

You and I are just choir preachers.

Yes, let us meet up on the lake soon.

Comment by Connie Mettler on July 22, 2019 at 11:31am

Oh -- and to do a little bragging myself if you'd like to know more about the Krasl Art Fair. I posted this blog (that has had over 10,000 views and 6 pages of comments) a few years ago here.

Comment by Connie Mettler on July 22, 2019 at 10:38am

Yea! Good report, Nels. Krasl did spend a little more money with us this year to bring in customers and good for them. Here's the email we sent for Krasl:

It had a record # of clicks and I even received thanks from buyers who got it! It feels like Krasl is recovering its power after the loss of our friend Sara Shambarger. Good for them!

Where was your space? Were you in the shady area? 

I'm sure you've done all the other shows that are available on that weekend. How would you rate them in desirability of participating? Krasl? Madison? State College? Cain Park?

Happy Ellen bought the Beamer -- fun for all. We'll have to meet up on the West Coast of Lake Michigan. A trip to Saugatuck is long overdue for me.

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