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MOCAs Boardwalk Art Show, Virginia Beach VA

First time I have done this show.  I have been hesitant to do it because of all the challenges but decided this year I was ready to take it on.  We went in with a great attitude.  We were ready for the wind, heat, sun, rain, and everything else this crazy show had to throw at us.  If you are not familiar with the show  here is some info.  It is set up on the boardwalk right along the beach.  Behind the tent is a rail and the beautiful beach and ocean.  Amazing setting for an art show.  It is a four day show with set up on Wednesday.  That means your booth is out in the elements for 5 days and you are looking at 6 nights in a hotel unless this is a local show for you.  If you want to try this show find a vet who knows the ins and outs.  There is a lot to learn and know.  Brush up on your McGyver skills you will need them.


We arrived Tuesday afternoon.  We received excellent intel and booked the hotel in front of our booth.  Arriving early meant we could park in the hotel parking lot close to our booth.  This was very important to help the show run smoothly for us.  We had dinner with friends that night and had a strategy briefing over dinner for the next 5 days.  There is a drive on option you can sign up for.  Wednesday you stage and can drive right up to your booth.  OR if you get close enough to dolly in you can start setting up anytime Wednesday.  Our vehicle was parked and close to the booth  so we dollied in.  There was almost no wind and the weather was good for set up.  You set your booth up right against the rails of the boardwalk.  You tie the back of the booth up tight against the rails.  Practice your sailor knots or find someone who knows what they are doing to help.  Also figure out wheret to tie to.  This was discussed in the strategy meeting the night before:)   We put all our weights on the front of the booth.  We were building a brick house.  This show is notorious for high winds.  I added a set of gravity weights to our arsenal this year.  With the bad weather we have all been dealing with this year these things are perfect.  They are black bags that fold up very small and flat.   You can fill them with water or sand or kitty litter, whatever you want.  They take up almost no room in the truck.  This was the first time I have pulled them out.  Perfect place to do it because there was lots of sand right behind the tent.  Between the regular weights and the gravity tubes the tent had over 500 lbs on just the front.   You can rent big water barrels for the front of your booth.  This may be a good option but they are big and they  only weight about 100lbs each.   If both you and your neighbor rent the barrels you have a lot in the way in front of your booth.  Our weights took up very little room at each leg and we had 170 lbs on each of the three legs in front . The plastic white weight in the pic is our neighbors. For storage, no room behind the tent if you set up tight but there is some room on one side of your tent if you and your neighbor work together.  This is encouraged by  the show.  They also allow you to place stuff across the boardwalk in front of your booth as long as you keep it clean.  I think they said 4x4 area. 


On Tuesday night we sat on the boardwalk before the artist tents went in.  The rental tents were up.  We watched people duck under the tent walls and party in the booths.  I decided I wanted to add stay bars in the front of the booth to place at night.  Not only to make the brick house stronger at night but to make it harder for the party folks to get in from the front.  Wednesday we set up just the booth with out the art.  I was not concerned about the weather that night but more concerned about people going into my booth and playing artist with my supplies.  The plan was to remove the tool boxes (which have paints and paint brushes inside) and anything else that we might care about at night, like our show bag, contact list and generator.    The truck was close enough to make this an easy thing to do

Thursday started at noon-6.  The other three days 10-6.  It was humid but not bad.  Wind was decent.  It kept us cool enough.  If you do this show bring an umbrella with a really good stand.   We had an extra gravity weight and a big beach umbrella.  We were able to screw the beach umbrella into some dirt, tie it to a director chair and attached the 60lb weight to the chair.  Saturday and Sunday called for full sun.  No sales on Thursday for us or anyone around us.  We were all large two D.  It was mainly tourists.  The locals are known for coming Saturday and Sunday from what I was told.


Friday was the bad weather day.  The show director was excellent at keeping us all updated with emails.  Of course being right on the beach everyone was glued to their weather apps.  Winds started up strong around 1pm.  It went down hill from there.  Most booths closed up around 3 and the show was called at 4.  The brick house survived and so did the art.  What did not survive was our generator.  Friday was a stressful day and we screwed up and left the generator in the tent overnight.  On Saturday morning we woke up and asked each other if the generator made it back to the truck.  I hadn't done it and my partner hadn't.  Sure enough when we showed up to the booth the sucker was gone.  The thieves were good.  The generator was in a wagon covered with a camo tarp.  They crawled through the back of our neighbors tent(there was a ramp going to the beach in the back) and into ours.  They even placed the tarp perfectly back into the wagon so it looked like the generator was still there.  The show had lots of security.  At night we saw a lot of police patrolling the beach but they can't watch everything in a venue like this.  None got hurt, the art was fine and a generator is easy to replace as long as we can make some $$$$.


Saturday morning we had some be backs and a couple sales.  Wind was between 15-20mph and full sun.  Big crowds.  It helped to have the truck and trailer close by so we could bring patrons to see more art.  It was tricky with the wind but we made it work.


Sunday was the perfect day weather wise.  The crowd was good but not as big as Saturday.  The patrons are a big mix but plenty of qualified buyers with expensive purses and big diamond rings.  We were hoping for a big day but didn't have it.  Most people I spoke with were just breaking even or made a paycheck. 

Breakdown was easy since we dollied out but you could pull up close to the boardwalk if you didn't have a dolly space and once enough tents cleared if you still were not out you could drive up to your booth.


 This is a long show.  15 blocks long.  Sponsors and food are mixed in with the artists.  There is a lot going on at a  beach venue.  The MOCA museum puts on a good show with a lot of really good artists.  Lots of volunteers who walk around with flags in case you need a booth sitter or something else (like the police to make at report).  I was impressed with the judges.  There were three.  First a staff member from the show comes up to you and lets you know that the judge is coming so get ready.  The judges pick one piece from you booth, if you get picked, to be considered.  Each judge spent time in the booth to talk to the artist.  On Saturday night there is an artist awards dinner/party.  They do a great job in my opinion when it comes to awards and there is a lot of awards at this show.  The show also has shipping containers every few blocks close to the booths for you to store things in if needed.  We didn't need that since our truck was closer than the containers.  After hours if security saw someone in your booth they would ask for ID to make sure you were suppose to be in that booth.  Every day they had someone inspecting the booths to make sure the artists were showing what they juried in for.  Love that.  I wish more shows would.   I was very impressed with how well the show was run. 


The show is fun to do.  The artists camaraderie is awesome.  Spending 6 nights really gives you a chance to enjoy old friends and to make new ones.   We stayed in the hotel on the board walk right in front of our booth.  What a great view every morning and evening of the beach and the show.  Spending 6 nights on the beach in a tourist area also comes with lots of expense.  For a double booth, 6 nights hotel, travel to and from the show, eating (and I know you have to eat wherever you are but it is expensive to eat in a tourist town) our base cost was $2500 and that doesn't include loosing the generator.  Many artists view this show as a combo vacation/work trip.  Yes we had fun but it was not a vacation for me.  If you consider the show do the math.  In my opinion it is like doing two shows and you need to consider the wear and tear on your booth and supplies.  The numbers didn't add up for us.  If anyone would like to hire a roadie for next year I am your gal.  That would be a perfect work/vaca in my book.  I am really good at setting up trimlines:)

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Comment by ZuSheng Yu on February 3, 2018 at 10:25am

Hi Melanie, Positive aspects of being an artist, I like it! Great reviews! 

Comment by Jane Doe on July 3, 2017 at 11:18am

The truth about the Boardwalk Art Show produced by the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA):

The advertising states it has 275 artists and 250,000 tourists and locals "attending the show".  Perhaps 275 artists, but under 15,000 walk along the boardwalk, while the show is going on.  The majority of these people are low to moderate income vacationers who came to Virginia for only sand and surf.  Since the show was going on while they were there, they would browse for the novelty of it.  It is not a good show for a serious career fine artist seeking to earn a living.  

I estimate less than 3,000 visitors are interested in purchasing art.

It should be at best, a local arts and crafts show.  

NOTE: The weather did not affect the lack of attendance. Most of the professional fine artists were first timers, had poor sales and have no intention of returning.  

What is bothersome is the advertising deception of a museum who hopes to save the show from changing its former historic significance.  This show "did not survive the passage of time". Time to change it to a local arts and crafts show!

A large number of new artists are mislead by the advertising, apply each year, and do not return.  This is only a fund raising concern for the museum.  

The majority of professional business artists met with disappointment participating in this show.    

In conclusion, a career fine artist who depends on outdoor juried fine art shows should not apply to this show, unless you are ok with a financially breaking even situation (at best) while you enjoy the beach for 5 days.  

Why Sunshine Artist ranks this show within the top 40 is incomprehensible.


Comment by Kathleen J. Clausen on July 25, 2016 at 4:26pm

Wow, Melanie!  Another great review.  I feel like I'm living vicariously through your reviews.  You do make the reviews very real.  Thanks for the time you spent on this.

Comment by Jacki Bilsborrow on June 30, 2016 at 11:31pm

Melanie, I really enjoy reading all about you and your shows.  Your shows always seem like they verge on a little vacation in some way.  That is the way to do it.  I would have had a very hard time staying away from the ocean though.

Comment by Judy Christian on June 27, 2016 at 2:42pm

Thank you for posting. And I'm sorry about your generator.

I have looked hard at this show as I know a few artists who like doing it although they do speak of the brutal issues. I've put it on the back burner for when we are "retired" but still doing shows so that we can go into it with a different frame of mind- like you said- a mix of vacation and work.

I have no idea how well the artists that I know do at this show but they are all regular exhibitors, and traveling a distance.

Comment by Melanie Rolfes on June 24, 2016 at 8:52am
No can do Marge, I am about to leave the house for a Friday setup but at least it is local show. I get next weekend off and then Madison. After Madison the marathon is over!!!

For the most part the quality of the art was very good. This is an originally only show. We only do originals but I know some of my,neighbors really wanted to pull out their prints and I bet they would have had great sales with prints. A ceramic artist near us did loose work with the wind but also with peopl bumping into the work.
Comment by margaret luttrell on June 24, 2016 at 8:41am

Man you really were Macgyver! With everything you reported it sounds like it was a bit of a logistical nightmare. With all the wind how did potters and glassmaker fare? How was the quality of the art? It seemed like there were a ton of artists that were there.

Thanks for a consise review and great input. At least anyone wanting to do this show will know what they are in for. I have always wondered what a Boardwalk show was like. Sorry about your generator....sounds like there were some that were scoping out all these booths. Did anyone else lose anything? Things can go missing at any show but this sounds a bit sketchy. This was not a snatch and grab-these guys had to really think about taking that generator and how to get it out of sorry.

I know what you mean about having such an extended time to hang out and meet new artists and see old friend...a longer show makes that possible and it certainly is one of the advantages. But it sounds like you might need some Atlanta rest and recoup time after that one. BTW, those gravity weights look like a great back-up. I'll be looking into those.....Thanks go take a nap.

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