Art Fair Insiders

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


This is not a show for everyone.  First of all, it lasts 6 days, from Tuesday thru Sunday.  Day 1 goes from 7:30 AM until 9PM.  The next 4 days the hours are 11AM until 9PM.  Sunday goes until 6PM.  Secondly, this is their fund raiser and they take a 20% commission. Thirdly, they handle all the sales and then send you a direct deposit into your account, which they try to do within 7 days, but, 14-17 days is the reality.  So, you have to pay all your expenses for the show before you see any cash flow.  Fourth, this show never closes early, so, if it is snowing and 32 degrees, you have to be at your booth even though there are no customers.

Loading in and loading out is really hassle free and easy. We can drive right up to our space and we get all day on Monday to unload and set up.  The show provides 36 16' x 16' tents.  Each tent is divided into 4 sections, so, each exhibitor gets a 16' front. The show lasts until 9PM so you need lights.  Most people brought their own lights, but, they had lights if you needed them.  And, they provided ladders, so, you could attach the lights to the top of the booth.  I got there an hour early and they let me right in.  That was cool.  What wasn't cool was that they eliminated a couple of tents right in the middle of the street that had the best location for traffic flow.  Unfortunately, I was in one of those tents.  They ended up cramming those tents on the left side against the curb and facing away from the main traffic flow.  In addition,  I was facing some trees that had really annoying birds crackling loudly throughout the show. And, they ended up perched on the electric wire right next to my space, pooping along the curb.  I was supposed to be facing the afternoon sun, but, I was mostly in the cold and dark. I went from having one of the best spaces in the show to one of the worst.  Because of a numbers mix up, other people were not in the spaces they thought they were in and I heard that some people complained.  The committee was apologetic, but couldn't really do anything about it, this year.  Having said that, the booths for the most part were arranged well and spaced so a customer could get to every booth.  There wasn't really a bad location in the show, except that nobody would trade spaces with me.


There were no awards for best of show, etc. but there were plenty of purchase awards.  There was a pretty good dinner for the artists and a pretty good breakfast one day.  A donut shop that has been in existence for 80 years(I'm guessing at the age) donated donuts in the morning and cookies in the afternoon. They provided very good coffee, soda, and water. Unfortunately, the donut booth was right near my space and I gained back all that weight I lost eating really well in Florida.  This show has an excellent helper system and instead of just booth baby sitting, they would run and get us anything we wanted.  Someone actually went to a restaurant to get my lunch for me.  The artists also had access to a couple of really good clean bathrooms that were close by.


The artwork ran the gamut from really good to "what is that doing here?"  I thought that this show had some of the best painters I had ever seen at an art fair.  Much of it had a Southwest look which was refreshing to me because I usually stay in the East and Mid-East.  There were a lot of California and New Mexico, etc. exhibitors there.  Something I found shocking was that there was a booth with watches that got in as jewelry.  The person in the booth called himself a rep and he talked about the fact that they had 6 "designers" who designed the work.  I don't know where the watches were made but they weren't made by the rep in the booth or the so called designers.  I heard that the jewelers all got together and complained about this booth.  I, also, had a conversation with a committee member who said they would kick them out of the show if it could be determined that the people manning the booth didn't make the pieces. However, nothing was done. There was some other so called "art" like a booth with clocks that appeared devoid of any human qualities, but, most of the booths had really excellent work.


Most of the exhibitors I talked to, in the end, had a really good show. They invite back 2/3rds or so, of the top selling exhibitors.  Since this is basically a 2-D show and a jewelry show, most of these people are jewelers and 2-D people.  This show also tends to be a low end show, to some degree, so, if you had work below $60 you could have done really well.  Consequently, functional pottery tends to do really well.  Doug Becker did an excellent business with his glass selling ornaments and paperweights.  He calls them "birds and balls." The show could be divided into 2 parts--the first part is Tuesday thru Friday afternoon and the second show starts Friday evening and lasts until Sunday at 6.  The show opens at 7:30 AM on Tuesday morning.  There is a heavily supported program where individuals and corporations pledge to spend at least $500 in purchase prizes.  The early opening allows the corporate execs to come through before work on Tuesday to get first crack at the work.  I've been told that at one time, the streets would be full of people Tuesday morning and every artist would have a number of purchase prize cards in their booth.  I've done this show twice and both times there were hardly any early buyers on Tuesday morning.  They could easily eliminate this part of the show.  It's really taxing on the exhibitors to be out there for a 14 hour day when there are no buyers in sight.  The rest of the Tuesday-Friday part of the show had people checking out the show for later purchases and a lot of low end buyers.  By Friday afternoon there were a lot of people complaining about extremely poor sales.  To be fair though, there were a few people that I talked to who had really good early sales with their high end work.  Then came Saturday.  The weather was excellent on Saturday and people started showing up early.  It was definitely a different crowd.  People came to buy.  I sold steadily all day long and I believe the majority of exhibitors had the same experience. In the end, I had 2 purchase awards and a pretty good show.  Almost, everyone I talked to was happy.  I did talk to a couple of people with really excellent work who had bad shows but I think this was the exception. 


The weather had a lot to do with how well sales went.  There was only 2 excellent days out of the 6.  Two days were extremely cold.  I figured the high was 50 degrees.  Friday had extremely high winds gusting to 40 mph.  This was stressful for anyone facing the wind.  There was some breakage.  I think this was the reason why sales were no existent on a couple of the days.  Two years ago the temperature was in the low 90's every day and no rain.  I sold at least one big piece every day.  This year I really only had 2 days of decent sales--Friday, the high wind day and Saturday, when the temps were around 80 degrees and sunny.  The worst day of the show for sales and weather wise was Sunday.  The temperature was in the 50's and it rained most of the day.  There was even hail for a few minutes.  Hardly any customers showed up.  It was too bad because I'm sure Sunday would have been as good as Saturday, but, no one with any sense was out on Sunday.  Except us, of course.  The committee should have had more concern for the exhibitors and canceled the show on Sunday which every other show I do would have done.  Every exhibitor I talked to would have packed up and left.  The top picture has me standing in front of my booth on Sunday with 2 sweaters on, my winter coat, a silly plastic bag over my shoulders, and my wool hat. AND, I was still cold.


Would I do this show again?  I would.  Unfortunately, I probably wasn't in the top sales that get invited back so I have to apply again.  Decorative ceramics doesn't sell as well as paintings or jewelry.  Personally, I think they should take that in consideration and invite me back. lol.



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Comment by Barry Bernstein on May 10, 2011 at 10:40am
Surprise, surprise!!  I was checking my bank account online this morning and I saw that OK City direct deposited my money into my account.  This is a week faster than the last time I did the show.
Comment by phillip hall on May 8, 2011 at 8:59am
Barry, I've looked at your picture several times now and everytime my first thought is the "Alfred E Newman" phrase, What,Me Worry?
Comment by MICHAEL ALAN STIPEK on May 5, 2011 at 10:10pm

I did OKC for years, made good $$.  But the weather - it really sux!  One year, the weather forecast was for 80s and humid, so I brought warm weather clothing (read FL in March).  OK, so on the second day, the temps dropped into the 40s and 50s.  I had one pair of jeans, one pair of warm sox and one warm shirt.  And it rained a bunch.  So for four nights, I'd come back to the motel, take off my wet clothing, drape them over the heat vent so that they would be dry the next day.  By Sun., they were so stiff from, um, being worn for four days, they could have done the show without me!

And of course, it poured and the wind blew like crazy just at takedown on Sun.  Can't say enough good things about that show!

Comment by Jacqueline Webster on May 5, 2011 at 8:53am

A lot of folks were using OKC as a filler between the Texas shows.  I didn't get into any of them, unfortunately.

I had tons of be-backs that never materialized, and I lost a sale to one because he came back just before 9PM and the sales booths were closing up.

The crowd did change almost hourly, and was kind of weird.  $10k jewelry and $1k+ paintings sold near me early, then nothing for them later in the show.  I did hear from one person about a sales ticket given and the shopper never came back.  By the weekend everyone seemed to be very budget minded.

It is a fun show to do - the artists and patrons are fantastic!

Comment by S Brian Berkun on May 4, 2011 at 11:25pm
I was wait listed for this show and now that I read your review...glad I didn't get in! :-P
Comment by Barry Bernstein on May 4, 2011 at 7:00pm

Nels, the idea was to do Fort Worth and then go to Oklahoma City, which is 200 miles north of Dallas/Ft Worth.  I didn't get in to Fort Worth.  I decided to go anyways because with $4 a gallon for gas, I figured that Oklahoma City would be booming economically.  I think it is a little early for that.  I did have a great time at the show.  I hung out with Doug Becker.  He suggested that I come to his party during the Uptown Show even though I'm not doing it.  I had fun with my neighbor Jennifer Cavan and her husband Rees.  I, also, met one Meridith Tenney, who claimed to be Munks protege in Des Moines.  That alone was worth the trip. LOL!!


Btw, I had to write a good review.  You've upped the ante on the quality of the blog posts and I couldn't let you win the best blog post every month.
Comment by Annette Piper on May 4, 2011 at 6:39pm

Great info and photos Barry.  You DO look cold so it definitely comes across!   I'm loathe to do long shows like this - the impetus to buy now or miss out goes away with longer shows, they think that they can come back another time.  

A joint sales point for the show can also mean people lose interest - they would have bought and paid with you but having to find the sales tent, line up etc., they can have too much time to rethink it!

But you were a trooper - I hope you get in next year and the weather and positioning is kinder to you!

Comment by Nels Johnson on May 4, 2011 at 6:37pm

First off, Barry, I commend you on an excellent well-written blog.  I could feel the highs and the lows as you talked about them--puts you right there.

That said, it sounds like way to many negatives to do that show, especially if you coming from a long place.  Waiting nearly two weeks for your money--those people need to get their act together.  Hope it was worth it for you.  Me. I wouldn't be caught dead there.

Comment by Barry Bernstein on May 4, 2011 at 4:34pm

I was wondering how the show was at your end, Jacqueline.  I know a couple of excellent artists who were doing poorly down there.  I hadn't talked to anyone else because I mostly stayed at our end.  I parked on the street, which was free because they hadn't put in the meters yet.  I did have to get there before 9AM to get a free space though. Yes, it was mostly a low end crowd except for Saturday.  And yet, I talked to some painters who sold $1500-$4000 paintings and my next door neighbor did really well.  The weekend crowd was much different than the midweek crowd.  It's too bad Sunday was a bust because of the weather. There was another day that nobody showed up but I don't remember which day that was. 


Now I understand why the helpers were falling all over themselves in the middle where I was.  They never made it down to your end.  It was almost annoying that they kept coming over and asking if I needed anything.  Poor planning on that item. Also, I was right near the main sales tent.  They weren't going to close that one.  I did have someone tell me they wanted a piece.  I filled out the form, boxed up the piece, and then they didn't return.  They didn't have the courtesy to tell me they changed their mind or whatever. I heard that happened a lot to other exhibitors.


I can't express how much the bad weather on Sunday killed sales.  The show never took off until Saturday and I had the feeling that if the weather was good, sales would have continued.  I can't tell you how many people said they were looking, during the week, and were coming back to buy.  The only people who showed up on Sunday were the ones who were forced to be there.


A lot of people came into the show from the street where the music and food was.  I had a lot of people tell me that I was one of the first booths they looked at, and I was in the middle.

Comment by Jacqueline Webster on May 4, 2011 at 3:40pm

Glad you sold well, Barry!  Unfortunately I did poorly.  I was up towards the Sheridan end of the show, and shoppers had to come in the opposite end from Reno (your end) and walk to our end.  And some of us up on that end seemed to have a few more issues than you did.  There were lots of booth sitters early in the show, but by Friday they were much harder to come by.  And the sales booth near me closed early 3 nights, plus a half-hour early on Sunday, even though the basketball game was bringing in a few shoppers.  One of the other artists in my booth said he was down 60% this year, and I came no where near what I was hoping for.  The high-end jeweler next to me did OK but said he wouldn't return even if invited back - he could do better staying home working on custom orders.

There are some other oddities at this show as well.  For instance, you can't sell reproductions out of your booth.  You have to set up a display in the Artist's Market tent, where it's poorly lit and poorly advertised.  The consensus of the folks that I spoke to is that we lost sales because the impulse to buy wasn't there even if you could convince a potential customer to walk over to it.  I was also taken aback by the minimum amount of inventory required to participate in the Artist's Market.  I barely sold anything I put in there.

Overall the volunteers and amenities were great.  Food, bottomless soda, booth sitters when you could catch one, indoor potties, free parking - all very much appreciated by all the artists.  And I agree that load in/out were easy.  I did end up paying for parking after the convention center put the "lot full" sign out a couple times.  I wasn't enthused about walking to the outdoor artist parking lot solo in the dark.

It is a low-end crowd for the most part.  The bulk of my prices are under $200 and while plenty of people loved my work, commitment to buy just wasn't there.  Other artists near me were expressing this as well.

All in all I don't think I'll do this one again.  Way too long a show for too few sales.  If you have colorful, lower-end stuff you may do well here.

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