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Omaha Summer Arts Festival or Deep in the heart of...Nebraska!

Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed the drive from Denver to Omaha. I decided to make a "Road Trip" out of it as I had consulted before leaving in order to map out and see all the fun and eccentric stuff that I thrive on: Largest ball of stamps, metal backyard zoo, Carhenge and more! And, of course, I had to drive the old Lincoln Highway which is pretty much as it was left after I-80 was constructed. If I have to go somewhere I'd rather make it a photo opportunity rather than just blowing down the highway.

This was a first timer for me and I choose to do this show as I had read a couple of positive reports from the past about it in Sunshine Artist (should have looked at AFSB instead!) and thought it might be good to go in a different direction for a change. Now just the facts:

Show Organizer/Promoter: Omaha Summer Arts Festival

Fees: $30 Jury Fee on Zapp, $325 Booth Fee. Taxes are collected after the show with a form from the Nebraska Revenue Department, no advance license is needed. Unlike all the shows in AZ where each of the individual cities gouge you with their tax license fees.
Quality of Art: One previous review suggested that the range was pretty wide in the past. The show promoters must have been doing their homework with this years show as the quality and variety didn't seem to diverse, with some exceptions. I didn't see anything that was even suspiciously B/S, it all appeared hand-crafted.

Logistics: The show is very generous in that set up runs all day on Thursday. The show takes place on a wide one-way avenue in downtown Omaha. Load In/Out was very easy on our end (15th - 13th) with a little more congestion on the 10th-12th avenue end. Artists are given entry passes with staggered times. Your entry is strictly enforced by the local police who also provide security for the show after hours. If you try to enter even a few minutes before your scheduled time you will be turned away (did I get turned away? Okay I tried to get in 5 minutes early!) Parking was plentiful near the show and on Sat and Sun street parking at meters was free but I heard a rumor that the city might change that by next year.

Show Hours: The show runs from 11-8 Friday and Saturday and from 11-5 on Sunday.

Amenities: Reminded me of the "old days" when the shows that I did really took care of the artists! An artists lounge with snacks, ice, computers, chair message was available all three days. They came around with water on a regular basis, one note about the artist goody bag they included a water bottle that was refillable! Kudos for that I idea as I dislike the idea of all those empty water bottles being tossed in the land-fill! Saturday morning at the awards there was a very nice full breakfast and Sunday a nice continental style breakfast.

Demographics: Unlike most of the shows that I had done in Arizona this past winter this show had a wide cross-section of age groups!  I was hoping for more of an upwardly mobile young urban crowd.  Who was buying? That seemed to be more of the middle age bracket with the low end age group buying inexpensive art reprints. What sold? Mostly the $25-$100 range. I read a past review (2009) that called this the "Wal-Mart" crowd. Although perhaps not that bad it didn't seem like there were a lot of high end art buyers present either.

Food and Such: There were some great restaurants in the area and the usual way over-priced fair-food. One exception was the vendor with what seemed a reasonably priced steak sandwich or ribs with fries! The show featured some great musical acts from all around the country on a stage put up on one of the side streets so the sound wasn't too loud to drown out the artists trying to talk with customers. Most of the food booths were set up closer to the stage area so there was some distance between the stage and the artist booths.

Reflections: One thing about this show that seems to be consistent with what I read is the miserably hot and humid weather! Got up to 90 or so each day with what felt like 50% humidity! Growing up in Chicago I'm no stranger to humidity but living in Denver for 35+ years has spoiled me. Whew! Luckily the rain and wind didn't show up this time as previous shows have been hit pretty hard. The rain didn't show up till 6:30 on Sunday and I was pretty much put away by then but the tent was in high running water at the curb when it did rain.The show promoter was a previous artist/exhibitor and he really seems to know what it takes to run a show. Just about everything I thought of that they could do was done. The initial email version of info was supplemented by another packet at check in which had much more info. like local restaurants, parking, etc. Not only was there an artists name tag but on the back were phone numbers for the concierge service, art delivery, show coordinator and manager. They seemed to think of everything. I only wish they could have done as well with the crowd, but I guess that is asking for something out of their realm. Friday had a thin but steady flow of visitors, Saturday started out with Friday like numbers and really boomed mid-day thinning out soon after 2 (must've been the heat), Sunday was just a tad bit more crowded then Friday. There didn't seem to be a lot of high buying energy throughout the show even the promised "Sunday is the best day" didn't materialize. Although I did make sales from items in my mid-price range most were from lower end items. The jeweler next to me said she did okay but a lot of it was from some stuff in the $16-$22 range. The "Junque" artist next to me did good with several high end pieces and then a lot of lower priced items, he felt that the few higher end sales saved the show for him. From comments I heard on the street it seems that the show promoter is doing a good job of trying to keep the quality of the show up as previous incarnations of this show were rated pretty low in quality.

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Comment by MIchelle Monet on July 5, 2012 at 5:15pm

Great review Brian. I appreciate your thoroughness.

Comment by Char terBeest Kudla on June 18, 2012 at 7:43pm

I was there and will definitely go back.  Surprisingly love Omaha, the people - art, sculptures, mural throughout city.    Good sales and I hate fun.  The heat didn't bother air in our home or studio.  So it seemed fine. The staff did take good care of us.   Good review!

Comment by Carolina Niebres on June 18, 2012 at 1:31pm

Great report, Brian!

They do a wonderful job of taking care of us artists! This was my second year and was hoping it would build from last year.  I did less than last year.  However, I had ALOT of business cards and postcards taken.  I am also going to be at Aksarben Village for ARTSarben and handed out all the flyers that the organizers could get me.  ... That was one thing that I wished they did was to make sure those of us who they knew were going to be at ARTSarben would have been given a bunch of card/flyers.  People were glad that I had them as reminders. (I know ... first year show but I appreciate that group for what they do for us that I was willing to take a chance. :)  And Sept ... why does everything go on in Sept?)

True, they can't control how many show up.  It was hot for the 3 days!  I love that they inspect people's booths for enough weight and give out sand bags!  More shows should do at least that.

I will go back again.  I saw familiar people from last year and they bought again but I also people who never saw my work before. I know somethings it does take sometime.

Comment by Jacki Bilsborrow on June 17, 2012 at 9:52pm

Thanks for that report, Brian.  I would sure like to add that road trip to my bucket list.  I love that stuff, too.

Comment by Annette Piper on June 17, 2012 at 9:16pm

Comprehensive report Brian, thank you!

Comment by Alison Fox on June 15, 2012 at 12:06pm

Totally agree with you Brian.  I've done that show now for 3 or 4 yrs and am never disappointed.  The thing I have noticed with the Omaha people, is it takes them quite a while to make up their minds on a purchase.  This show, above all others, is one where I get the most 'after' show sales.  In fact last weekend, Sunday nite after the show, I got an email from someone that wanted to buy one of my most expensive windows.  It was 9 PM but she said no problem, she'd come out the hotel I was staying at, bring a check and pick up the piece!  Talk about the show 'aint over till it's over??  I was also a show "ambassador" this yr.  We go thru the booths on Fri morning to make sure they are properly weighted.  Then we have a small meeting on Sun morning to get our suggestions.  I have never done a show that goes as far as they do to make sure the artists are taken care of and the show improves.  

They have started another show in Sept ( I know, bad month) called "Ak-sar-ben" which is going to be funkier more upbeat art and will also run alongside their farmer's market.  As someone that has gone to their farmer's market, it doesn't get much better than that.

Comment by Lori Biwer-Stewart on June 15, 2012 at 10:21am

Hi Brian,

Good report on Omaha! I was there too (my first time) and agree with everything you wrote. I was terribly hot and I was toward the end of the show and the wind was AWFUL! Anyway, nothing we can do about that, I'll take it up with mother nature. I do agree that the show seemed to be run very well. A lot of artist amenities and it seemed that they truely cared about how the show went for me and any improvements that could be made. I had a hard time with parking. A map of the available spots would have been very helpful.

I too had low sales. I think I made a small profit by the end of the weekend, but I was expecting much more from this show. I spoke to quite a few artist that were raving about the amount that they sold. The  booths around me did great! Bags snapping all weekend! I did notice that a lot of what people were buying were maybe more on the "conservative" side of art. All of the art was very well done but maybe was selling better than the 2D pieces?

Anyway, I go to Minneapolis this weekend. I hope I do better there.

Comment by Connie Mettler on June 15, 2012 at 6:13am

Solid information, Brian. Sounds like this group really know how to run a show. Now how do we/they get the buyers out? I think Omaha has a solid economic base and should be able to support better sales.

Your road trip sounded great, one of the pleasures of the business. I love those long drives.

Comment by geri a. wegner on June 13, 2012 at 6:41pm

Great report.  

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