Art Fair Insiders

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

It has been a rough couple of years, and I'm hoping the last few shows are the turning point. What would have have been bad shows a few years ago are now looking good and this was the best I've done since the economy got flushed down the crapper. Not spectacular but not to be sneezed at either. What was good to hear is that everyone around me in my green section of the show was reporting better than expected sales.

After last year's dismal sales and losing money, I decided to scale back the double booth and just go with a single. With the 12 foot wide spaces, there was enough room to scoot the booth over to one side and open up an outside wall. I used that to hang the humor pieces I have that don't match the other work, and used about six running feet of wall space. The crowd was older than usual, without so many of the twenty-somethings that find the GI Joe and Barbie pictures amusing and usually buy these. If anything the crowd seemed to be a bit more conservative, and this could be from the high gate fee the show charges. As a result, I sold 4 of these pieces which isn't much as they are the lowest price point items I have. I'm considering matting these again and bumping the price up to match my other small flip bin work. 

As a nod to Nels, nice alliteration as it were, here's some info about the booth spaces, 12x12 with ample storage space behind the booth. The Blue area has no one behind the booths, and you're under oak trees for nice cool shade. The orchestra and a fountain are at the end and the grounds are wide between the booth fronts. The only problem is the frontage is small and only allows about 4-5 vehicles at a time to load out. They're usually the last ones out. In the Green area it's a bit more tightly packed but there's typically about 5 feet of space for you. I'm at the end with a bush behind me, so I can spread out a bit and I put up an awning using my rear tarp extended out all the way for some decent shade. Some folks will stand a couple of Propanels up a few feet behind the booth and gain some extra display space. If memory serves correctly, one of the other areas is on asphalt and gets hot as the devil id the sun is out. This time it was and I saw a few customers walking around looking like someone threw a bucket of water at them. Several fair goers commented on my fans as being welcome as some booths were so hot they couldn't stay in them long. A few even noted that I had the fans blowing over the flip bins and thought that was rather clever ;-)

The artists in the Yellow section were expected to be open on Friday evening for the gala dog and pony preview show. I didn't care to walk that far to find out if that resulted in any sales, and I'm glad I wasn't over there.

The volunteers were out in force to help you unload and they either schlepped your boxes and crates over to the spot or they used a golf cart or tractor to haul stuff. Three guys showed up and my van was unloaded and piled up at my spot in about ten minutes. Likewise at tear down, they were there getting people moved out. All you had to do was ask, and they were particularly helping the ladies and the older artists. This is a show I've watched evolve to becoming more efficient and helpful as the years have gone by. I've done this show every year except once since 1988, and the early years were frequent nightmares with set up on Saturday mornings, and now it's on Fridays. This year it was moved back to start at 10:00AM for set-up and the gates were closed at 4:00. The only part that's a PITA is the time to go get the vehicle and get back in. They keep track of who is in and only allow a certain number in at a time. I keep tearing down and send my wife after the van, which takes about 45 minutes to an hour to get back. Once the boxes are packed, she leaves and I continue taking down panels, dropping the tent, folding tarps, and so on. By the time I'm about finished, she usually pulls in. The volunteers are there to help load up also and they try to hurry and get everyone out by dark. The directions used to be cart everything to the road and go get the vehicle, but that's moving everything twice, and now it's stack it up at your spot, bring in the vehicle, and the volunteers help you get it to your van and they do the heavy lifting. 

I'll keep applying for this one as long as I can, and although the St. Louis show on the same weekend may be more lucrative sales-wise, it also carries much higher expenses for me as I'm local and here it's a cross town drive for me on interstate almost all the way. I sleep in my own bed, and I use a couple gallons of gas to get to the show. Yep, I'll do it again ;-)

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Comment by Stephanie Nadolski on September 12, 2013 at 2:54pm

I used to do Penrod and it has really improved with the Friday night set up - but haven't done it for a few years as it is a long drive from Annapolis MD for a one day show but it is Indianapolis'  Finest Day and a well supported event by buyers. Your review makes me think I may have to bite the bullet and apply again. The committee was most helpful after I had my hip replacement surgery, giving me a space near the road in the section where the ballet stage is set up. I was able to unload right in front of my space - next to Bonnie Blandford last time I was there. I don't remember the color of that section - red?  My husband would go get the car and trailer at the end of teardown and I would sit in a chair with a book and a bottle of wine as it easily took over an hour for him to gain access. Glad to hear they are still using the carts to help haul stuff and especially older artists and women - since I am now both.

Comment by Robert Wallis on September 12, 2013 at 11:45am

Connie, the old days before the Friday set up were terrible. I remember one FUBARed Saturday morning where they weren't letting people in very fast, and the show opened with only part of the booths up and set up/ I recall being about an hour late before everything was hung. Another time, we had a bad water pump on the car and the line to get in was over a quarter mile long, and we had to keep shutting the car off before the engine overheated. Truly stressful times =8-O

The Friday set up makes life tremendously easier, and the show now opens at 9:00 and closes at 5:00 so there's a decent chance of getting out by dark. One of the years I was in the Blue section, it was all the way down by the fountain so there was a long haul to schlepp everything across the grass. That was when they closed later, and by that time it was pitch black out. I had my boat battery and inverter, so I hooked up a trouble light and clamped it to the front of the cart for a headlight so I could see to get out. By the time the car was loaded it was around 10:00 and I was beat. I had a homemade booth, so this must have been around 1988-1990, and i decided the booth could damn well stay till the next day. The commercial tents were still up, so I figured mine would be in good company :-) I went home and got back up the next morning around 10:00 and went back in. It was still there, as though someone was going to disassemble that monstrosity of a "gazebo". The rules are that you don't drive on the grass, but I didn't feel like hauling all that wood the length of a football field so I drove down to the booth , took it apart, loaded up, and got out of there.

Having memories like that makes you more appreciative of the improved organization and helpfulness they developed as time has gone by :-)

Comment by Connie Mettler on September 12, 2013 at 10:01am

Nice review, Robert. We did this show once back in the days when you hustled on Saturday morning and hauled out again at the end. Really painful and great to hear they are better organized and sounds like they are pretty efficient. Good for them. 

The high gate fee really qualifies the attendees and the high class entertainment adds to that. If you want to come and drink and hang out this is not your show. If you want the symphony and ballet and good food you expect good work in the booths also and are ready to put it together as part of the package. It is good that this is a one day show. It keeps everyone on the move, enjoying the ambiance and buying now "because I'll be gone tomorrow."

Comment by Robert Wallis on September 12, 2013 at 9:08am
They've had the entertainment set up for years, with the symphony and choirs at the Blue area, jazz performance at the garden next to the Green area, and other locations. I've not heard anyone way that the entertainment detracted. When I was in the Blue section years ago, crowds would gather for the symphony ands my would linger in the booth browsing. I don't feel it detracts like it does at some shows.
Comment by Roxanne Coffelt on September 11, 2013 at 7:47pm

Thanks for sharing this.  I'm in Nothern Indiana, so I think I will put it on my list of possibilities.

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