Art Fair Insiders

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

Next Podcast: Judges, Jurying and Awards at Art Festivals

Tuesday, August 30, 5 pm ET

Congratulations, you are ready to go at one of "the biggies." Now the tension builds as the judges approach your booth. Will you win an award? Will you be re-invited (the biggest award of all)? Building continuity at one of the top shows is one of the secrets of success in the art fair business.

  • We discuss how judges are chosen for the application jury and if those same jurors are the "street jury." 
  • Are the identities of the judges published in advance?
  • What directions are these street jurors given in choosing the winners?
  • Do they jury secretly? Do they introduce themselves to the artists?
  • What happens when the weather or crowds interferes with the judges viewing?
  • Should a show rotate the award winners from one year to the next?

Our guests will be Sharon McAllister, Executive Director of ArtFest Fort Myers in Florida, Rick Bryant from the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts in State College and Les Slesnick an art fair industry advocate and former art fair exhibitor.

Click here to listen live:

Do you have questions on this topic? Please put them in the comments below. 

Views: 830

Comment by Barrie Lynn Bryant on August 23, 2016 at 9:30pm

I never did well when Les was a judge despite having a 70% award success rate in shows. I'd like to understand his system and the system he has other judges use when he's the judge wrangler. I never won an award at a show when he had anything to do with the judging. But I'll probably never be in his court again anyway since we can't return to Florida and will only be doing a very limited number of outdoor art fairs now.

Comment by Connie Mettler on August 24, 2016 at 12:01pm

Les' participation is as a proponent of an objective street jurying system that helps shows develop criteria for awards. I have used this system both as a juror and for a show I used to run. It was a great improvement over a less structured system we had used and we got no negative feedback from the artists. They felt they had all been treated fairly and been "seen" by the judges.

With this podcast I hope to set up guidelines that will be helpful to shows of all sizes that will insure a more equitable jurying system. Admittedly no one will always agree but some standardization does insure more fairness especially at the smaller shows. 

Comment by Barrie Lynn Bryant on August 27, 2016 at 10:06am

I have felt that I hadn't been seen only twice in my career. No standard rules need to be give a judge about getting to everyone's booth. If a judge doesn't get to a booth, it's the fault of the show. And how a judge selects award winners can't be based upon one system since there's an argument supporting another system that's valid.

I hope you'll post the Les system here so that we can understand the criteria. Just what do those judges consider and how do they score it?

Some shows have judges choose an artwork or two and we take them to a central location for final judging. That's when it really gets down to a work of art rather than a booth full and a booth, too. So you can't expect every show to adhere to one system of judging, no matter the size. There's more than one way to proceed and consider.

A show selects a judge to do the task of judging. Do shows not think the judges they are selecting have it in them to select winners appropriately?

We got info from Peoria Art Fair the other day about the criteria for the judging. It states that the judges' selections are based on the following merits:

  • The work reflects excellence
  • The work is well conceived
  • The work is expertly executed without technical faults
  • The work is original in concept
  • The booth is professional in appearance

With two qualified arts professionals (they're artists this year and I'm glad for that), what else do they need to know about the process?

Comment by Connie Mettler on August 29, 2016 at 4:00pm

The issue I've run into is not so much whether a judge does a good job of choosing the winners, but artists feeling slighted that they were not "seen", that some committee member just came up and stuck a sticker on their sign, that the judge didn't even come into the booth. Or, that perhaps the judges were instructed not to give an award to a person who won it last year, or instructions to "rotate" the winners from year to year. 

Heck, Barrie, your work is so outstanding and unusual the judges surely remember it just about every time. Exhibitors like you are not the norm at the smaller shows. 

Yes, there is more than one way to proceed. But we've been judged at a show multiple times ( big ones) where you can tell it is the end of the day and the judges are just rushing to complete their task. What I personally like about this system is the time component allowing each artist to have fair access to the judges attention. We'll be talking about that tomorrow.

Comment by Larry Berman on August 29, 2016 at 4:09pm

I've heard from some large shows that judges walk the show anonymously before the regular judging starts. That's why at some shows the judges don't spend as much time in the booth as the artists think they should.

Another issue is that some artists overcrowd their booth which makes it difficult for judges to evaluate their work in the short period of time they get.

And an issue that is in the favor of the artists. I dislike watching judges go through a bin of unframed work because in some cases, they are evaluating based on seeing older work. I feel judges should judge by the work hanging on the walls.

Larry Berman

Comment by Connie Mettler on August 29, 2016 at 4:14pm

Thanks for that input, Larry. I agree with you. I hope to address this, the overcrowding or the friend who stops by to speak to the judge, etc., as part of this podcast. There are artists who are there to sell their work yet winning an award is important to their income, let alone the importance of being reinvited so they can build rapport with the audience.

This is part of the email I got that made me think about doing this podcast:

There are, however a few shows where the judging for awards is anonymous, the judges do not identify themselves, you do not see them come into the booth. They may even be the same judges year to year.   And there are some shows where it is likely that past award winners are excluded from consideration for award money when they come back the next year, but without being told.

Comment by Barrie Lynn Bryant on August 29, 2016 at 8:16pm

Thanks for both of your comments. I have even known some judges to start their work early by looking at websites. How's that for secretive? One time a judge came back and apologize for us not winning, because the other judge was adamant against us winning. Then I discovered one of the big winners was a person who did very few new originals each year, and that the booth walls are covered in framed limited edition prints. Our booth is usually 100 percent original art in hand crafted frames. So there's some goofiness I bear as well. No problem. The judges decisions are final. I don't complain.

I just cannot imagine a show telling judges not to award an artist anything because they won last year. Maybe that happened to me once? I dunno? I sure felt like something was wrong at one Indiana show. Just once career. I feel I've been refused once for some other reason, though. No problem. It's just the way it goes, even for me. When I don't win, I consider the judging final and go on my way. No problem. But that issue of telling a judge not to award something to a winner last year is an isolated case at best. That just can't happen very many places at all. No two committees are that sinister. They may do something else that's underhanded, but probably not that. And how many shows are there out there with awards? Many many many many.

My work isn't outstanding according to Les and his cadre of judges, otherwise I would have won an award in at least one of the four times I was in his court. A person with 70% award rate doesn't get left out like that. There's some reason his criteria doesn't award me. And it's not the work. It's something else. What is it? I probably know the answer, but I will leave it alone. I'm quite successful elsewhere.

Please post the Les system here so we can read the criteria. Is that too much to ask?

Again, why does a show need to give judges any criteria at all? Don't they think the people they are hiring are qualified to do the task? What in the world, y'all? Can't shows ask judges to enter a booth, speak to the artist, and then proceed with their task? What else needs to be defined for them? Seems they would already be able to be that personable, anyway. But I know some are not.

Comment by Wallace Fuller on August 30, 2016 at 3:00pm

Over the years we have noticed that some  judges will not even go into or look at a booth that is filled with people, as if the work can not be any good because the people like it.

We prefer that the judging for awards be done were the Artist submits a piece of artwork that they are proud of for judging.

If judging for a yes or no vote as to returning to the show or for the overall caliber of work then do it from the street.

Our two favorite stories about judging are:

1. Having the judge at a major FL show where Lu won an award, coming up to her and asking who she was, as if she was not one of the normal Fl. award winners.

2. having a judge pick a piece of art work that LU did not like and we took another piece that she really liked and she ended up winning one of the major awards again a Fl. Show.

Comment by Connie Mettler on August 30, 2016 at 4:26pm

LOL, Wally -- your #2 -- we did the same thing at a show in Florida that will remain nameless. We thought the judge was just burned out and had a quota to fill and picked out a nice piece, but we had a better idea of what would win a prize, that is what we submitted. A friend was outraged that we did that but someone else said they had done that also. (folks these are insider secrets, don't tell anyone)

Comment by Connie Mettler on August 30, 2016 at 4:29pm

This is not criteria we're talking about here -- we're not even talking about quality of work in booth. We are talking about a system giving everyone a fair shake, getting each judge into the booth and introducing themselves. None of those invisible fly-bys.

I hope to address the issue of booths too full of people, distractions by friends, etc. 


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