Art Fair Insiders

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

RIP: ART at the Local Art Fair......or are ARTISTS A DYING BREED?

This is no hoax, exaggeration, fit of hysterics, or roll of doldrums.


"Dan and I are thinking of quitting the Art Fair Biz."


No, some might exclaim!

But is this the same woman who was so creatively and emotionaly transcendent after Amdur's Promenade of Arts?

"Yup", I answer.

(I can ask and answer my own questions. Pretty advanced for my age, hey?)

Well, what happened this past month, you wonder?

"It all hit."

What? Tornadoes, tsunamis, bankruptcy, the plague, creative block, depression, menopause.......well, tell us?

"Every single thing that this blog has warned me about.............and MORE."

Come on. You're just feeling sorry for yourserlf. What actually happened?

"I foresaw the death of Art."

Linda, you are so melodramatic....who can take you seriously anymore.

"Seriously. I started a blog once before about Art Fairs being Dinosaurs and no one listened. Now I have more proof. And I don't want proof.....I WANT Art Fairs to be the Big Daddies that they used to be. "

Is this the start of a whine?

"Nope. Just what I saw and heard. Honest!"

Okay. Dish.

"Here are some sad but true things that happened this month:

1) I paid out $1,200 in fees, travel and food and made (drum roll) $979. We were rained out of two of the four days of Shows. At one Fair the directors ran around hysterically shouting "There are 75 mph winds headed this way folks. You're on your own. I advise everyone to leave." We scrabbled to load the custom uphostered jewelry cases, the jewelry, curtains, rug, etc. home. (Oh, BTW, the carts that they said would be available to help us load/unload MAGICALLY disappeared right before the storm. A fellow artist who drove down with two tents and a lot of creativity lost everything. And ONE hour later the sun came out!!!

2) Both Art Fairs  were jury entry only and had had excellent reputations. Last year we met wonderful artists who became our friends and we sold well there. This year both fairs were BUY/ SELL.  Two booths down from me a man opened boxes from India with whatever DOG you wanted to wear on your T-shirt and rawhide bones to match.

Across fom him, was an Hispanic couple selling a store of cheap earrings, bracelets and clothes along with purses, purses, purses. The couple to our right were busy all day selling combs that we watched him take out of shipping boxes when she ran low after fixing girls hair in tricky ways all day.

The couple on the left were already selling Haloween decorations which he admitted they buy at a local store and go all over the state to sell...every day of the week.


As I walked up and down the path of both these country Art Fairs I knew I would never be back. 


Art was gone from Watertown's Riverfest and Lake Geneva's Venetian Festival. I do not see it returning in this economy. RIP

3) I was talking to a wealthy friend of mine about getting out of this business. He said he remembers that five years ago everyone went to buy some art at The Lakefront Festival of the Arts in Milwaukee. Now he can't remember the last time he heard any of his friends talking about their latest aquistion. "Funny." he said.

4) I'm exhausted trying to sell to people who want value for the least they can pay. I am not a flea market. I am not the local ATM machine.


There were so many empty booth spaces at both events.


I don't think I'm alone in contemplating quitting. I think many artists already have quit.






Views: 5387

Comment by Jacqueline Webster on August 28, 2011 at 5:14pm

This is my second year doing shows, and I'm going to be scaling back next year.  I made more $$ last year, and I didn't come anywhere near expenses this year or last.  As for flea markets, I am literally taking a stack of reproductions out to the local flea market next weekend to sell alongside my used toaster oven (at a serious discount) because I need cash.  I have my last show of the season the following weekend, and thank god it's local for me.  I have purposefully not scheduled anything else through the end of the year to keep expenses down.  I'm planning on building a new body of work in my down time, but I won't be travelling far and wide next year.  I'm going to be doing a few shows, continuing to teach at a local adult ed. program, and hopefully adding in a couple of other income streams.

As for the death of art, I don't think it's happening.  I think art is changing.  Fewer people worship at the altar of art with a big "A" and are embracing art with a little "a" by either making it themselves or sending it out to Costco to be printed on canvas for 30 bucks.  The culture of cheap is mostly to blame in my mind.  My depression-era grandparents used to save up for things they wanted and always purchased the best quality they could afford.  Now it seems like people either want mass consumption without spending any $$, or they're so afraid to crack open their wallets they won't even go to a festival where temptations surround them.

While the buy/sell folks make my blood boil, they are making money and make no excuses for why they're there at the shows.  Unfortunately, I doubt there would be more spending in the artists' booths if they miraculously disappeared.  The people who shop in b/s booths tend to not be trendsetters, which is why buying something that looks like it came from the mall is appealing to them.  They're not my type of customer and I doubt they're yours either.

I'm not ready to quit yet, but I'm not willing to bet the farm anymore.  I may have to cobble a bunch of stuff together to make it work, but I will make it work.

Comment by geri a. wegner on August 28, 2011 at 7:51pm

Nobody said this is an easy business and today's economy is certainly challenging but despite all that, 99% of the artists I talk to still have that inner light and conviction in what they are doing to keep on doing what they love the most.  I rarely see that in the corporate world.  

I looked at your list of shows on your website and I am not at all surprised that there was a lot of b/s at these shows.  Venetian Festivals and Riverfests  don't have art as their primary focus.  Sure they may be juried but that only means the cream of the crap may be getting in, it doesn't necessarily preclude b/s.  Also, they aren't concerned with artistic integrity like LFOA or CGAF would be.  They aren't concerned with rankings in Sunshine Artist.  Most of the people going to those festivals are going for the totality of the event, not just the art.

I was at a booth this weekend of a couple who saw that their art wasn't selling.  They created a whole new line of work and their booth was full most of Saturday.  I saw several purchases within the first hour of the show opening.  Their work is very unique and very well made.  

It's time to put those big girl panties on and  do what you think you do best,  If you think it is art, then go out there and research the shows, make sure you are finding the best for your work and be as original as possible so people will 'have' to buy your work.   

Those with that inner light burning are finding ways to succeed.

Comment by karen cooper on August 28, 2011 at 8:02pm

Okay, at the risk of stepping on toes, I am going to jump in on this conversation.  I am going to agree with Linda somewhat, in that something needs to end.  Namely, a few no-name art shows.  Linda mentioned so many empty spaces at the two events.  That needs to happen lots with a capitol L.  Some of these crazy people who think they too can produce an art show need to discover otherwise.

And then I have to say the r-word.  Reproductions.  When there are too many art shows and too many artists, and not enough customers then why are we flooding the market with copies?  Aren't we just reinforcing that "culture of cheap" that Jacqueline wrote about?

I wrote three articles on the subject published at Fine Art Views.  (Reproduction Rant #1, #2, and #3!)Commentors called me enough nasty names that I am kinda worried about airing the thought here, but I am fairly certain it needs to be heard.  Aside from messing with the market, I think it also messes with the artist--the income is NOT good enough, and it distracts the artist-focus from the new body of work that should be happening.  When as artists we are constantly trying to think of something cheap to sell at the next art fair, what are the odds of creating real art?

Comment by Larry Berman on August 28, 2011 at 9:02pm
I agree and disagree with some of what has been said. If it weren't for reproductions (in all mediums), a great many artists on the circuit wouldn't be on the circuit and be out there looking for other ways to earn a living. The real issue with reproductions is that there are only about a half dozen shows in the country that don't allow reproductions and can support only originals.

I think that a lot of these smaller non juried shows serve a purpose. There are many different levels of "artists" doing shows just as there are many different levels of shows. Linda's problem is that she's applying to what some of us consider "filler" shows. They fill in holes in our schedules and we take our chances with no expectations. But what some artists consider filler shows, another level of artists consider bread and butter shows because that's about the highest they'll get on the show food chain but they've learned how to create and market for that show and most often do better than some of us do even at the top shows.

It's about learning from the decisions we make and experiences we have. There was a time that I did 40 shows a year but found out when I cut back to about 25 that I was making the same amount of money with a lot more free time. Along the same line, as a photographer I used to print everything in four different sizes. By cutting back to two sizes, my sales increased while my expenses dropped.

Back on point. I think Linda will do fine once she has a couple of decent shows on weekends with good weather. It only takes one really good show to change the way we think and see the possibilities. And I think a lot of artists can probably relate to this but I used to work harder on creating inventory after a poor show than after a good show.

Larry Berman

Comment by geri a. wegner on August 28, 2011 at 9:22pm

Karen, you are so correct that there are too many shows.  In my neck of the woods, I can go to one or more shows every weekend starting Memorial day through the end of September.   I see some of the same artists more often than my relatives (which is actually a good thing, in some cases  ;-)  ).

I think repros are important for two reasons--it gives "the masses" something affordable while getting them interested in art.  Hopefully in the future these people will want and can afford to buy originals.  And the second reason is what Larry mentioned, it is keeping a lot of artists out on the circuit making enough money to keep doing what they love.  

Comment by Alison Thomas on August 29, 2011 at 6:07am
I have found only one constant in art shows in my years of doing them. It's a roller coaster. Good things are followed by bad things which are followed by good things. Hang on for the upswing Linda, it's coming.
Comment by Jacqueline Webster on August 29, 2011 at 11:45am
I'm going to say something that's being hinted at but not said plainly - festivals are not for everyone or for every type of art.  As Diana said, maybe a gallery or two would help.  Maybe a different mix of things that include art festivals will be right.  I'm right there with you, Linda.  Shows are not bringing home the bacon for me or you from the sound of it.  And while we don't make art for money, we do go out and try to sell our work at festivals for money.  You have to make the decision that's right for you, and that's a hard thing to do sometimes.  It's tiring to constantly have to come up with yet another creative solution to yet another problem.  Being told to hang in there when you feel like you have nothing to hold on to doesn't always work.  But what you can do is do what you feel is right.  There is no shame in quitting or scaling back if that's what you feel you need to do.  Just remember that quitting now doesn't mean that you're closing the door forever.  You can try again if you want to.  Just give yourself time to think about what you really want before you move forward.  Sometimes pulling back and giving yourself time to digest everything you've taken will provide the answer.  And remember that you answer to no one but yourself.
Comment by Linda A Shields on August 29, 2011 at 1:47pm

Well, I'm in tears.

So much heartfelt, logical, experienced and empathethic thoughts and advice to think about.....not that I haven't worked myself into an ulcer already.

First off, money is not my driving problem overall. Right now I have my son's wedding and we bought that new car for the business to pull a small van (instead of renting a U-haul every weekend-a killer financially!!) I have to make ends get close. I was rejected by every zapp show because I did not know you should not be standing in the middle of your booth under your logo. Plus, we did not have professional photos of my work. Also I was lazy. I was accepted into every show my first year....well, send in the same photos. Bad me. My work had evolved. I had been certified in PMC and lampworking in that year and had totally changed my art from a "stringer" to a true artist.  If Amy Amdur had not walked into my booth and accepted me for her Art Fairs (which my list does not reflect) I never would have had Promenade of Arts.

At that show I saw for the first time, a glimpse of the REAL ART SHOW and WORLD. If I am repeating myself, I'm sorry. A man bought two necklace/earring sets telling his wife thank heavens there were still "Artists" who made unique, quality pieces. She was so excited to wear her set to a dinner of friends that night. Two sets off their friends came to buy on Sunday. Another couple were celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary. They sat outside my tent until the show ended and then asked if they could speak to me. They wanted to assure me that they would "always cherish what you created."

Do I want to quit?

NO.......Hell, NO!


But my husband and I are bone tired with what we see. High fees at supposed juried events.....and NO RULES followed.





I'm going to submit some pictures. Tell me if I have the stuff? 

Comment by Lexi Erickson on August 29, 2011 at 1:49pm
Jacquelyn--I so totally agree.  Yes, I used to do shows where I took in big bucks, back in the 90's.  Then I moved out of the country for 3 years because of hubby's job, then moved back to an area of the country where my pieces really weren't appreciated (yes there is "regionalism" in jewelry--especially my type of jewelry), and I have had so-so luck at 5 or 6 shows since then.  So I decided to up my game, do things that I like, not worry about making something to sell.  I make pieces that appeal to me.  If someone else likes my jewelry, and the stones speak to them and they get the same emotional response to the piece that I do, man, that's great.  If no, OK, I've got some really cool pieces of jewelry..  I've discovered that making a piece only for an economic reward for the piece takes the fun away for me.  My pieces no longer have the spirit, or my soul in them, they no longer smile.  With this philosophy, I just had the best show I've had in 10 years.  I'm rejuvenated.  But I also upped my game.  I upped my prices, but I also upped the quality, design and stones in my pieces.  Sure it was a gamble, but I learned that people really appreciate the improvements.  Maybe you have saturated your market.  I do 3 shows a year, and people are eagerly awaiting to see my pieces.  My last show almost sold out, I have 12 pieces left and my next show is in 14 days.  So, why am I reading and responding?  I  gotta go make some new pieces!  But don't give up hope.  Ask yourself some tough questions, like "Why would someone buy my art instead of someone else's?"  That's a toughy.  Take a year off and just think and grow. Ask yourself some serious questions about what you REALLY want.  Ramp up your work, look for top notch shows, maybe a new marketplace.  Everything will sell, you just have to find the right niche.   Art still is alive and well. Good luck.
Comment by Samuel B. Whitehead on August 29, 2011 at 2:36pm

For those who are considering this to be their last year as an artist/vendor, hear ye the opinions of a first-year artist/vendor.

And this comment is from an artist who has covered expenses only 2 out of 8 tries (all juried shows). 

A painter friend of mine told me (during a particularly dismal show this summer) "Sam, you couldn't have picked a worse year to start".  True enough,  but despite my baptism in bad weather, horrible set-ups, mismanaged shows and indifferent-to-quality crowds, I am impressed by the high standards of the majority of the art/craft and especially the artists themselves, and  I want to continue to grow and learn and be part of this special community.

I'm a newbie, yes (and take these comments for what they're worth), not yet worn down by cynicism or sheer weariness of the veteran artist/vendor,  but please stay with it, if only to take the space that might otherwise be filled by a tube-sock seller.

I am a painter, and it galls me no end to watch buy/sell, art-on-a-stick vendors take business away from proper crafters, but I personally feel a responsibility to keep representin' during this bad stretch.  We are not a dying breed  -a Crying breed, sometimes, but not dying.  Besides, I think you might miss it as much as "it" would miss you.


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