Art Fair Insiders

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

Seafood Fest on River Street, Savannah, GA; 5/1-3, 2015

Two things stand out as good about this trip; I had a good time seeing the town and I didn't have a park bench located inside my booth space like some of the artists. Everything else went downhill and went to Hell in a hand basket. The old adage about not attending any art festival with either a food or fruit in its name applies to this misbegotten show.

Set up allowed plenty of time and it was needed to fight with the wind off the river. Chicago has less problems with the wind. I tied the back two legs of the booth to the metal rail at the edge of the plaza and that took care of it. The city inspectors or the show organizers never showed to do a weight inspection for safety, and the tax people never showed to check  for permits either. Several artists said they would take the chance and not pay the $85 license fee. They were the smart ones. About half the artists had a park bench anchored to the plaza inside their booth space. You had to deal with it as best as you could. For the most part, they would be either on the left or right corner rear of the booth space.

I'll skip the usual set up details and issues as this was a show that I would whole-heartedly recommend no one in their right mind go to. The crowd was cheap as hell, although a $3,200 table was sold and that one has a warning attached. I overheard someone talking in my booth that $195 for a 20x30 canvas print was entirely too much money. I guess they were used to decorating with Velvet Elvis paintings. Another day a couple of guys were disparaging one print that I have, an old one about 12 years old taken with a 3MP Kodak, that shows technical deficiencies if you get your face into it from about 8 inches away. The self-styled experts were sneering that it showed pixelation. I didn't bother to correct the chumps and point out that it was jpeg artifacts from an overly ambitious compression routine from the camera manufacturer. Don't you just love pixel-peepers? Whatever the issues were, it hasn't stopped it from selling in the past and the roughness along a straightline part of the image disappears from about a foot and a half away.

The real issues with this show is that it's for the tourists, not the locals. A water color artist across from me spelled it out very succinctly; the crowds buy cheap, $20 and under, and it has to be local images. Several other photographers were there, about half local, and they were spottable as the ones with incredibly low prices and inexpensive framing. The photographer next to me was appalled at the low prices and accompanying low quality of the work. Of the 7 photographers there, three were local with snap-shot quality work. They must know their market, as they were selling. By Sunday, I had pulled some back-up 5x7 prints I had done a while back, and stuck them on a piece of matt board and in a bag for $15. Those were the only sellers I had.

Buy/Sell was evident. A vendor about 4 booths from me was making money hand over fist with stuffed teddy bears that were imports, and she had little pinafores for them that were also imports. She had a computerized sewing machine in the back of her booth, and would type in someone's name and stitch their name on the pinafore. She had lines of people in her booth on Friday and Saturday. Sunday was so slow, even her booth was empty most of the time. The infamous Hudson River Inlay people were down at the other end, and a $3,200 table was observed leaving on Sunday. One local artist who does the shows commented that numerous complaints about the Teddy bear vendor and the inlay people had been lodged in years past, but nothing is ever done.

I had done research on this show and had expected to see 90-120 artists at this show. I wasn't the only one, as a  couple other artist expressed the same view point. I walked the show and counted 32 artists total. Maybe the other seafood festival in the fall up by Hilton Head, Bluffton Seafood Festival, is getting confused with this one. As it is, this piece of work is not a seafood fest except in name only, and it damn sure isn't much of an arts festival either. There were a bunch of food vendors there, all fried goop, burgers, elephants ears, hot dogs, and some fried cat fish. Why someone would eat from there when there were dozens of restaurants and bars with quality food is beyond me.

I saw the organizer once, and that was early before official load in time when she was pre-occupied with supervising the food vendor load-in (where the real money was) and she sent me back to the parking lot where her 20-year old assistant was. I got the packet from her, and then saw her once when the only time water bottle were passed out, and on Saturday when they snafued the pre-ordering of box lunches for the artists.

I was pretty much underwhelmed with this show. To succeed you will need local scenes that are under $20, anything else under $20, and don't sweat the quality. You can safely ignore the license fee for temporary vending as no one came around checking and the artists who hedged that bet were the winners. The size and quality of the show is misrepresented, and the organizer is drawing a nice paycheck out of this. I feel like I stepped back in time to 25 years ago when I signed up for some shows that were total misrepresentations of what they were.

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Comment by Alan Anderson on May 8, 2015 at 11:09am

While the stuff is slick and pretty, so are some of the things at Big Lots.  I am curious as to what the reps say when challenged.  Might just do that this summer.  They show up at a few shows we do.......

Comment by Joan Tweedell on May 8, 2015 at 10:52am

Anne, the people who sell the work did not make it, they are sales reps, but they go under the name of the original person who started the business years ago, so it seems that the same person is in 3-4 art fairs at the same time, which is quite a trick! They got away with it for years, but smart phones and social media have outed them. I have no problem with them being in shows where that sort of thing is allowed, after all, the stuff IS slick and pretty, but not at fairs where the artist who made the work is supposed to be the one exhibiting it.

Comment by Anne Wooster on May 7, 2015 at 11:38am
Thank you for the enlightenment. This is a topic that fascinates me and drives me crazy. If anyone wants to discuss this that would be great. I have sold at 4 big high end shows and lots of smaller no "buy sell" shows. I have never seen the inlay people at a show that was strict about buy sell. Or a a show that insists the artists be present. But are they getting into the "good/ high" end shows" Is their product buy sell? Did they create the original designs for the inlays? Do the people that sell the inlay work also make the work? There are a lot of blurred lines in this business. That's what makes it interesting and maddening.
Comment by Robert Wallis on May 7, 2015 at 12:14am
@ Anne Wooster; the product from Hudson River Inlays is from a production shop, not an artist creating work. They buy pre-fabbed furniture, cut veneer pieces to cover that furniture on a programmable laser cutter that is quite precise and repeatable as it is a CNC cutting device. These guys are neither artists or gnomes in caves back in the Black Forest, they are repping mass produced artifacts under false pretenses, and that in a nutshell is why they are infamous ;-)
Comment by geri a. wegner on May 6, 2015 at 11:31pm

Hudson River Inlay is a production house that, while claiming to be one  person, manages to show up at multiple shows over one weekend with a guy who seems to have cloned himself so he can be at each of these shows.  How they keep getting into all these shows is one of those sad mysteries of the art fair world.

Comment by Anne Wooster on May 6, 2015 at 6:59pm
Please educate me as to why the Husdson River inlay people are infamous.
Comment by Jill McGannon on May 6, 2015 at 10:20am

The Telfair show is great.  I had one of my best shows ever there last year, but I paint the local landscape, and that helps.  Telfair is expensive, but it's the only show I'd do in Savannah.

Comment by Robert Wallis on May 6, 2015 at 9:36am

There are other worthwhile shows in and around Savannah. The Telfair show is supposed to be a good one as well. This one was just a dog that wouldn't hunt, and a management that is concerned about their bottom line and to hell with the artists.

Comment by Alan Anderson on May 6, 2015 at 9:08am

That really sucks.  Killed my desire to do a Savannah show!  I would argue that the food/fruit analogy is not always accurate.  Example - Gulf Shores Nat'l Shrimp Fest, Fernandina Beach Shrimp Fest, Kumquat Festival.....

Comment by Robert Wallis on May 5, 2015 at 4:19pm

Heh, trust me, it drove me crazy and I lost beaucoup bucks doing it. I didn't unload on this show nearly as much as I could have. There were a few pithy comments made by some of the other artists that don't bear repeating, but hit the nail on the head. I did like the story told about a photographer last year who scoped out the show a year before that and came with greeting cards and small prints of every landmark building and square in town, all under the magic mark of $20 and made a killing. He didn't return this year though.

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