Art Fair Insiders

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

I just got my annual rejection from Cherry Creek and it got me thinking.  There is a problem in our business that effects many artists like me.

The last time I did Cherry Creek was 1992 (its second year).   I was 11 years into my art fair career and still showing tried and true photography,  That year I showed an ironic new image, that combined with a provocative title, caused people to see themselves in a whole new way.  My sales went up dramatically and I had my best show to that date at Cherry Creek.  

After that, I began to look for more image/title combinations and soon ironic turned to comic.  I became successful beyond my wildest dreams topping out a few years ago at Main Street; Fort Worth with a $21,000 show.  People come in my booth and chuckle constantly, then, before leaving, they say, "I love your sense of humor".

Well, 34 years into my career, my body of work has progressed to the point where what I do is very popular with patrons of art shows, but because of the restrictions of 10 second viewing by jurors I can't include my titles and even if I could they wouldn't have time to "get the joke".  A glance won't do it!  So, of late I'm getting more rejections because I'm jurying with my new work assuming shows want variety and diversity.  Wrong!  It seems to me, that shows want the same-old-same-old work every year.

The problem with the whole system, is that the entire jury process is disconnected from the buying of art.  Shows choose their jurors from the same pool every year.  The jurors are all from the pool of people who are "suppose" to know art.  NOT people who consume art.  So, the same artists (many great ones) populate the best shows year after year.  However, the public is denied the experience of seeing a greater variety of artists (many great ones).  

We all know the serious type of people shows recruit to their juries (e.g. Museum directors, gallery owners, artists and academicians).  I don't believe they take humor seriously!  

If you have four eye-popping images that take no thought to process you're in.  It's the same with judges at shows, they glance at a wall of work but consume none of it.

I know the people of Denver would love my work, but they will probably never get the chance to see it. 

An artist friend of mine thinks the best shows are commission shows, because the public votes with its dollars and the top sellers are invited back.

Something to think about.

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Comment by Irina Busa on February 4, 2015 at 9:59am

There are several inherent problems with the jury process. A very large one is as mentioned is that The problem with the whole system, is that the entire jury process is disconnected from the buying of art“.

I asked my husband, Jack Busa, the director for ARTNADO 2015, for his opinion. His response was: “There are 3 types of juries. The first, employed by very high end art shows is the panel of experts used for vetting submissions, their criteria is authenticity and provenance. The next, and the one most artists are familiar with is the panel jury which reviews their submissions. The discussion has already exposed some of those problems, the least of which is having a person who judges artist who work in the same media as themselves. The last, and the only judge an artist is really concerned about is the patron or buying public.

The only way art shows can serve the artist is to understand there are 2 sides to the equation, what the artist wants in a show and what does the patrons want. This is an active part of our juring process and necessary to create a robust show to draw people who appreciate art. I do not want to burden the thread with any more concepts and methodologies however if anyone wants to discuss this or any other issues just e-mail me at or call me at 561-557-8741. Best of luck with your season”

Comment by Robert Briscoe on February 2, 2015 at 10:47am

Hi Connie, I was surprised as well.  

Comment by Connie Mettler on February 2, 2015 at 10:19am

Great idea, Wendy.

Bob, I'm really surprised that that happened at Winter Park. I remember the first time we did that show that it was in the rules you couldn't hang more than 16 (or maybe 14 or 18) frames on your walls and there was a committee who came around and enforced that rule. I'm wondering if this rule is gone now.

We were pretty panicked about how we could possibly show such a slim amount of work and still make money. We needn't have worried. They knew best.

Comment by Wendy Merkle on January 31, 2015 at 10:45pm

R.C.  I read this post a few days back and it has been bothering me.  I haven't read all your comments so if someone else gave this suggestion, I apologize for repeating.  While you can't change the rejection, if the presentation you are giving the jury is not doing it because your titles can not show at the same time as the image itself... why not alter the image in a way, that can happen.  For example a watermark at the bottom with the title?  These are digitally altered so you can do it in Photoshop.  If your argument is that it isn't in the rules.... So what?  What you ARE doing isn't working and sometimes you have to bend a rule to get your point across.  

Comment by Karen Holtkamp on January 31, 2015 at 6:28pm

Yeah, bad booths are irritating as hell for everyone except the booth owner, apparently.  What I can't figure out is, if they're smart enough to come up with a passable booth design for the app photo, why would they want to use a train wreck of a booth for the actual show?  I don't get it.

Don't know what was going on in the mind of the show organizer with that jeweler at Winter Park.  Very possible they considered a questionable booth to be better than a hole where a booth should be.  There's only so much you can do at the last minute like that.

What do you think was in the big van, since it certainly wasn't product or booth furniture?  Maybe they were living in it?  Maybe it was a work room?  Maybe there was a bar with strobe lights?  Dead bodies wrapped in rugs on the way to the city dump?  Endless possibilities.

Your cube van story reminds me of a time I did a day-before set up for an outdoor show in a park.  When I arrived the next morning on show day a glass blower had driven up his mobile hot shop and parked it next to my booth.  This rig-turned-booth (?) was honest to god the size of a semi.  And the nose of the truck was looking into the side of my tent, about 2 feet away.  Imagine somebody drove a truck into your living room...that's what it felt like.  It was HUGE!  Needless to say, I unfurled my sidewall and it stayed down for the rest of the show.  You just never know.

I can laugh about it now.  I need to develop the ability to laugh about it at the time.

Comment by Robert Briscoe on January 31, 2015 at 4:13pm

Hi Karen I was at Winter Park one year and this huge cube van pulled in to set up next to me.  It turned out to be a jeweler of all things in a cube van???

I watched them set up an 8' tall three sided booth that had about 400 white cards with ear rings attached to a black covered cloth background.  It was neatly arranged and I just looked at it wondering how this got past the jury when a booth image was required.  The show never questioned them about this set up.  I was very disappointed because the booth image was quite emphatically mentioned as an important aspect to the scoring.

Comment by Karen Holtkamp on January 31, 2015 at 2:41pm

"I wonder sometimes how a certain booth got in with the way it looks at the show?"

They get into the show with a crappy booth because when they applied they used a much better  (staged?) booth shot.  Every year I get a few new people who put up terrible booths and it always pisses me off.

When that happens, I do a one-and-one foul shot: first, I make some suggestions before the show opens about how they could merchandise their work to be more eye-catching, polished, etc.  If they accept those suggestions well, they get step two -- a chance of getting in the following year.  However if they apply I double-check about the accuracy of their booth shot before passing their app on to the jury.

If they do not accept the suggestions well, either in attitude or by making no/few changes, they don't get invited to apply the following year and if they do apply they usually don't make the cut.  There are just too many good artists with professional booths, so why take another chance on those who don't want to cooperate?

Comment by Robert Briscoe on January 31, 2015 at 2:18pm

Hi Barry, thanks for your comments.  As to the May event, I am selling my home and studio to a young potter who will take over my role in the Studio Tour, so it can continue to grow into a new generation.  I will be a guest of his and who else he choses in the future will be his decision.  It has been a great 23 year run and continues to grow and get better with age. I have always had potters from the real world as guests, and I hope the new guy will as well.

Comment by Barry Bernstein on January 31, 2015 at 11:56am

So, one show out of the thousands uses the booth shot correctly. Even some of the better shows that I do has some questionable booths. I wonder sometimes how a certain booth got in with the way it looks at the show? A lot of people, the majority, stage their booth shot. I think the only eligible booth shot should be one taken at a show, not a set up one.

Bob, as long as I have your attention, I would like to do your Clay extravaganza in May. I realize you have a lot of people on your list, so, I'm not offended by not being invited. I just think it is a very cool event that I would like to be part of. 

Comment by Robert Briscoe on January 31, 2015 at 2:45am

Thank you for that.  I think this is very appropriate use of the booth image - as a proof of the exhibitor's understanding of professional exhibiting standards. As a device to judge artistic merit it fails.

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