Art Fair Insiders

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

ST. JAMES COURT ART SHOW--THE WHOLE UNVARNISHED TRUTH--AS I SEE IT

Well, this show gets a lot of press.  

I read a great post on Facebook that had about 30 plus comments.  Some good, mostly bad.

Facebook is thin, you never get a lot of meat.

I am gonna give ya the whole feast, and dessert too.

No Papys, since a 23-year old Papys is now getting $85 per shot in Louisville restaurants. Pleez!

FIRST A LITTLE HISTORY

I first met my wife, Ellen Marshall, at this show more than 18 years ago.  So I have a romantic angle to it.  Hard to let go of the show.

May have too.  Read on.

At one time, every important artist out there did St. James, hereafter referred to as SJ.

The crowds came and bought, impressive sales numbers were made in all media.

Sadly, those days are a distant memory for most of us.

I have done the show for 20-plus years.  I am on the court in a great spot.  Next to my wife--very important.  I get fresh kisses by the hour.  We have our backs to the SJ mansions.  Plenty of storage room.  We have electricity  (Most do not).  A neighbor lets us use her bathroom.  She feeds us soup, sandwiches, even beer.  We get in very easily and setup.  Teardown is a piece of cake too.

So what's not to like about the show.

It always comes down to dollars spent versus dollars earned.

SJ gets a big "F" in my book.  The dinero is longer there, for what it costs.

In the old days this was a solid show, $4K plus every year.

Sadly, that does not happen any more.

OK.  A LITTLE MEAT ABOUT THE SHOW

SJ Court is only one of five art fairs run at this location.  Altogether, you have more than 750 exhibitors.  Just like Ann Arbor.

The Court show has exhibitors on both sides of the two streets on the mall.  The mall has two rows of artists.  Newbies get put here.  They do not always get the whole crowd.  It is a rite of passage.  You get on the mall, at least one time, and then hope for a better spot after that.  I was on the mall, once.

There are artists on a show called Belgravia Court.  This is a narrow strip of artists, tightly packed in back to back.  Just off the court on the south end.  It is considered a prime show to be in, along with the court.

One street over, to the east of the court is Fourth Street.  This show has artists packed in on both curbs of the street.

Then, another street to the east is Third Street.  There are two shows, one north, one south that have artists setup off the street facing the sidewalk.

Then there is an old church along Magnolia, which has their show with artists around its parking lot.  Then, there is  a scab show under an old filling station on Hill Street.

Lots of competition for limited spending by the attendees.

In the Court show there are lots of corner booths, double booths.  Most artists have ample storage behind.  Many have some room to hang on at least one side wall.

LETS NOW LOOK AT THE SALES SIDE OF THIS SHOW

First, I am a photographer.  I have very colorful images, many are tropical, many are humorous, some are hand-colored.  After 40 years in the biz, I have many friends in all media who do this show.  I  walk all the shows every morn.  I get reports from folks.  What is hot, what is not.

Also, when people come into my booth, I greet them, tell them about the work.  My nose is not in a book or on a IPhone.

I am a closer.  Give me an opening, and I will make sure you go home with one of my pieces, been doing 36 shows per year, for 40 years--and, making a living at it.

For most of us, this show is sliding into oblivion.

Yeah, about 10 per cent of all exhibitors make some serious money there.  The rest of us are struggling to make $3K now.  This used to be a $5K show for years, and then I saw it starting to slide ever downward the last five years.

A LITTLE MATH LESSON ABOUT SALES.

Lets just say you did $3K there.  Sounds decent for a three-day  show now.

Remember, $3K is now the old $5K.

Trouble is, the $3K does not buy you $5K of anything.

Back to the math.

Show fee is $550 for the booth, plus the jury fee.

If you live a five hour drive away (Like me) or longer, then you are looking at a  $200 plus gas bill.

Lodging.  Show is three days, plus a day before setup.  Many of us come in the night before the setup--especially depending on your Thursday set up time.  First ones, go in at 9 am, then next group (me) goes in at noon, then final group goes in at 3 pm. So you can have 4-5 nites of hotel bills.  I stayed at a Sleep Inn with a great rate--with taxes it came to $69 per nite, or nearly $350 for the five days.

Food, gonna run ya $40 per day easily--so there is another $200 gone.

You gotta replace that $3K of inventory you sold.

You are losing six per cent back for sales tax.  The another 2-3 per cent on the MCV processing fees.

All  told, when you add it all up, you clear about $1200-$1400 for the show.  And you were away 4-5 days.

Not a great return on your money.

That is why this show no longer really works for most of us trying to earn a living out there.

For the booth fee charged, there should be a far better return on your money.

Sadly there is not.  And, I do not see it improving in the near future.

SO, NELS, TELL US ABOUT THE FRICKING SHOW, I CAN NOT HOLD MY BREATH MUCH LONGER.

Thought you would never ask.

This year we had very cold weather two of the three days.  I think it affected crowd turnout.

Friday, we lucked out.  It was supposed to rain most of the day--never happened.  Crowds were thin.

Saturday, we had clear skies, winds, and a high of about 58 degrees.  Brrrrr!

Sunday, we had clouds, some wind, and it got into the low 60's.  Brrr!

Crowds were thin compared to years past.

Not a lot of good shoes people attending.

Forget about be-backs.  You got one shot at them.

Most of the crowds there could be called the "Walking Zombies."

They walked enmasse down the middle of the street, never looking into a booth.

A sorry state of affairs.

When they did come in, they bought very lowend.  Most of them  did not have lot of moola on them.

Louisville tends to be very Southern, very traditional and very conservative in their art taste.

Sadly, lots of art on the stick going buy.  Who juried these shows?

I saw very few gallery wraps go by me on any given day.  Mostly little matted pieces in bags.

I just do not see the quality people there anymore.

I also do not see a lot of the great circuit artists there any more.  They have written this show off.

IN CONCLUSION

Hey, you pay your $550 and takes your chances.

If you are a part-timer, then maybe a $3K return is ok with you.

If you live nearby, it is probably OK.

For the rest of us who try to make living out there--it is very questionable whether we should continue to do this show.

Bottom line.  The pie is being sliced way too thin.  There are not enough buyers out there for all the competition.

That said, Louisville is a wonderful town to be in, in the early fall.

I just don't know if I will be partaking of it anymore.

Views: 3799

Comment by mary johnston on October 7, 2014 at 8:40pm

I walked all the shows there a number of years ago...2010 maybe?  I live two hours away and said to myself: no way will I ever be here.  Not my market.  I didn't get it.  Too big in not the right demographic area for me I didn't think.  I noticed lots of B/S, bad shoes and cigarette butts.  Not to mention I am a bit claustrophobic and wondered how the hell I would ever be able to load out of there....ugh.  I'm thrilled for anyone that this is a good market for.

Comment by Victoria Primicias on October 7, 2014 at 9:33pm

Excellent review. Thanks for the info, Nels! I've wondered about this show. You just saved me lots of time and money.

Comment by Douglas and Renee Sigwarth on October 7, 2014 at 11:07pm
Thanks Nels! You nailed it!
Comment by Thomas Felsted on October 8, 2014 at 12:22am
These uber large shows, thinking they will collect more art collectors as a nucleus for a "who's who" type venue seems to be backfiring a bit. Nobody really wants to commit to buying until they have walked the show for comparison and wonder. By then, they may be tired, or forgot where an artist is located, sensory overload etc. may not be in the best interest of the artists when all said and done. Bayou city seems to be trying to aspire to this model, increasing to 450 booths, all in good intention, but like Anne Arbor, Saint James, it is just too big to be practical?
Thanks for the review.
Wouldn't mind if you comprised a collection of your reviews with your narrative style, including eateries, historical landmarks, whiskey prices etc. into a compilation book. It may sell even more than some art fair magazines!

An artist is an artist all day long. Am I right? An artist is creative in whatever setting they attend, whether it is cooking, writing, furniture layout in the room etc. Keep up the good writing Nels!
Comment by Robert Wallis on October 8, 2014 at 2:15am

I packed it in this year and declined an invitation to return to Fourth Street. The last several years past were the same thing, a vast river of people flowing down the street afraid to take the time to come into a booth. The complaints I heard were the same thing all the time, 'We need to hurry up so we can see all the show". That's looking and not buying. If your work is quiet and muted, you're screwed as that's not going to catch the eyes of the crowd flowing past. I had actually considered, as an experiment, buying a couple of those chasing rope lights and attach them to the front legs and top of the booth opening to see if flashing lights and movement would pull them in. Last year drove the nails in the coffin and that was the final straw. I could have stood on a street corner and given away work, and lost less money.

FWIW, I do far better at a spring time neighborhood show in Louisville than I ever did at St. James. Why? Because it's a leisurely paced show, and it's a young educated crowd looking for different work. The show is about 200 artists in a couple of blocks and the show can be walked in a reasonable amount of time and they can get back to any booth with minimal effort.

Comment by Louise Belmont-Skinner on October 8, 2014 at 2:29am
BlackTree Studio Pottery did this show in 2013 for the first time. At first, we were on the waiting list, but when we were notified that we were in, we cancelled another first -time show (Fine Furnishings show in Milwaukee) for this one. St James was entirely a disappointment. St James was so highly rated yet the response of visitors was like tourists looking at side show attractions. The show is soooo large that the crowd did what the residents call "the Belgravia Shuffle" -- passing booth after booth, rarely stopping to take in the art, in spite of efforts to engage and welcome visitors. The entire St James "art" experience was just so large and dispersed that the visitor was quickly saturated and, as much as I resisted, that feeling rubbed off on me as an exhibitor.

Although we were invited to return to St James this year, we opted for the show we chose not to do last year -- Fine Furnishings Show in Milwaukee -- an experience so positively OPPOSITE St James. There were only 60 some exhibitors; visitors and return customers were informed and enthusiastic and were prepared to buy. The Fine Furniture Show "business model" is different from large shows like St James in its size, artistic focus, and exhibitor selection proces, ability to market itself, bring in the people, and the end result is terrific and satisfying for exhibitor and buyer. Thanks for the review, Nels. Art Insider is doing its survey of best art fairs and I suspect St James will be lower on the list.
Comment by Barry Bernstein on October 8, 2014 at 5:48am

I'll never do this show. My latest crusade is for shows to downsize and cut costs so they can make more money. The other thing that I need to convince show directors about, is that if you please the artists, you will be more successful. I have a degree in economics. So, I see things from a certain perspective. So, I want to correct you a little because you are being too kind. If, in the old days, before 2001, lets say, if you did $5000 it bought you X amount of goods and services. This is the important thing. It is not about how much money you grossed, is any year, it's about what you could buy with that amount. $5000 in 2001 dollars, buys you about $3000 dollars worth of goods and services in 2014. If you only did $3000, in 2014, you actually have about $1800 worth of goods and services. Or, to reverse this, to get the same spending power that you had in 2001, you would have to do $8000, in 2014. That's how poorly this show has become. At $3000, you are not doing 60% of what you did in 2001, you are doing 37.5% of what you did in 2001.

Comment by Nels Johnson on October 8, 2014 at 9:27am

To Mr. Barely Bernstein, aka Professor of Economics in the Upper Peninsula.

There is one big fallacy with your working economic model.

It does not matter whether you compare real earnings to depreciated earnings from an earlier time.

The dollars I have to spend now are the dollars that buy me what people charge now.  I can't go into a bar and order a $12 martini and tell them I have money that is valued 35% less and, that I only will pay $8 for the martini.  They will say this guy is a goof.

I will try to explain to them that an esteemed Economics  guru told me my money was worth less.  They will say,"Would you like some salted peanuts with that martini sir."

Comment by Carol Larsen on October 8, 2014 at 9:38am

Excellent review - thank you. Not just of that show, but in general, it's exactly how I analyze my shows. I find when I discuss similar among my crowd which is somewhat different - they all look at me with glazed eyes and that I must be from another planet look. I remember one show I was at that did mega moving of everyone...and none of my customers could find me (they told me online they didn't realize I was even there!)...and when I tried to discuss with the organizers...this was their remark - YOU didn't really come here expecting to make any money did you? And...I didn't return. I was so floored. And then on the other hand - one of my best shows of the year - refuses to add one more space...the two buildings are full - the end. And the waiting list is long...and it's wonderful to know sales won't be flattened by this massive over abundance of exhibitors. There is a point where if the organizers are looking for more money - then raise the booth fees...but DO NOT expand on the exhibitors...you are kicking every single current exhibitor that believes in the event in the teeth. I try to explain when asked that in order to raise the prestige of any event, you keep your exhibitors exclusive, develop that waiting list...that way it increases the value of the current exhibitors, raises the expectations of the attendees, and creates for a much better event all around. E. Lansing has 2 at the same time in the Spring, and frankly there is this perception of one side is art and the other side is crafters (although many artists are on the craft side waiting to get in to the art side) and as shoppers there is a perception that the craft side should be considerably lower....I really wish they would remove the word "craft"....because it really doesn't represent many of the artists, but it gives that perception.

Comment by Lynnea Bennett on October 8, 2014 at 9:45am

I do a show in Cincinnati, the Hyde Park Art Show, on the same Sunday as St James.  Costs $120.  Drive up to my booth to unload.  Free coffee and donuts steps away from where I like to set up.  240 booths.  Upscale neighborhood... I didn't have as many big sales as last year, but I still did $1900.  I make funky jewelry (no gold or precious stones from me) and I had one person just call for a bracelet they didn't buy when they should have (sold it minutes after they walked away).  Painter next to me use to do SJ and said he makes more at this show.  It was interesting to get the scoop on a few other "big" shows that as an up and coming fish in the sea we are told we "have" to do.

Hyde Park is one of the few that does an in person jury (you can submit photos as well).  I happen to know one of the jurors and was told they don't give preference to the in person people, but honestly since I do jewelry I always figure it doesn't hurt for them to see how completely finished my work is.

Will I apply again next year.. YES... will I spend the 3 hours waiting to talk to a juror.. YES.  At one point I'd have tried for SJ, but seriously, I  sleep in my own bed and get there at 8 and am home by 6.

Thanks for the review, but it confirmed some things I already heard.

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