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St Louis, The Perfect Show or We Partied Like It's 1999

OK!! So maybe it wasn't the perfect show. The perfect show would pay us to be there because of all the money artists generate by coming. That's not going to happen any time soon. However, there were so many things to like about this show that it is as close to being perfect, in 2014, as a show can get. I complain a lot that shows are not like they were in the 1980's and 90's. Most of you don't know what that means because you started doing shows after 2000.

The whole time during this show, I thought we had time warped back to the '90's and not just because sales were good. There was so much to like about this show, it should be the model for all shows. I think Cindy Lerick is the best director in the country and all shows, especially the mega shows, should hire Cindy as a consultant to fix their shows. More on that later.

The SLAF is a 3 day show. Setup starts at 11 AM on Friday. The show runs from 5 PM to 10 on Friday, 10-10 on Saturday, and 11-5 on Sunday. You have to register before you can start setting up. You can register Thursday evening or Friday morning. A lot of people registered Thursday and that turned out to be a good idea.

It pays to show up the day before, at this show, and get well rested for Friday because it can be hot and humid, in Clayton in September and setup can lead right into the show start. You want to be fresh for opening. Each 10' x 10' booth has 2 feet between each booth, and two feet behind for easy access to storage. This also creates a stress free, casual, environment that puts us in a really good mood.

Contrast that with Madison where they pack people in with no space between booths and a constant subtle tension the whole weekend. Setup and take down is really easy. You can drive right up to your booth. Booths are back to back in the middle and you park against the curb leaving the middle free for vehicles to come in.

Every section has its own entrance, so, there are no bottlenecks. Also, they leave it up to artists to work it out. So, there are no problems. We do this a lot and know what to do. I hate the shows that control setup. It seems that if we are allowed to manage things, setup takes 2 hours and there are no problems. If they control things, it takes all day to get in and out. Also, the police are extremely friendly and relaxed. At lot of shows, the police act like they are doing us a favor and treat us like the street people we really are.

The show opened at 5 PM and the serious buyers came out. There was nothing for the first hour, as people perused the show and then I started selling. I almost couldn't keep up with selling and wrapping, at the same time. I couldn't believe it. That hadn't happened since before 2000.

And then... we got a text message that they were closing the show at 7 PM. NOOOOOOO!!! There was a storm coming in. Unfortunately, it only lasted for 5 minutes and it was mostly huge gusts of wind. To be fair, the radar looked ominous and there was thunder and lightning.

The worst part missed us and why take a chance. So, the decision was the correct one. Three booths blew over. This is a show where every booth was properly weighted, so, it wasn't as if the booths that got destroyed were the $200 Costco specials. I know one booth was a Light Dome.

So, Friday ended 3 hours early. Too bad. Some of the veterans, who live in St Louis, mentioned that the Friday night people only come on Friday night. So, those sales were lost. The weather was good on Saturday and great on Sunday. My sales were good on Saturday, very steady, and great on Sunday, one after another. $200-$225 is my sweet spot.

Overall, my sales were very good, not great though. I don't want anyone congratulating me for selling like "gangbusters." It wasn't like that. However, if I had a full Friday night, I might have had a great show. The significant thing, here, is that everyone had a solid show. I know that some people had great 5 figure totals but most people had solid 4 figures. Most shows that I do have a few people who do great and the rest of us barely make expenses.

Here, everyone made money.

Why do I consider this show to be so great? It isn't about the money even though it was, by far, my best show and a lot of other artist's best show financially. There are so many things that make this show the best show in the country. We can start with the fact that they limit the number of artists to 150 and that 1 in 10 get in. This insures that the quality of the work is good and that, in turn, brings out the real buyers.

There are no reproductions allowed. Everything must be made by the artist and they have quality control people who walk the show to make sure this is adhered to. I didn't see one S on a Stick go by me. Do you know how frustrating that is when it seems that everyone who walks by me has SOS? Broad Ripple had 5 SOS sellers. I will never go back to that show again. My customers do not buy SOS. It really feels good knowing that everyone who comes into my booth or even passes by, is a potential customer.

Another thing that makes this show great is that people thanked me for coming and hope that I come back next year. Do you hear that Cindy? This only happens at one other show and that is Smoky River in Salina, KS. The people who attend this show love it. They are proud of the fact that the SLAF attracts really good artists and they have a lot of quality choices.

Another reason why this show is so successful is because it hasn't forgotten what has made shows so good. It's still about the artists and the art. There are no beer hawkers, no stilt walkers, no loud music, no miles of unhealthy food booths, etc. There are some sponsor booths but they are limited. Cindy told me they turned away plenty of sponsors who didn't fit the image. Think about that one.

Parking is free and plentiful on the street. I did see parking for $5. Contrast with the money grubbers in some cities who charge $15 and up per day. And, the show is free. I guess when you don't have to pay for name brand music and other crap that passes for entertainment, you don't have to charge a gate fee and you get plenty of sponsors knocking on your door to underwrite your show because when art is the main focus, the show attracts people who contribute to the economy, people who may buy their products.

Any show director reading this should read this two or three times. It's the thing that makes this show great and is the same thing that is killing your show.

There are many other things that make this show great that I left out like the Artists Showcase, where you send a piece and it is on display in a gallery setting weeks before the show with directions to your booth. And, the great staff that works tirelessly to make the experience great, like Yehuda, who has to deal with all of us, making sure all the paperwork gets in on time. I want to publicly thank Yehuda for his time and effort.

Earlier, I mentioned that Cindy Lerick was the best show director in the country. She is ultimately responsible for all the policies that I mentioned that makes this show great. She's the one who keeps the quality of the art at a high level. She's the one who makes sure there are not too many sponsor booths and their placement. She's the one who sets the tone for this show, the one who makes this the classy event that it is.

I talked to her at length because I knew I was going to write this review and I wanted to know some things. And, btw, she will take the time to talk to any artist, not just at the show, but, during the year. Unlike other directors, she is available and accessible. I asked one simple question: Does the SLAF make money or do they lose money? After all, some shows, and we all know who they are, charge a gate fee, have up to 450 artists with a substantial booth fee, sponsors who pay to have the prime spots and they still lose money. Cindy tells me they make money.

I guess spending all that money to be a mega show doesn't pay off. I believe if you really want to be successful then go back to the roots of your show and make the art and the artists your focus. I think you should hire Cindy to consult with you to make that happen. She's proven she has the winning formula. While you're at it, bring me in, also. We can work as a team. I've done this long enough and have the training to help you make your show a success, like it once was.

Views: 1178

Comment by Barrie Lynn Bryant on September 14, 2014 at 8:55am

Great review, BB. I'll most likely never do this show since it's gonna always be hot and humid. That's been the main reason we've not even considered it, but we've also already established a Florida schedule that starts a bit later in October, and thus can't seem to justify breaking the habit. I don't know how I'll change that, and it's a bit of a shame since Saint Louis gets so much positive attention. C'est la vie.

Like nearly all of the shows, this show doesn't require ALL ARTISTS TO MAKE THEIR OWN WORK. Direct your attention to the Photography category that states it can be made under their direct supervision. I think this is a travesty for photogs since the rule causes plenty of non-photogs to dislike photogs in the shows. It's the only medium in our industry that doesn't require the artist to make ALL their own work by whatever means necessary. This detail establishes economic and time advantages for photographers over everyone else since they can be doing something else while someone else prints their work (for those who don't print their own and actually employ others to do it.) This rule must have come about through a good lobby by photogs. Once it got established in a few bigger shows, every other show just looked at the rules for the big ones and decided to follow suit. Pretty soon newer shows looked at just any other show and discovered the rule to be the same.

So if Cindy Lerick reads this, why doesn't Saint Louis require photogs to make their own prints, regardless of how they are made? Especially since there are processes still in use by photogs that require knowledge of how to print photographs. Is it o.k. for traditional darkroom photogs to employ assistants to agitate trays? Should these assistants be able to pay attention to washing fiber based prints for an hour and then squeegee them and lay them face-down flat on screens to dry? Better still, should they be able to follow the dodging and burning plan established by the actual photo, expose the paper under the enlarger, and then tray process the prints? All while the photog eats lunch or picks up the kids from school?

Comment by Larry Berman on September 14, 2014 at 9:38am

Great review Barry. I'd love to be able to do that show.

It's a shame Barrie Lynn Bryant is trying to hijack the thread by changing the subject. I'm a photographer and have been doing shows over thirty years. I've seen this a lot. Some photographers want the rules changed to benefit how they do their work to try and limit the competition. Try starting a new thread and say what you want.

To repeat. Great review Barry.

Larry Berman

Comment by Barrie Lynn Bryant on September 14, 2014 at 9:46am

I'm no newbie either, LB. It's clearly stated in BB's review that Saint Louis requires all artists to make their own work. So I addressed his misinformation. I do see that I carried it pretty far, but so be it.

Comment by Barry Bernstein on September 14, 2014 at 10:05am

The one photographer I know best, William Lemke, is old school, shoots with film, primarily in black and white, and develops his own images. He won an award this year. I agree with you, though. For some reason, it is acceptable at all shows that the photographers are allowed to farm out their work. If that is acceptable, than I should be able to make the first piece and then have them reproduced, in limited quantities, in Thailand. I actually know someone who's family in Thailand is in the business. We all know reproducing pottery is not acceptable. I've had discussions with other photographers who think that the complete process of shooting to printing should be done by the photographer, also.

Comment by Connie Mettler on September 14, 2014 at 1:05pm

Always good to hear a solid review where the art fair business is working for everyone involved. No surprise artists trip over themselves to get into this wonderful show.

Cindy does do a lot of things right and the SLAF is one of those textbook case for "best practices for a fine art show." It pretty much gets down to she has great respect from her board (as this is a non-profit event) who go along with her judgment. When that happens, and the show director has a solid idea of how to present a cultural event that enhances the community, good shows happen.

When boards have other ideas in mind of what the show should be doing for them and their community trouble brews. So other shows calling in Cindy (and you too Barry) for help have to make that happen for themselves too. I have consulted with shows who just couldn't see past the need for more $$$ from additional booth spaces and I've worked with shows who had a golden apple in their hand but decided that focusing on the "art" aspect of the festival was not in the best interest to the bottom line, that big crowds coming for the rest of the event were where the money was.

A while back I did an podcast with Cindy and Stephen King from the Des Moines Art Festival where you can get some solid information about how they think about artists and art fairs:

I attended the show two years ago. If you want to see this show here is my video:

As to photographers printing their own work --- don't get me going on that one.

Barry, was this your first time at SLAF? Just to give folks some perspective, how many times do you think you have applied?

Comment by Jacki Bilsborrow on September 14, 2014 at 4:23pm

Thanks for the review Barry.  Great to hear such good news about a show.

Comment by Barry Bernstein on September 14, 2014 at 5:42pm

Connie, this was my first time. I applied off and on for years. I can't tell you how many. I talked about that in a post a few months ago. I point blank asked Cindy if they make money and she said they usually make around 10K.

It's a fallacy that shows need to add booths to make money. This show proves that fact. My new crusade is if shows are losing money they need to downsize, spend less money. Having clown acts, more music, more junk food, more junk, does the opposite of what shows think they need to do to be successful.

If they want to make money they need to concentrate on promoting the art. Art and better artists make them money, not, the other stuff. The other stuff costs them money. Somebody in another discussion was perplexed about the fact that it's impossible for someone new to get into Coconut Grove even though the sales numbers weren't that solid. Coconut Grove is living off their reputation from when the art was the main concern of the show. An unnamed person on the committee mentioned to me that they had no money.

When they didn't charge a gate fee, when they had a trolly bring in the patrons who had committed to buy art with patron bucks, when they didn't have beer hawkers, when they had Jazz instead of rock and roll, they made money.

When I made the point that at SLAF everyone sold well, except for a few, I was thinking about the Grove show and how it used to be. People still do that show because of the way it was years ago. It's been 10 years since that show has been good for all the artists, not just a few. The SLAF is great because Cindy gets it. It's about the art.

Comment by Genmarie Stiber on September 15, 2014 at 9:34am

Thanks for the great review. 

Comment by Greg Little on September 15, 2014 at 10:53am

That was a great review. I read it hopefully some things will sink in. Hope to get in one day...even with a lot of competition you never know...

Comment by Savina Francisco on September 15, 2014 at 11:00am
Thank you for the great review! What's the name of this show? The St. Louis Art Festival?


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