Call for Artists, Making Money at Juried Art Fairs, Craft Shows and Festivals
I was inspired by Jennifer's post about Bayou City to discuss The Distraction Factor..........
Well, friends, we have all experienced this at one show or another. You arrive, unload, sleep and start the first day of the show with high hopes. As day one begins, you notice the crowds are moving fast, people are there, but they all seem to be in one area. The area at the other end of the show, about a block or so from where all the artist are. What are they all doing down there? We are down here!!!!
Well, today, everyone is there for the talent show!!!! On center stage this morning we have several pre-teens and a little older teens singing and dancing their hearts out! What proud parent, grandparent and casual observer could resist? Pictures are being taken, the newspaper is there, awards will be given out, it's a grand time!!! You sit in your booth and wait!! Maybe once this is over, people will shop. Nope, not likely! Those people, that crowd, is not there to buy your beautiful work.
As you sit in your booth or walk around a bit to stretch your legs, remaining optimistic that the patrons will come and buy your work, you begin to see a lot of fast walkers with hanging baskets, potted plants and shrubbery. Is there a farmer's market somewhere close by, you wonder? I love plants, maybe I will check it out after the show, you think to yourself. Afterall, many of those plants looked healthy and nice. An artist a few booths down, also slow and bored at this point, walks over to chat for a bit, compliment your work, and informs you that the local nursery has a big corner booth a block or so down and seems to be cleaning up! That's where all those plants are coming from. People are buying plants at an art show that you drove several hours to get to, paid a booth and jury fee and they are buying plants instead of your art!
Art shows all have food. Food is a great draw, keeps people engaged and I am all for a show having good food available. Last year, I was fortunate enough to do Main Street Festival in suburban Nashville. They had the best food in my opinion! Anyway, at your show you are noticing few people walking around with bags and packages, but they aren't empty handed. Every person, it seems has plunked down $7.00 for a big, mega sized bag of kettle korn! Yep, at this show the Boy Scouts are selling Kettle Korn! The scouts are selling so much of this sweet and salty treat that it is all over the street. It's clinging to everyone's shoes and it is stuck to the floor of your booth! If you were at the same show I was at last year in the upper midwest, you noticed the woman who was going by every booth and pointing and laughing while literally shoving handfulls of kettle korn in her mouth to the point of being nausiating to look at. If you were like me, you gave a disapproving look when she passed by your booth and shook your head. You remain poised in your booth, waiting on the art patrons while the kettle korn crowd looks at your work like it is some kind of infectious lesion they are afraid to touch, interpret or consider and audibly balk at the reasonable price you have affixed to it!
You survive day one with a few modest sales and head to the hotel for a much needed relaxing evening. You awake on day two optimistic that maybe the lookie loo's are done and now the real art patrons will stop by your booth and buy something! My dear, you are in for more disappointment I hate to say.
As you start day two of this show, you notice a lighter crowd and something else you were too distracted with yesterday to realize....the local hospital is having a health fair today at the show! Free blood pressure checks, cholesterol screenings and a nurse practioner is on hand to answer your health questions! They're giving away all kinds of free medical swag and people are eating it up! Who can resist a few free bandaids and some chip clips, right?
As the medical fair is overshadowing the art show, the petting zoo for the kids is getting going with $5 pony rides and the local chapter of the 4-H is there with baked goods for sale. Not to be outdone, the window and siding people are hawking free home estimates and a complimentary coin purse for giving them your coveted e mail adress and phone number so they can schedule that free home visit with you in the coming weeks. Don't need siding or windows? How 'bout a free in-home energy audit from the local electric utility company? Tired of your cable tv service? Direct TV is there giving super cheap tv service for the first year if you sign a two-year contract today, and we'll give your child a free face painting just for stopping by!!! Are you tired of having just "some college?" The local university is there offering free applications for their upcoming semester!!!! Finish your degree in months instead of years with their convenient on-line courses for busy adults!!!
You sit in your booth or stand just outside it and think to yourself "I spent this much money and invested this much time to be an afterthought!" You are getting more and more pi**ed off by the moment, all the while a teenage garage band is belting out their new track, "I wanna kiss your face" "I wanna kiss your face"....yes, I have "I wanna kiss your face" burned into my memory from a show I did last summer! "I wanna kiss your face" went on and on and on and was being blasted throughout the fine art show I was participating in!! Now, whenever I am mad or stressed about something or think of a midwestern state known for their abundant corn crops, I immediately have "I wanna kiss your face" on a continuous loop in my head for the rest of the day!!!
The end of day two finally comes and you vow never to return to this show. You draft an e mail to the show director and air your grievances and wish them the best, but you will never be back!
What you just experienced was the distraction factor and you paid for it! You paid dearly for it, becuase you barely broke even or lost money on this circus of a "show". You participated in a show that was so full of sponsors, unrelated art activities and the desire to appeal to everyone, in hopes of drawing a good crowd, it made the art seem like a sideshow or an afterthought. The people who were drawn to this mess weren't there for the art, they were there for all of the other ancilliary bulls**t, and they didn't leave disappointed. Yet, you, my dear artist friend, certainly did.
Now, I know full well that every show has to have sponsors to cover the extreme costs of having an art fair, I get that completely. I have been contemplating starting a show in my area, so I know sponsors are important. Food is important, children's activities are important to a degree, but shows, at least the good ones have to draw a line and artists need to be aware of what they are signing up for. If shows are going to have ancilliary activities they need to be ART FAIR APPROPRIATE!!! A good pairing of a non-art vendor with an art fair would be a local bar/restaurant/winery having a wine tasting or bringing in a design firm, an architectural firm, as a sponsor, not a local nursery, 25 charities, punk rock bands and Direct TV!!!!
Artists at fine art fairs should not have to compete with a plethera of distractions for their work to be seen, appreciated and ultimately purchased! I did some good shows last year that kept the distraction factor to a minimum or eliminated it completely. Brookside Art Annual was one where there was no distraction factor and I made a fortune at that show!
Artists, especially new artists, please read the reviews of the shows you are considering and take the distraction factor into account. It is time well spent and could save you a lot of money and time by avoiding shows that draw the wrong crowds with all of their ancilliary bs!!!!
Artists, what have you encountered related to the distraction factor? Do you see it getting worse? Are you considering it when you evaluate shows?