Up until 2005 or 2006, the Coconut Grove Arts Festival was, by far, the best show in the country.  From the minute you got there you were treated warmly, with respect. AND, the show was a dream.  Everyone sold well.  They used to bring in the supporters/sponsors on a trolly at 8 AM on Saturday morning and those people had pre-committed dollars to buy work and they used tickets to purchase the work.  They got to see the work in a slide show and they would race to the people who's work they wanted, so, they could get the best pieces.  This was great for the artists.  I always did around $2500.  And, those buyers would come back throughout the show.  One year, I had my best show ever and it wasn't even 10 AM.  The show hadn't even started. Needless to say, they got rid of that program.  Around the same time, they tripled the show fee, started charging the gate fee, and started expanding the corporate booths.

The skinny:

I called the day before the show started and I was told to arrive after 2PM, park by my space, and check in before I started unloading. I arrived around 2:15, down 27th ave where I have always entered the show and I'm told by a smarmy 20 year old bee-atch in a green security shirt, that I have to turn around, drive a half mile, make a right on a non-existant street and come back through, even though my booth was right beyond the barricade. Of course, I can't find this entrance and I finally went down Darwin Street, ironically and appropriately named and talked the cop into letting me in which brought me past the bee-atch and right to my space.  Unloading was easy because they left us alone and artists are good about leaving room, etc., except for the cars, beer trucks, and carts zooming through. Apparently, artists needed credentials to get into the site but anyone off the street could get in, no problem.  One of these days someone is going to get run over unloading their vehicle. You can double the risk on load out. It gets worse every year. Setup is stressful enough without the added tension of worrying about getting run over.

The artwork at the show was superb, even the photographers.  The credit for this belongs to Lilia Gracia.  She picks the jurors and oversees the judging.  She has held this job for a long time and does not get paid.  If fact, Lilia and the artist liaison, Katrina do a phenomenal job. They are the jewels of this show because they know the shows reputation is built on the fact that the artists are top notch.  I was proud to be in this show. If they ran this show, in total, it would be the show it once was. No other show would come close.

Every location, in this show, has it's problems.  The first thing I noticed was that the food booths and the beer concessions were closer to the artist booths.  I felt like my space was being invaded. As far as my work is concerned, beer and greasy fingers do not mix with my work.  On more than one occasion, I've had a drunk break a piece or a greasy fingerprint ruin a piece.  However, I consider myself lucky where I was in the show.  I could have been near the Verizon stage.  In the past it had been the Verizon booth, which has expanded every year since 2005-6.  Now it has morphed into the Verizon stage.  It is the most obnoxious thing I have ever experienced at an aft fair in 30 years of doing shows.  They constantly hawked their crap, playing hip-hop so loud that it rattled the work in the booths near the stage.  Of course, they get the 4 most prime booth locations.  I know one person who lost a $1200 sale because the customer couldn't take it anymore and fled the scene.  The person who decided that allowing this obviously has no regard for the artists. There is no rationale for Verizon creating this spectacle.  I'm thinking of dumping my Verizon account because of it.  I'm sure they lost more business than they gained. Other fun things included people driving around in carts continually beeping their horns for people to get out of their way and beer hawkers that would be more at home at the ballpark than at an arts festival.  I guess they needed to be employed during the two months after football season and the start of baseball season.

In spite of this sales for some people were great.  In fact, there was no middle ground.  You either grossed over 10-30K or you did less than $1500, with a number of people zeroing out.  If you had the right work you did a bang up business. I know someone who sold everything except one piece.  3-D wall pieces and jewelry did really well, from my conversations. It's really hard to tell what percentage did well.  I'd say not more than a third.  And, it changes from year to year.  I spoke to someone who had sold only one small painting this year, who did over 20K last year.  Of course, if the show wasn't trying so hard to get rid of the real buyers and replace it with beer drinking partyers, everyone would do well, like they did prior to 2006.

So, who is responsible for the conditions of this show, that has changed since 2006 from artist friendly to beer drinking partying friendly? I put the blame squarely on the current management team that coincidentally took charge in 2006.  I was told they will be there as long as they want so don't think conditions are going to change anytime soon, unless we do something about it.  Of course, that will never happen.  I was told that for anyone who wants to give up their space near the Verizon booth there are 1000 artists who would gladly take their space.  I can't argue with that one. I wouldn't give up my space and I was promised that I could say anything here and not get blackballed from the show.  The elimination of the strong sponsor program, the increased number of beer hawkers, the food booths being on top of the artists, the rudeness of the so called volunteer security, the rudeness of those people driving those carts, and last but not least the out of control aggressiveness of the Verizon booth all took place after current management team took control of the show.  

I'm sure that the CGAF association is happy with the job management is doing because they are making a lot of money.  And, I'm sure they are all patting themselves on the back deluding themselves into believing that they have the best show in the country.  The only way they can believe that is by ignoring the artists because 99% of them would echo what I have written, here.  In fact, I'm just reflecting what I heard from others.  A little thing happened the other night which I found to be so telling, from the artists perspective.  After the awards dinner, around 6 artists were going to another artists room at the Residence Inn, to have a shower party.  They were taking showers in this persons room because they were staying in their vehicles.  This is a very common thing at this show.  I'd say over half the artists doing the show sleep in their vans. Now how is it that the artists participating at the show that is supposed to be one of the best in the country have to stay in their vehicles because they can't afford a proper place to stay? If it were my show, I would be embarrassed by that fact.  Yet, if you read the coming press reports in the Miami papers will be extolling the success of the show and grossly inflating the amount of money spent of the artwork. You will never hear about the conditions of the artists that do the show.

I never give a review or make a criticism without giving solutions to the problems that I have talked about.  And certainly, it would only take minor changes to make this show the model for all shows, that it once was.  First of all, train the security staff to direct people to the proper entrances and paths to the booths and make sure they welcome us and treat us with respect.  Secondly, move the food booths and beer tents back 20 feet. Give us some room. Third, tone down the Verizon stage.  There is no reason why they can't lower the decibels and get their point across.  Make them play music that is complimentary to the artwork.  Hip-Hop? Come on!! Make the show classy again. Get rid of the schlock. Fourthly, bring back the trolley with the buyers.  Fifth, how about more wine booths instead of beer tents. Sixth, keep the vendor trucks out of our way during set up and take down.  Make it safe for us instead of dangerous and make no mistake, it is dangerous.


Every corporation reflects the style of the officers that run the operation.  I think it's time for the CGAF to get back to being a sophisticated event instead of the shlock fest that you are so desperately trying to become.  Try creating an atmosphere that is commensurate with the artwork.  Lilia and Katrina are doing their part.  It's time for the rest of you who run the show to step up to the plate.  You think that the way you are doing things is maximizing your income.  I can assure you that if you went back to taking care of the artists and making this the sophisticated event it should be, that you will dwarf what you make now.  I guarantee it. 

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  • I know, I try to do that -- actually the last time we did the Grove, can't even remember who our neighbor was but we were driven nuts by the music coming from one of the nearby food booths and hassled the food person, not to much good. It was quieter on the other side facing the hotels but we made half as much money and never applied again. Could have been the times, could have been the space.

  • Yes, I have plans for another review. I've enjoyed being on the sidelines and lurking, though.

  • Barry, are we ever going to see another show review from you? It doesn't have to be snarky or "complete", just where you've been and a thumbs up or down ... or the best sale you made or why you are changing your body of work. I miss your writing (and you too, of course.)

  • Yeah, Connie, that was the reason for switching to facing the food booths. If they would just get rid of the beer hawkers and the two hot dog stands right in front of me...

  • But, the traffic on the bay side is heavier, Barry. Well, really you don't need to see everyone who attends I guess. 

  • Reading this again makes me cringe. On the other hand, I had at least 50 people, people I didn't even know, come up to me and thank me for writing this. I kind of wish I had kept some of this to myself. Geoff, sorry I was a little smarmy.

    I've probably been banned for life, but, I am going to apply, again, this year. I have a little different perspective. CG is still the show that attracts serious buyers and you can do really really well if you have the right stuff. I don't have to let the beer hawkers shouting in front of my booth to bother me. I can have blinders on. I, also, could ask for a booth facing the Mutiny Hotel which would eliminate all that stuff. I've switched back and forth.

  • Thank you Barry and Everyone for sharing.  Please keep it up.  We are looking for some good Florida  shows next winter for a couple months and what everyone has to say really helps out.  Good selling to all. 

  • I've been victim to the Verizon hawkers.  They were located directly across from my booth.  They were so obnoxious the potential customers would duck and run past Verizon - and the artist booths nearby.  I probably lost a lot of money that day thanks to the poor manners of the Verizon employees.  I did say something to the promoter after the show.   I should have done so as soon as I was aware of the negative impact the Verizon hawkers were creating. My husband also sent a very well written letter to Verizon.  I am glad to say the next year Verizon was moved to a commercial area away from the artists.  Some people just need to learn how to play nice in the sandbox.

  • Hi I'm new to this site and very happy to have found it.

    Thank you Barry and everyone else that has commented here about CGAF. Barry I found your comments very helpful, it would be nice to have that honest and in depth review, good or bad comments, about more shows form more artists. It is sad, but I fear that this might be happening all over the country to many good shows.

    I can just feel the frustration, and I too, like the solutions.

    I say thank you, because this could save myself and many artists from loosing money. That, in this new economy, we simply can't afford to loose.

    Why are we paying those high jury fees and booth fees? Where are the artists on these committees? If they need our help we should help them. Really, I think $35 is too high for a jury fee.! The old rule was the booth+jury fees should be 10% of sales, and add meals and miles, and I know that this is laughable, pay yourself for time out of your studio and time spent at the show including set up and takedown, your total percent of sales(sales divided by expenses)  should be much less than any commission you would pay to a gallery. Other wise what is the point of sharing a shower and sleeping in your van.

    If we are paying that kind of money for jury fees one would think that they could pay some one to go through the show and make sure that what was juried in, was really what you got, and get rid of the junk and buy sell. It is after all a "jury" fee, not just another way to collect money. Really, let in at the gate on the day of the show? How disrespectful of that show and that "so called" artist, to the artists that paid their fees months in advance. I say it's time to kill that golden goose. 

    The truth is that we can't stop applying to shows. And some shows are still run well, and thank you to all those hard working people that run them. If we only new for sure which ones they were. If I visit a show that I have been juried out of and the work is all high end, great, my best to the artists that are doing it. I will do better and try again. But if it is full of by sell and junk and I paid a high jury fee, I feel ripped off. The same goes for shows that I have done, if you pay high fees and the show is junk and sales are bad, the set up bad, too many food vendors, inappropriate sponsors/vendors, you feel ripped off and you want to tell someone.

    However, because of sites like this, shows that are going down hill will eventually get the point or die a slow death. But why as artists are we the only ones afraid of being black listed for comments made? Why don't we point out the really bad fat golden geese and stop feeding them? Maybe they will die a quicker death or change their'er behavior? I know this may sound corny but, take back the art shows, vote them off the island, that art show has no talent? A simple list? The top ten shows not to do this year? 

    Well I will get down off my soap box now. Thanks for letting me share. 

    Thank you for all the information on this site lots of wisdom out there. 


  • uhhh.... "too"

    Dang missing 'o's! 


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