Art Fair Insiders

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

The Phyllis Olsen Art Show in Cadillac, Michigan

Well, I have not blogged in a while.  So here goes.

I gave up on the Ann Arbor Show after 30 years, it just was not worth it anymore.

So, two years ago, I tried the Cadillac show as a replacement.

Not that I expected to gross as much as AA. But the show is an hour plus from my Saugatuck casa.  It is small, less than 100 exhibitors. It is held in a mellow downtown park right on the lake and it is easy-pezy to setup and teardown.

So last year I managed to pull $1500 out of it which was almost 10x the booth fee.

So I decided to do it again this year.

It was no way close to last year. 

First, a little background on Cadillac.

It is about an hour north of Grand Rapids.

It is the gateway community to the Michigan north woods.  Think, lakes, rivers, trails, fishing golfing amongst lots of big trees.

Cadillac has all this.  But it is an old lumber town and it is mostly a blue collar community.

Crafts sell better here rather than 2-d art. And, they do not want to pay a lot for it.

A very enthusiastic committee  treats the artists like they are really special people.  It is quite refreshing.

It is a Friday and Saturday show and you can setup the afternoon before.

All spots are on grass with plenty of  rear storage and room to display on the sides.

They have good food both mornings and they have small prize money.

What they lack is many enthusiastic patrons to sell to.

The first year I made a big sale to visiting women from Ann Arbor.  This year I did meet any good shoes people from afar.

Seriously, I did meet many people, period.

On Friday I made $410 in sales. I know many others who barely sold $200.

The weather forecast for Saturday was not looking good, supposed to rain all day.

I took all the artwork out of my booth at Friday close.  Dry in the van was my plan.

If things changed Saturday morn then the art would be rehung.

Saturday dawned, barely.  Dark, gloomy, no sun, very foreboding.

I tore down the booth and left before 8am.

A jeweler friend who I highly respect did the show and gave a report on Facebook about Saturday.

I did not miss a thing.

So here is my advice to those of you who are thinking of doing it.

First, a crafter has a better chance at a reasonable return. 2-D artists stay away, there is a very slim market there for sales.

If you live close by it is worth a one-time risk.  Do not travel great miles to do it unless you plan on treating this like a vacation.

I really like the people who run the show, they are the cat’s meow.  Unfortunately the Cadillac community does not support the arts enough for us to earn a paycheck there.

So, my replacement for AA is still a mystery.

Hey, I can always play more golf since I am now semi-retired.

Later, gators.  I have several other posts to write.

Views: 517

Comment by Connie Mettler on August 2, 2018 at 9:21am

Great to hear from you again, Nels. And happy to get a clear view on this event. I know the organizers do a fine job getting the word out and have always heard good things about then. I know it is popular among fairgoers, but haven't attended it myself.

Also on that weekend, have you tried the supposedly awesome little one day show in Medina, OH? Is Petoskey's art in the Park that weekend? 

Looking forward to the upcoming reports. Since you sold your Ybor house and no longer have that mortgage I know you have more options for the moola. How did Ellen do at Krasl?

Comment by Nels johnson on August 3, 2018 at 8:24am

That is a lot of questions to answer.

Ellen cancelled Krasl.

I did Petosky one, would never go back.

Newbies get put in the interior of the park, it is a long haul with cart to set up.

Small crowd, buys mostly local scenes.


 lodging.  Overall this show is not a good bet.

Never done Medina, I do not care for one day shows, too many things can go wrong

Comment by Barry Shandler on August 3, 2018 at 8:58am

I loved reading this. I also gave up Ann Arbor in 2015 after 25 years. It wasn't worth it any more. I was thinking of Cadillac but not now.  I sure wish Nels would write a book on the history of the art/craft business and his many experiences.  

Comment by Nels johnson on August 4, 2018 at 7:45am

I will keep that in mind, Barry.

Comment by Connie Mettler on August 4, 2018 at 8:24am

Barry, Nels has added a lot of useful information on this site, his beginnings and his endings and all the highs and lows in between. Use the "search" function, look for "Nels blogs" and you'll be set for several days worth of entertaining reading. You can also go to his page on this site and find them, good tequila reports, a great series on how to teach wannabe artists to do shows, other ways to make money letting the wannabes be artist interns, shows to love, shows to hate .... making money and losing your shirt, scenic drives across the country ...

Comment by Barry Shandler on August 5, 2018 at 5:52pm

I don't have a lot of interest in useful information at this stage.  Read all Nels stuff over the years. A good book by a superb writer is an entirely different thing.  I'm sure Nels remembers getting show information from other artists while sitting on a beach after a show, or at a moonshine party in the hills of West Virginia......………..before Sunshine Artists and the web,  or getting chewed out by Jinx Harris while traveling with her shopping mall shows years ago before good street shows, or dancing naked in the street after a show in a rainstorm after a 99 degree day.  Only a writer like Nels can preserve the history and good times and bad times of our business in a book.  

Comment by Connie Mettler on August 6, 2018 at 8:56am


Once upon a time we blamed Sunshine Artist because they published the Top 100 shows and then the secrets learned behind the booths were out into the public. Then Zapp got blamed for letting the secrets out. Then Greg Lawler and the Art Fair Sourcebook got blamed ... the stories abound. 

Mostly I remember the storms: the tree falling down on my neighbors booth in Atlanta's Piedmont Park, sending people to the hospital, the floods at Boston Mills, the charge to "take cover" at numerous places, snow in late May in Detroit ... and the fun and wonderful friends. Getting up in the early morning light in Miami after the Coconut Grove show with our friend Kathleen Eaton to ride the metro so she could get some shots for her paintings, a gang of artists riding through the dawn.

Comment by Barry Shandler on August 7, 2018 at 10:16am

And no jure fees, and knuckle busters, and burlap covered chicken wire fence display panels, sleeping in tents, camping, ticks, last day takedown dinner and a room and shower at Howard Johnsons, discount rooms for artists at the Chicago Playboy club, blown away canopies and water weight before we learned, and a lot more. All the pioneering exhibiting street artist history coud be lost.

Comment by Barry Bernstein on August 11, 2018 at 8:39pm

Nels, come back to Ann Arbor. I moved over to Main Street last year. I need some company.

Connie, most people think the floods of Boston Mills are the most recent storms there. We were both there 30+ years ago before they had those tents and the water was 2 feet high off the ground. I can still see pieces floating and some guy throwing wood pieces after wood piece away that got ruined by the water. I remember hanging out at... what was the name of that cheap motel? The Riviera? in Miami or when The Mutiny was a rent by the hour hotel with mirrors on the ceiling.

And, while we are talking about Ann Arbor, I remember being next to Clyde Butcher, who was talking about some technique he invented and me rolling my eyes thinking he was full of baloney. I guess I had that wrong. And, once getting into it with the kids from Moe's Sport Shop because they would be hawking their crap, loudly and in front of me. I, also, got a room at the Michigan Union(?) the day of setup. Now you need to reserve the room a year in advance. I could get a room at the Bell Tower for $50 a night. Now it's $400. For years after I couldn't afford to stay there, I would pretend I was staying there and go downstairs for their good breakfast. Once my neighbor at Ann Arbor tried it and got caught.

I would never even think of doing the Cadillac show, or any of the other small shows in the middle of Michigan except maybe Sutton's Bay or maybe Traverse City. I wouldn't recommend either of those because they are too iffy. There are a lot of very wealthy people there in the summer. It's only good if someone likes you. I didn't do very well in Sutton's Bay but it must be good because there were a lot of top drawer artists there. 


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