Art Fair Insiders

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

Three Days in Kipona (Harrisburg, PA), Labor Day Weekend

To quote Billy Joel: Sometimes, I've found that just surviving is a noble fight.

That sure was the case at Kipona, a three-day festival along the east shore of the Susquehanna River in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania's (bankrupt) capital city. 

I'd chosen this show for the three-day weekend over potentially more lucrative shows on Long Island and New England because of a chance for a free stay in nearby Carlisle, my college hometown, and visits with friends.  A relaxing respite in a long road trip, I thought. 

But fate had other plans. On Wednesday evening, my 1997 Dodge Caravan spewed its last drops of oil all over a dirt road in the aptly-named Great Dismal Swamp somewhere along the Virginia-North Carolina border.  An emergency case of Quaker State got me and my cameras back to an Enterprise car rental place near my hotel, where I rented and loaded an Econoline, drove it to the Harrisburg area on Friday morning, dropped the van at an Enterprise sales store, and paid cash for a 2011 Ford Transit XL. 

Another weary load transfer later, I arrived at Friday setup and managed to get the tent and walls up before sunset.   I can't say I've ever worked so hard just to get to a show. 

Was it worth it?  Barely. Although the show is sponsored by the Greater Harrisburg Arts Council, and there are plenty of fine artists and craftspersons plying their trade in central Pennsylvania, the crowd just didn't have deep pockets, and the $5-for-the-weekend admission probably pared it even further (though I'm not sure it thinned actual buyers, given the show's location along a popular recreation trail).   The humid,overcast, showery weather Harrisburg is known for paid a prolonged visit, which didn't help.  During most of Saturday, the crowd was surprisingly light, but my eagle photographs sold briskly in this hunting-and-wildlife-savvy area, giving me a modest $600 gross for the long (10 am to 7 pm) day.  (Note to organizers:  What's the point of staying open past 5?  There weren't 200 visitors to the show after 5 pm).

A brisk spell right after the show opened on Sunday (at noon) saved the show for me, but the late-day visitors were browsers, not buyers, and I wound up doing only a few hundred dollars better. Monday, like Mondays at most 3-day shows I've done, was barely worth raising the tent flaps for: I sold only a few prints, tallying around $200.

I didn't walk the entire show, which runs nearly half a mile along the river bike path.  But my count of 60 booths closest to me tallied 30% jewelers, 25% photographers, only a few painters and mixed-media artists, and a smattering of furniture makers and "country craft."  The quality was decent but, according to those I spoke with, not on a par with the region's better-known shows in Longs Park and Mt. Gretna. And among the dozen or more artists and fine craftspersons I surveyed, only one, a hard-working, customer-focused potter, had a gangbusters show.  Several jewelers with low price points said they did OK; a high-end jeweler I spoke with, not so well.  The others reported mediocre sales at best. 

There are some good aspects to the show:  A friendly volunteer staff, very good security, ease of pulling in right behind your booth for load-in and breakdown, free parking on the nearby streets, and some decent food vendors at the show where you could use a $5 voucher provided by the show.  And of course, a pretty tree-lined setting. 

The show gets marked down for spotty booth-sitting service (promised, scheduled, but often not delivered); and booth spaces put in locations that were potentially muddy when the rains come, as they always do, or in spots that were unworkable because of tree branches extending six feet off the ground (see picture #2, below). I'm not a big fan of the irregular hours (Sat 10-7, Sun 12-7, Mon 10-5) either.

Bottom line:  If you are a regional Pennsylvania artist with lower-to-middle price points, and especially if you do functional art and country craft, you could find a market here.  If you are a 2-D artist, I'd skip it, and maybe consider the Longs Park festival in nearby Lancaster, which takes place on the same weekend. 

As for me, if I didn't have so many friends in the area (and free lodging, always a nice break in the middle of a four-week road trip) this show wouldn't be on the schedule. Next year, I'll try Long's Park myself. 











Above: Kind of a pretty location for a show, though muddy at times.
The fact that this pic was taken on mid-afternoon Saturday should give
you an idea of attendance.
Below:  Booth #112, right next to mine.  Might have had a bit of trouble

raising your roof on this location.






Views: 1056

Comment by Richard L. Sherer on September 6, 2012 at 1:46pm
Good review Geoff. Thank you for noting the geographic location of the show. I would never travel that far east for a show but I have bummed around that country visiting my wife's relatives and for kids weddings, reunions etc. I like to read about these guys-
Comment by Richard L. Sherer on September 6, 2012 at 1:48pm
And gals seem to have a lot more problems with shows back east than we have out west. At Winter Park, CO, there were tree trimmers to take care of the low hanging branch problem.
Comment by Larry Berman on September 6, 2012 at 2:23pm
The art center removed Robert Stadnycki as the show director. Some artists may not agree but Robert made things a good as possible for the artists. He told me that there might be a new Harrisburg show in the future.

Larry Berman
Comment by Geoff Coe on September 6, 2012 at 2:39pm

You're right, Larry.  This seemed to be cloaked in mystery from an accepted-artists' perspective: Our first communication from the show was from Robert (through Zapp), then everything else came from an anonymous show committee.  I didn't think the show volunteers were quite as focused this year, but who knows if it was Robert's absence, or the humidity? 

I didn't post a lot of suggestions for the improving the show because I talked with them at length last year and they didn't seem particularly interested in hearing from me (borne out by the fact that the show didn't implement any of them this year).  Which is OK, if that's how they want to do business.  But in general I've found that most Florida shows, assuming they're dealing with lots of tourists and part-time residents, make sure they promote their shows well, put up banners, post directions on their materials, and dedicate space for patron parking.  Up North, I've heard from more than a couple directors that "folks have been coming to our show for a long time...they know where to park" , for example.

I hope there is a new show up there...there are enough good artists to support one.

Comment by Megan Horan on September 7, 2012 at 6:15am

I attended the show over Memorial Day weekend and was surprised by how far some of the artists had traveled for the show - Michigan, New Mexico, etc. 

Comment by Larry Berman on September 7, 2012 at 6:30am

Yes. Harrisburg (and Mt Gretna) seem to draw artists from all over the country. I think it may be the weekends they are on and what other shows are scheduled at the same time and where they are located.

Larry Berman

Comment by Geoff Coe on September 7, 2012 at 9:35am

That's an interesting point about the geographic mix.  I personally didn't notice a lot of folks from outside PA and DE and MD.  I'll see if I can get that information. 

It occurs to me that although there are a number of places an artist can exhibit over Labor Day weekend, I'll bet the vast majority are "family-oriented" carnivals, county fairs, and the like, with art often taking a back seat to musical entertainment.  So perhaps Kipona is unique in that respect, and that's why artists continue to support it.

Comment by Larry Berman on September 7, 2012 at 9:40am

I've always felt the Labor Day weekend show sucked and have never recommended it. Memorial Day show is better but Harrisburg is still farm country. I used to do real well there with my teddy bear pictures.

Better PA locations are Lancaster about 45 minutes south and State College about an 90 minutes north.

Larry Berman

Comment by Geoff Coe on September 7, 2012 at 10:27am

Yep, I mentioned the Lancaster show (Longs' Park) in my review and in the comments as a good Labor Day alternative.  Thanks, Larry.

Comment by Kathleen J. Clausen on September 7, 2012 at 11:07am

Great information, Geoff.  Also helpful reading what other people could add.  Although I don't think I'll ever venture that far from home, I really like reading about other shows.


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