Art Fair Insiders

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

I was thinking of Mexico to climb Chichen Itza, or Florida to visit friends and great art fairs, but the siren's song lured me to Philadelphia for the Buyers Market of American Craft, presented by the Rosen Group, at the Philadelphia Convention Center, February 16-18. 

For nearly 30 years the BMAC has provided a professional, trade-only setting for buyers and the makers of fine craft to meet, producing the nation's pre-eminent wholesale marketplace.

Mark & John Schlabaugh's wood booth 

I hadn't been to Philadelphia since a NOW Convention when Betty Friedan was its president so was totally unprepared for the beautiful skyline and eccentric mix of historic and modern buildings. Couple that with the first class Convention Center  and the enticing Reading Terminal Market (a huge bustling farmers market) between my hotel and the show, and I knew I'd chosen the perfect destination for a fine art and craft show aficionado.

What I found:

  • beautiful convention center
  • nearly 800 exhibitors
  • carpeted and well lit booths
  • a fashion show, "Rock the Runway"
  • all exhibitors and buyers have to fill out an extensive application process verifying legitimacy and credentials
  • exhibits in all media (2D & 3D) with many jewelers
  • show laid out by category to make it easy for buyers to find what they were looking for
  • seminars for buyers and artists on marketing fine craft

Security is careful to check for credentials on the people who come through the doors as there was a big problem a few years ago when counterfeiters were discovered roaming the show floor with cameras, stealing ideas. As I was doing a video of the show floor on Monday I was suddenly surrounded by security and escorted off the floor!  "Get that woman in the white blouse," was the cry. As a result I got to see the show office and meet Rebecca Mercado, the show director. Then I got credentialed for my camera. 

If you are interested in being part of the show the Arts Business Institute, run by Carolyn Edlund, presents two days of seminars with authoritative speakers to get you ready. A part of this service is an opportunity to showcase your work to the buyers at the show for a critique. To me, the best part is the access to the show floor for the newcomers. As we well know "walking the show" is the best way to learn. 

An order being placed at Eartha pottery, a common sight throughout the show

One of the people I wanted to meet was Stacey Miller who was on our recent podcast about wholesaling, doing her first show. I visited her on Saturday afternoon and then again on Monday. This show offers mentoring to first time exhibitors and in the meantime her mentor had been there, completely rearranged her booth and it had gone from "okay" to "obviously ready for business." It was a major upgrade. Kudos to the mentor.

Having been immersed in the retail side of fine art and craft events I didn't expect to see many people I knew but did meet folks who are regular visitors to AFI. So great to meet Michael and Victoria Terra, Lance and Amanda Taylor, Susan Crow, Kathy King, Laurie Eskenazi, Laurie Leonard, Stacey Miller, Susanne Lorraine, Paul Willsea, Diane Wright, Jennifer Merchant, Jeannette Payne, Deb Karash, Kathy King, Courtney Gillen ...

AFI members Michael and Victoria Terra

Dinner with my friends Joanna and Richard Rothbard of American Art Marketing was a great catch up time. Similarly, Saturday night with fiber artists Barbara Poole ( and Ping Wu was stimulating and reminded me of why I miss not hanging out more with artists. Thanks for the fun!

Biggest thrill was to find Loretta Eby and Jeff Jackson who I haven't seen for years but who were our neighbors at art fairs for years. I was afraid they were selling insurance or working in IT, but no, they've just gone wholesale!

It was a pleasure to meet Wendy Rosen, the American crafts advocate; Carolyn Edlund, a solid crafts business writer; Bruce Baker, consultant for craft artisans, Ryan Jones (publisher) and Travis Manney (sales manager) of the Crafts Report

The most frustrating thing about the show was that I couldn't buy anything as this is strictly a wholesale show. I surely could have spent my allowance and more, if only!

This busman's holiday suited me just fine.

(A photo essay about the show is coming soon)


YouTube video with interviews and an overview of the event:

See more photos from the show floor at this link:

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Comment by Connie Mettler on February 28, 2013 at 8:47pm

blushing -- filmmaker? Something new for my resume ;), Carolyn!

Comment by Carolyn G Edlund on February 28, 2013 at 6:36pm

Connie, thanks so much for this fun video and making the trip to visit us in Philadelphia! I really enjoyed walking the show with you, but didn't realize you were such a great film maker!

Comment by Connie Mettler on February 26, 2013 at 1:14pm

I don't have an actual "read", but do know that some people go away with no orders. Here is an email I received:

I did not do well in Philly,  and found out that it often takes three years to make your booth fee when you are new.   Artists that where there before said it was a very slow show.  With many buyers they knew not even showing up.  But the people next to me where new and they did great.

I heard several saying the same thing, that it could take a few times showing up before you broke even -- but do know someone who is active on this site who was there for the first time going away very happy. Just like the retail shows, I guess.

Comment by Kaye Light on February 26, 2013 at 10:13am

Connie:  Actually that was the one question I never got to ask as we ran out of time. How many exhibitors end that 3-day show with NO orders? Do you have a read on that?

Comment by Connie Mettler on February 26, 2013 at 10:07am

Nice, Barry. You would have fit in well at the show last week.

So, there you go, Kaye -- goals help a lot don't they? So it sounds like it was worthwhile for you to attend those workshops because they narrowed your vision. I've always been involved in the retail shows and would find it very painful to do a show where you walked away with zero $$ and promises.

Comment by Kaye Light on February 26, 2013 at 9:47am

Barry, your booth is beautiful. Connie, my take-away is to build up more retail accounts right now with an eye toward possibly trying for the next Buyer's Market. I work so much better with a solid goal.

Comment by Barry Bernstein on February 26, 2013 at 9:34am

Here's what my booth looked like the last time I did ACC or BMAC.

Comment by Barry Bernstein on February 26, 2013 at 9:31am

Connie, I wish you could have filmed the first day of the show. The one thing I wanted to see more than anything is how crowded the show was. I noticed that Wendy had 800 exhibitors and ACC had 600 during the wholesale days. That's the way it was when it was most successful for me. When they ballooned up to 1400 exhibitors at each show, I stopped doing it. If I knew the buyers were there on days 1 and 2, I would do it again. I think I would have to write at least $10K to $12K to consider doing it.

Comment by Connie Mettler on February 25, 2013 at 8:28pm

Can't help myself, Virginia. I'm addicted to art (fairs).

Comment by Connie Mettler on February 25, 2013 at 5:38pm

So, what was your take away, Kaye? Are you thinking you will be in the show next year?

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