Art Fair Insiders

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

  I went to the Broad Ripple Art Fair Open Jury in Indianapolis in February. I got to be a "fly on the wall," watching five judges as they decided the fate of 539 artists that had applied for the show.

   Because I am a jewelry artist who participates in juried art shows, and because the jury process has always been dark and mysterious to me, I decided to attend. It was a show to which I had applied, located an hour from my home, and an invitation had been emailed to all applicants.

     When I got there they were finishing up in the photography category. It was in a conference room with a large screen in the front, where the digital images were projected. The five judges sat at two long tables in the front row. Each judge had a laptop in front of them, seeing the same images that were being projected on the large screen. As they viewed the images - all three plus a booth image, the narrator read out loud the artist statement. There is very little interaction between the judges. The images would be up for about 30-40 seconds, the judges would mark their scores, and go on to the next artist.

   I found it fascinating to see the artist entries for photography. They ran the gamut from traditional to contemporary and realism to abstract. Seeing exactly what the judges saw, and in the short time given for each entry, I started to gain an appreciation for the challenge of judging an art show.

    It's all subjective, after all.

     After photography there was a break for lunch and then the jewelry category began. The host briefly showed images from each entry in the category. Then he went back through them, giving 30-40 seconds per artist, while the narrator read the artist statement. Since jewelry is my category, I was especially attentive to the images presented, the booth image, and what the artist said about his or her work. With 128 entries, the highest number of any category, it can all start looking the same after a while.

      "We should score down every time the term 'unique' or 'one of a kind' is used!" one of the judges jokingly said during a break.

    I have done juried art shows for over 20 years, but in the last few years I have totally upgraded and streamlined my booth. I got great direction and advice from fellow artists on Art Fair Insiders. I realized my booth was preventing me from getting accepted to certain shows. Now my booth is simple and uncluttered. So in viewing the jury images I was very interested in seeing other booth shots. What I saw ran the gamut from the cheap craft fair variety of booth to gorgeous hand crafted booths that are the perfect reflection of the jewelry sold. The ones that stood out were those that quite simply, in an aesthetically pleasing way, told customers non-verbally "great jewelry here". A consistent theme I saw was "less is more". No clutter, no signs,  just tastefully designed displays with fabric drops and large images of jewelry pieces. The art reflects the booth and the booth reflects the art. 

    Another element I saw in viewing the artist entries was that the pieces were consistent. It wasn't necessarily similar in color or size, but harmonious one to the next. It was obvious they were made by the same artist and with the same intent. The ones that showed visual harmony between the pieces made the strongest statement and, I'm sure, earned the highest scores.

    I felt that my jury images had the level of harmony from one to the next. I have worked hard to present consistent images of originality and craftsmanship that look harmonious. I also knew that my booth image complements the art and is streamlined and aesthetic. It was gratifying, after all that I have invested, to see my projected images on the big screen. I really thought I had a good shot at acceptance to the show. 

      So it was with a good dose of disappointment that I read the email two days later, thanking me for my entry but regretfully being rejected. This morning I received another email, delineating the scores given to each entry. Mine was a 2.8, out of a possible 7. Ouch! That's not even high enough to get on the wait list! 

     So, it was a great learning for me. I have gained a valuable insight into what was before a dark and nebulous process. What will I take from this? 

  • The jury process is largely subjective. It is subject to the opinion /eye /mood of the individual judges.
  •  Each year the judges are different and therefore the chance to be accepted or rejected change, but the process will still be subjective. 
  • As an artist it is within my power alone to create my best art, represented by great photographs, and described by the most succinct and impactful artist statement. 
  • As an artist it is not within my power to decide what the judges will accept or reject.
  • This is a competition and as artists who compete we push to be the best we can be. 
  • If you don't compete you will never win.

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Comment by Karen Holtkamp on March 25, 2017 at 7:53am

I think these are great shots.  I must have looked away for a moment because I would have recognized these as yours.

IMHO, entering b&w shots is not the way to go, because you then look like just another one in the crowd.  Also, the b&ws seemed to be so similar in subject matter at BRAF, i.e. a sole winter tree on the horizon.

I've also noticed at these open juries that there's no place for subtlety.  Plenty of saturation seems to get the jurors' notice, whereas the whispy ethereal shots fade away when projected.  The subtle and complicated shots, like your b&ws with poetry, are great in the booth where there's time to absorb them, but not so much at a jury.

BTW, I realize we've highjacked Sandy's thread, but since it's from two years ago maybe we'll be forgiven.  :)  Hope your procedure went okay.

Comment by Robert Wallis on March 24, 2017 at 6:44pm

Here's what I entered and these are all getting long in the tooth. The booth shot is about 6 years old and I'm slated for a new one in a week or two if the weather holds. I had heard that B&W is the "new " thing again although I won't believe it until they start selling. I  have just about enough B&W images to fill a booth at this point, but I would be reluctant to do so at a fair. I would have been at the BRAF open jury but was scheduled for a cardiac ablation that morning. That procedure also knocked me out of the Artist's Garage Sale up in Kalamazoo :-(

The newest image in this batch is about 3-4 years old at least, and the others are about 12 years old. As far as I can tell, the obvious unified body of work got me in as I've heard too may times that the jurors would rather see a unified body of work as opposed to a collection of lucky shots.

This set of jury shots isn't getting me into the higher echelon shows like Belleville, Madison, Krasl, and Fourth Street in Bloomington. The entries I've tried with the B&W pieces and poetry have been getting slammed by the jurors. Those may have to be entered under Graphics or Digital as they aren't doing anything worthwhile in the photo entries.

Comment by Karen Holtkamp on March 24, 2017 at 2:26pm

Good for you!  Wouldn't you know it, this year I got wait listed.  My category is one of those with more on the wait list than on the accepted list so I'm not holding my breath.  I applied to another show the same weekend and just received the notice -- wait listed again.  Sheesh.  Better take another look at my app photos for this year.

FYI, in your category this year there was a lot of black & white and many, many trees and oceans.  I don't recall seeing your shots , but maybe you entered color and some novel subjects and that piqued their interest.  Whatever the reason, congrats.  Kill 'em!

Comment by Robert Wallis on March 23, 2017 at 8:31pm

Karen, I finally made it back in Broad Ripple for the first time since 2001. I was right on the split with two more people at the same score below me. Have to wonder what the difference was.

Comment by Karen Holtkamp on March 23, 2017 at 1:33pm

I went to this year's (2017) open jury at Broad Ripple and have some notes to write up in a blog.  I'll start a new thread asap.

Comment by Barrie Lynn Bryant on March 23, 2017 at 7:23am

This is an awesome blog and one of my faves here on AFI. Just chock full of great info. I'm glad you revived it today, Ryan. I reread it from top to bottom once again and was surprised to read even what I said. I benefit a lot from rereading things, especially when it's pertinent information. It's not that my reading comprehension is tanking, but that I might see things from a different perspective or I'll pick up on details I before missed or dismissed.

I almost applied to High Desert Art Fair in Bend, OR, but discovered that hotels during that time of year cost $200 per night. Some friends suggested I stay a distance away from Bend in order to get better rates, but distance can also be a motivating factor in quality of life! I mean, I'm already trekking a thousand miles from Kirby, Wyoming to Bend, Oregon. I need peace of mind once I get there. And the expenses would be too high for the expected return. Sometimes I override that principle just because I want to develop in an area, but these ain't the times for doing that!

Comment by Larry Berman on March 23, 2017 at 6:46am

A few shows offer to give you scores and/or feedback. Broad Ripple is one of them, which is what this thread is about. Two others are the St Louis Art Fair and Art in the High Desert in Bend Oregon. Also there are a few shows that offer open juries where you can sit in the room and see all the images projected. Add to that an even fewer amount of shows that offer image evaluation juries.

Larry Berman

Comment by Ryan Moyer on March 23, 2017 at 12:09am

I'm sorry to bump an old thread here, but I see a lot of people referencing their jury scores here.  How do you get those?  Are they just given with some shows or are people asking the even coordinator for them?

Comment by Karen Holtkamp on March 23, 2015 at 11:21am

Ain't it the truth?  :)

Comment by Robert Wallis on March 23, 2015 at 11:08am
Karen, one of the mantras I've heard for years is that you can do work for show or you can do work for dough, but seldom do the two ever meet.

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