Art Fair Insiders

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

What Will Art Fairs be Like After the Pandemic?

I've been puzzling over this question, and thinking about how I will handle art fairs going forward. All those people coming into my booth... coughing, sneezing, pawing through my print bins. I don't know... maybe art fairs are just not in my future any more. Or, maybe I just need to rethink how I do these art fairs.

I'm a digital artist. I sell prints of my digital paintings. I'm a printmaker. Most of my sales are packaged unframed prints. Packaged in plastic bags... perfect surfaces for a virus to cling and hang on for hours and days... perfect for infecting the next person to pick up that plastic-wrapped print.

I also own a gallery in Douglas, Michigan where I have the same nightmare scenario. Print bins everywhere. This has got to change in the aftermath of the Coronavirus. But how? Sales traditionally depend on touch and feel. Getting a product in the customer's hands is essential. Even my framed prints. Chances of a sale increase if I can take the picture off the wall and hand it to the customer. They hold it and it becomes an ownership thing. I can't do this any more either...

Then, there's the masks. Do we wear them in our booth? Do we ask our customers to wear masks? Yikes!

Some solutions I'm contemplating:
Maybe I'll eliminate the unframed print bins. Maybe I'll exhibit only framed prints representing all the images I'm selling. Maybe I'll make it clear that all these images that they see on the walls are also available unframed in several sizes. Maybe I'll have my unframed prints in boxes that only I can access. When a customer points to a picture they like, I'll retrieve the print and show it to them (but, no touch!). If they do touch it, I'll wipe it down with disinfectant (after they leave the booth). 

Maybe I'll eliminate on site sales and offer only shipping of prints they might be interested in. They want to buy a print (either framed or unframed, in a certain size) and I'll ship it to them. I have met a couple of photographers who regularly use this method of sales with success.

Maybe I'll quit the art fair circuit and focus on my gallery and online sales. Surprisingly, since the virus has closed down art fairs my online sales have increased (perhaps only because I initiated an aggressive sale to my email list). Who knows? The gallery is a much more controllable environment. Far fewer people wander through on a given day and there is a lot more room to maintain safe distances.

Have other artists been thinking about these problems and how to solve them? Will art fairs become a thing of the past? Any other ideas out there?

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Comment by Connie Mettler on June 1, 2020 at 3:20pm

I surely understand Patricia about the women not touching the jewelry ... but there are still many people with jobs, unaffected by the economic downturn, and many with new work because our economy is strong for those at the upper end of the earning ladder. So I agree with point 1 that you made below, but not with point 2 at all.

Comment by Patricia Zabreski Venaleck on May 29, 2020 at 4:07pm

Until we have a vaccine I don’t see art fairs working.  I have glass and metal jewelry.  Women don’t buy unless they try it on.  I could dip things in alcohol but no woman is going to try on jewelry with this virus.  So for that it means no sales. Also with so many people out of work, who has this extra income?  Hope we get a vaccine soon.

Comment by Steven Robertson on April 27, 2020 at 10:28am

One nice thing about the US is that it's not monolithic in the approach to the virus. By that I mean, some states will allow fairs and shows before others do. And there will be a first. Those who are more cautious can watch and see what happens. Those who are less risk-averse can participate. 

Data will come from that "first" (as well as from other large gatherings, etc.). 

So...more than becomes a question of when to jump in and resume (and how you approach that, too, I guess). 

Here's the other thing that's true: that virus (as are all others) is politically agnostic. It doesn't have an agenda apart from replicating. It will do what it does - and we'll be able to observe what it does under different "opening" circumstances. And we'll be able to make the best decisions we can for ourselves (and, by some extension, our potential customers). 

But absent that data, all we can do is speculate and "model". And maybe identify, personally, what kind of "normalcy" we're each comfortable with. In other words, after we're able to assess the true risk, I think we'll all be able to assume the amount of risk that we're comfortable with. 

The other other thing is that we're all prettymuch (collectively) running on a good dose of fear right now. That's really hard to sustain over time. As fear abates (and it must - lots of historical precedent for it, even in the face of things really scary), equilibrium returns. Systems hate being out-of-whack. Economies hate idle. People, generally, don't sit still well - and won't "voluntarily" remain in lockdown indefinitely. 

So I think the real question in all of this is a personal one: at what point would you feel comfortable jumping back in? And my guess is that answer might be different tomorrow (meaning indefinite future) than it is today. 

Just my .02. YMMV. 

Comment by Sandy Walker on April 27, 2020 at 9:10am

   This is a question we are all asking. I have spent the last year and a half developing a body of work in a different category, mixed media collage, in addition to my usual category of jewelry. After squirreling away in my studio for months, I’m all set to roll it out this year at shows. Unfortunately, many of those shows are now either cancelled or rescheduled to pretty impossible dates. I’m already in the mode of producing art that nobody will see unless they come to my very remote, out in the country studio. Or they could access it online, although I have never relied on online sales. My art needs to be out where people can see it, touch it, and make that wonderful impulse buying decision that happens at fairs. Now I have so much art produced I’m tripping over it. It’s like being “all dressed up and no place to go”  

     Still, I believe it’s too early to tell where this pandemic is going and what the after picture is going to look like. The art show circuit could totally go down the drain or it could rebound with a fervor. We don’t know the future. For me, the best plan is to continue to make art and be prepared. I am going to keep showing up in the studio and making art. I think some of the best art ever is going to come from this pressure cooker we find ourselves in, and that we can use this “break time” to make that great art. 

Comment by Barrie Lynn Bryant on April 26, 2020 at 8:05pm

Hi, John. Long time no see. Hope you are well. We're doing o.k., but not doing very many shows anymore as it is. We're being really selective. We just have to reminisce about the life we have lived for so long. I think the biggest downer is missing all our artist friends.

I don't see us doing any shows for a year probably. Getting older makes us higher risk. I can't imagine staying in hotel rooms for extended periods of time like we used to do so readily for 8 weeks at a time. Not even two weeks or one night in a hotel sounds inviting right now. SO that's that for us for a while. Good luck to you.

Comment by Jan Herman on April 26, 2020 at 3:15pm

I am adding more lower price point items to sell when, and if, art shows begin again. Before I sign up for an event, I will contact the organizer and ask "in what ways are you addressing pandemic issues and social distancing at this event?" If they are doing nothing, I doubt I'll apply. I feel that any art show that doesn't promote these concerns to the public, including spacing out the tents, will be missing visitors. 

Any event I participate in, I plan to have an S-route through the tent and exit out the back. One way in-out. I plan to be out back of the tent and give people space. This only works if there is room along at least one side of my tent for people to walk back to the front - and observe more of my work hanging outside. My sanitizing glass cleaner, hand sanitizer and Kleenix will be sitting out. And, my nose-covering bandana will be around my neck, at the ready, if I need it. 

I'll have arrows and a sign, "Ask. Don't Touch". Ha ha. Do I give this much chance of working? We'll see. The alternative seems to be wait for a vaccine and that puts me out of business for a LONG time. 

Comment by Connie Mettler on April 17, 2020 at 5:32pm

It's Friday evening and my mind is whirring. I've just completed 4 podcasts about reacting to the effects of the coronavirus, talking to show directors, artists, CPA's ... Every show cancellation makes me very sad. So much loss and disappointment on so many levels. 

Today's podcast about the unemployment insurance as part of the Cares package just blew my mind. That program is in a shambles. It's early. Give it time. Sure.

Plan B it has to be! Nothing remains the same, economic conditions are always shifting ... artists (or anyone for that matter) can't expect things to remain the same. The mutual support throughout the art fair business, in fact throughout the nation the love and care for the arts as reflected in all the grants, loans, programs, virtual shows, discounts, is heartwarming and frankly astonishing. 

I'm going to think about something else this weekend, maybe. On Monday we'll all start again, put our heads together, come up with the next idea and take some new steps. What about you?

Comment by Richard L. Sherer on April 16, 2020 at 12:58pm

It pays to have a Plan B. For my medium leather (saddles and personal leather goods), I got a letter from St. Louis tannery that they were shutting down but had inventory on hand. I asked and received a "split order" of smaller quantities to keep me going for 6-12 months without hoarding. I heard on business news to expect a lag in products produced in China as they crank up after closures. I ordered stainless steel hardware and fasteners. I ordered brass stuff from foundry  as I expect copper prices will spike later this year from mines/mills/smelters closing. Finally I got all my big insurance, property taxes, income tax bills together and figured out a schedule of payment with reduced cash flow. My motivation is going in the tank as I have lots of work in studio, but do not know who will be able to pay if I finish it. I have two saddles done and ready to ship but my gals' rodeos have been canceled, so they have no money to pay. This is big bucks sitting on the floor. I'm more motivated to get things done in studio that have been put off for years: repair/clean sewing machines, catalog needles, repair fluorescent lights, repair hydraulic equipment, build new shelves for storage.....  I don't expect "normal" until next spring. I think I will shoot some new pictures like Steven. 

Comment by Cat Tesla on April 16, 2020 at 9:51am

I’m posting this information to inform you, not to alarm you. Before I left my day job, I was on faculty at Emory University in Atlanta in the Department of Human Genetics. (left due to burn out – saw patients at high risk for genetic disease and I was the par layer of bad news) I have a master’s degree in human genetics, am not a physician nor an infectious disease specialist. Wtih that said, here are my thoughts:

I don’t know what the world will look like in 6 months or 12 months or even next week. However, I believe it’s extremely important to start selling your artwork online. Although art festivals are scheduled/rescheduled for the fall, unfortunately we just don’t know yet if any of those will happen.

With regard to covid19, there are three ways to “move past it” and get to a ‘new normal’. One is to severely restrict movement and assembly which is happening now. Two is to develop a vaccine, which is 18-24 months away (12 mo if ‘fast tracked’ although this has not happened previously for any vaccine). Third is herd immunity. Herd immunity is when there are enough people in a population who have been exposed to a virus, that the virus starts to disappear. This happened with the Zika virus. With covid19, herd immunity is currently estimated at 69.6% for our country. This means that 230 million people in the US alone, will need to have been infected with the covid19 virus. In New York, one of the hardest hit areas in the world, only 1% of that population has had covid19. And with that percentage, the healthcare system there has been overwhelmed.

Widespread testing will be necessary to determine who can move about freely going forward until a vaccine is available (provided the virus doesn’t mutate again). And with widespread testing there will be contact tracking. Google and Apple are developing an app for your cell phone to do just that. Contact tracking will inform you if you are within 6 feet of another person who is covid19 positive.

It’s hard to say when large assembly activities like art shows, school, concerts, and Disney will be back. Certainly there will be sectors of the economy reopened in small capacity or in states with low rates of infection.

Not trying to be the bearer of bad news, just trying to put out some scientific information for you to think about.

Info on herd immunity:

5 plans to reopen the economy:

Comment by Larry Schneider on April 15, 2020 at 7:55am

My viewpoint is that Disney, Amusement parks, cruises, NFL Games, concerts ,theater and art/craft festivals will all come back strong.  I did all these things for 40 years and never once had a problem or worried about dying from a disease. I will go back to the life I love and do shows the way I always did. I wont let a once in a century pandemic control my remaining years. 

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