… an insider’s viewMany artists and craftspeople make a good portion, or all, of their living from sales of their art at art fairs and shows, sometimes called street fairs. We know artists that do a few shows a year, and some that do 25, 30 or more. But it is an ‘industry’ that is changing rapidly, and there are some circles where the discussion is about the death of art fairs as we know them.
Many shows are sponsored by organizations for which the show is a source of income. When this happens, there seems to be a consistent result. The show gets watered down, one way or the other.
Costs of running a fair are significant, to be sure. Advertising, administration, porta-potties, websites, fair maps, … the list goes on and on. Expensive and complex.
The basic process for shows is that they put out a call for applications via mail, internet and magazine advertising. Artists submit the application with, typically 3 to 5 slides of their work. These slides are viewed by a committee of jurors who select the show participants. These juries may be practicing artists, interested arts supporters…but more frequently a show committee or, in one case, business students at a community college who are acting as interns (not good). Good shows will publish their jury list…at least by qualification. Typically there is a $25-$35 fee for applying. This jury process usually takes place 3 to 5 months before the show, and they advise you as to whether you’re in, 2 or 3 months ahead. If you’re accepted, typical fees per booth range from $125 to $425 depending on the size of the show). There is usually some relationship between potential sales and booth fees.
The Internet…for applications, slides can now be entered digitally, and shows are entered with just a few clicks resulting in more people applying to shows and making quality jurying more difficult. If you’re interested, one of these venues is Zapplication ( http://www.zapplication.org/ ) (I wish I could give you our id and password … but you might sign us up for more shows ).
A computer downside is that it is now easy to manipulate slides before submitting.
So What’s happening? As shows find it tougher to fill the booth allotments (and budgets from fees) there is a tendency either to let in lower quality work, or start selling “commercial” booths … cell phones, packaged food items, sampling … whatever. A trend this year seems to be to take out a row of art booths, generally in the prime space, and put in these commercial booths, moving the art booths to the side.
The second trend is for more and louder entertainment. Especially rock bands. As the woman who used to run the Edina Art Show pointed out, the least sponsors could do is match the music to the art audience.
The effect of these 2 moves is to dramatically decrease sales by artists at art shows. The inclusion of commercial booths makes the atmosphere more of a flea market or retail street sale than an art fair. The addition of intrusive entertainment changes the message from ‘this is an art fair’ to ‘this is a music festival’….entertainment. As sales go down, the artists who make a living from their work will have to find other ways of selling, and suddenly shows are in a negative spiral.
Long term, this direction also prevents new, young artists from breaking into the crafts world. If shows aren’t working, they will find other ways to market.
One of the ways we judge whether a show will be good for us and our customers, is to judge if the art show is the “reason for being” for the event. If it is, the show will attract serious customers, interested in buying because they know there will be a good selection of high quality work. If the art show becomes secondary to other activities, quality inevitably slides and the show rapidly becomes entertainment.
If you feel that a favorite show of yours is changing in negative ways, please, go out of your way to let the show’s organizer know your feeling. For one, for shows that we do, we will start posting the show’s management contact information in the section of our website where we list our show schedule.