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Choosing The Right Art Fair

Updated on November 26, 2014

10 Things To Ponder When Selecting An Art Fair

As the art fair seasons is once again heading our way, I thought I'd make a page which may help those of you who are thinking about getting into this type of event for marketing your art. A checklist of sorts for figuring out whether doing a particular event is right for you.

It takes just as much work to do an art fair where you earn thousands as it does where you earn hundreds. There are thousands of art fairs, art festivals and craft events held all over the country. And knowing which ones will work best for you will go a long ways in helping you be successful in your endeavor. As always I am not here to tell you what you should or shouldn't do. What I am here to do is offer you information to help you make informed decisions about your capabilities with this kind of venue

So if your thinking you want to get into the art fair circuit or even just want to try one on for size. Read on as this page will offer up some of the more important factors to consider when choosing an art fair event.

The 10 Most Important Factors (in no particular order) For Choosing An Art Fair Event That's Right For you Are:

1. Attendance

2. Time of year

3. Whether The Art Fair Is held in a park or on pavement

4. Number of years the art fair has been running

5. How many artists

6. Security

7. Art Fair Vs. Craft Fair

8. Is This Specifically An Art Evevnt

9. Indoor Versus Outdoor Art Fairs

10.. Figuring The Actual Cost Of Doing Art Fairs

And One More For Good Measure: Artist Perks

copyright protected by copyscape
copyright protected by copyscape

All copyrights are retained by the artist,

Mona Majorowicz of Wild Faces Gallery.

The artwork or content in this lens may not be used or reproduced, either

in part or in whole, without the express written consent from the artist.

But First: Whenever Possible Visit The Art Fair You're Thinking Of Doing Before Signing Up

This is by far the best way to gauge whether an event will be for you. You can get an "idea" about the crowds and the layout. It also gives you the opportunity to talk with artists who are participating in the event.

A Couple Of Things To Keep In Mind When Talking To Artists While At The Event:

* Look for those that are close to what you're selling

* Keep your questions brief

* If a potential customer comes in the booth, leave the working artist immediately so they can do their thing

* Not all artists want to tell you the truth. This means some may say their sales were great when they were not or some may lead you to believe their sales were less than good in order to keep the event to themselves. Yes I do know artists who don't what to encourage others to apply to their favorite events. It just means more competition for them to get in next year..

1. Art Fair Attendance

As Well As Size Of The City Hosting The Art Fair.

There are plenty of events out there to choose from and most every small town has at least one. Small events are good for testing the waters and getting the hang of what actually goes into a successful fair for you. But the real money comes from doing larger events.

Any art fair who draws a good crowd will mostly likely tell you what they average for last years attendance. If it doesn't the other way to gauge potential sales would be by the size of the city the art fair is being held in.

For me to do an event my general rule of thumb is it must have an attendance of at least 30,000 people for the event. Ideally 75,000 to 150,000 is where I like my events to be.

Iowa City Summer Of The Arts Festival
Iowa City Summer Of The Arts Festival

2. The Time Of Year The Art Fair Is Being Held

How Seasons Affect Art Fair Weather

If you do art fairs the bulk of them are held outdoors. It has been my experience that outdoor events have more sales overall then indoor art fairs. My best indoor event is equal to a mediocre outdoor event. So in order to earn the bucks I must show and sell in parks and on city streets. This means eventually weather will happen.

Note: I live in the Midwest and stick primarily in it when doing art fairs and festivals. Therefor this weather advice is based on my experiences doing events in this area.

Seasonal Weather Considerations For Doing Art Fairs Hazards

Early Spring - Spring Rain, thunderstorms and tornadoes. The earlier in the year the art fair, the more likely bad weather will happen.

Summer Much less chance of being rained out but high heat plays a factor.

Fall My personal favorite time of year to do events but this will really depend on whether your a "glass half full or half empty" kind of person Half Full You got a 50% chance the weather will be lovely and cool. Half Empty You got a 50% chance you will get rained or stormed out or suffer heat exhaustion. Much like Spring the later in the year the chances for bad weather in increase. Yes I've been snowed on in October.

Winter Well for my part of the country this means indoor only events. But there are weather concerns for traveling and also I have done more than one event that had a blizzard which meant zero attendance. On the other hand and pre-Christmas shows usually have the benefit of holiday shoppers.

Riverssance Art Fair Dubuque Iowa
Riverssance Art Fair Dubuque Iowa

3. Is The Art Fair In A Park Or On Pavement

The Benefits Of Each

I much prefer a park to pavement no matter what. Generally you are given more booth space but primarily it's because staking a tent to the ground makes it pretty much immovable. No matter how many weights you put on a tent, if it's windy enough, it will move.

Benefits Of Doing Art Fair Events In A Park

* The ability to stake your tent into the ground

* No matter what the temperature it is much cooler than it would be on pavement.

* Usually got shade trees

* Generally more space. Rarely is a booth space in a park 10x10. On pavement they often put you withing inches of your neighbor.

Benefits Of Doing Art Fair Events On Pavement

* When it rains, it runs down the streets and then dries. Parks tend to get muddy.

* Usually some air conditioned indoor place to escape the heat for a minute

* Tend to get more attendance the park shows

4. How Long Has The Art Fair Been Running

The Longer The Art Fair Has Been Running, The Better

I generally like to see that an event has been running for at least 5 years. Most art fairs that I do have been around for several decades.

Usually new art fairs struggle to advertise adequately. It takes time for a good event to build a client base. That doesn't mean I don't do new events.I do, especially if they are local. But I go into it with the thought that I am helping the event take off, not that the event will make me money.

5. What Kind & How Many Artists Do This Art Fair Event

Competition For Art Fair Sales Versus Customer Draw

This is a balancing act. Too many artist and it thins the buyers. Too few artists and you don't get enough of a draw for the public.

For me, in general I like somewhere between 100-300 artists. Of course what I sell has less direct competition. I do wildlife and equestrian art. Now if I were a potter or jeweler then I would also need to factor in my direct competition.

I have done some events that were so heavy on ceramics and jewelers that a full 2/3 of their artists fell into these two categories. The remaining third was everything else. So if an event has 125 artists and say 40 are selling the same category as you, that may well be too many.

Once again, if possible got to the event ahead of time to see what kind of artist mix they have.

A Few Books On Selling At Art & Craft Fairs And Festivals

6. Does The Art Fair Provide Security?

And Should You Take Down Your Art Display At Night?

Almost all art fairs of any size have security, even one day events. However in general it's the overnight hours that you really have to be careful about.

Most art fairs whether held in a park or on pavement often have a certain degree of transient people in the area. Often art fair events held in downtown areas of cities will bordering some lovely park setting. There is an event I have done for about a decade, where the booths on the park side of the street often have people sleeping in the tents overnight. They can slip in unseen a lot easier than the high-rise side of the street.

As to whether you should dismantle your display over night . . . most artists don't. I do. I always do. it's not that I'm worried about thievery. It's more about a storm blowing through. But again I know artists who have had their booth pee'd in or vomited in over night. Most events are so big that even a well staffed security force won't see it all.

Riverssance ARt Fair
Riverssance ARt Fair

7. Art Fair Versus Craft Fair

Is An Art Fair Better Than A Craft Fair?

If want to preface this by saying, I am not an art snob. The reason it's important to know the difference between being in a craft fair instead of an art fair, is it attracts a totally different set of buyers. Besides doing Art Fairs I have done Art & Craft events as well as just Craft events. But knowing what they "really" were allowed me to pack appropriately, (like lower ticket items for when I do craft events.) In the end, what's important to me is that I make a certain amount of money. It is usually irrelevant whether I get there by selling original art or by selling notecards.

Initially a way to determine if an event is one or the other is by how they declare themselves and whether they jury. To be clear, just because an event calls itself an "art fair" doesn't mean it can't be crafty. They can and often are. Or that a craft event can't have great art. They do. This is just another reason that whenever possible you should attend the event as a patron before committing your cash for a booth.

8. Is This Specifically An Art Event

Or Is It An Afterthought Of Some Other Function

Is it specifically an art event. Meaning it's not Apple Days Festival, Hobo Days or Antique Tractor Days or something similar where the main draw is something else and they just are happening to have an art event at the same time. Often these type of events will lure in artists with the attendance record for the entire event.

But don't be fooled, often when the art show is not the main focus, the sales will be nominal. This is true even for things which you might think fit your niche perfectly. Most often when people are attending for something other than buying art, they usually don't. There are some exceptions to this rule, but they are very few.

This doesn't mean you won't make money there, you probably will. But if your in this to actually make a real profit take a good look at this type of event before signing. It takes just as much work to do an art fair where you earn thousands as it does where you earn hundreds.

Waterloo Holiday Arts Festival
Waterloo Holiday Arts Festival

9. Indoor Art Fair Versus Outdoor Art Fair

Art Fair Security Over Art Fair Sales

Outdoor events make more money than indoor events I know it sounds crazy and messed up, but it's so true. So despite the fact the my stress level is way down for indoor events nearly all the events I do are outdoors. I've done some really beautiful high quality indoor art shows but their sales were so dismal that I went back to taking risks at the outdoor events on the same week.

Benefits For Doing Indoor Art Fairs

* Weather safe

* Temperature Controlled

* No tearing down the booth for overnight

* Greater Security

Benefits For Doing Outdoor Art Fairs

* Greater Attendance

* Greater Sales

* Usually live music and entertainment

* Roomier Booth Spaces

10. Figuring The Real Cost Of Doing Art Fairs

Allowing You To Make Informed Decisions About Which Art Fair Event To Do.

Often events are held on the same weekend and choosing which event to do, may come down to an honest assessment of what your real costs are.

So here's a couple of things to think about when trying to decide between competing art fair events.

* Cost of goods sold

* Booth Fee & Jury Fee

* Gas

* Meals

* Hotels

* Parking - Often major cities require parking fees or if you have an oversize vehicle that doesn't fit in a standard parking garage.

* and if you're feeling really honest Time spent away from working at your art.

A hypothetical scenario between competing art fairs.

Big City Art Fair You predict you'll do around $6000 gross in sales. The event runs Friday night and Saturday-Sunday. (Total days gone 5- including travel)

Small Town Art Fair You predict $1500 gross sales. The event runs only Saturday afternoon for 5 hours. (Total days gone 1 including travel time)

Which Do You Choose? After you factor in all the above mentioned costs the answer may not seem so obvious.

One Additional Thought: What Kind Of Perks Does The Art Fair Offer

Don't Be Fooled By The Word Free

This is the by far the least important aspect in choosing an art fair. Remember you usually pay for all the "free" stuff they give with your booth fee. You ask most any artist if they would prefer a discount on their booth fee or 5 handsome awards given out, hands down the answer will be a discount.

None the less there are some events that really take care of their artists and others where you are completely on our own. Cost of the event will be a pretty good indicator of which is which.

My most expensive event that I do offers the following FREE perks.

* Artist Awards Dinner

* Major Cash Prizes

* Artist Hot Breakfast with fruit

* Free water brought every hour or so faithfully by volunteers

* Free lunch from an art fair sponsor

* Massage (yeah, I'm not kidding. It's wonderful0

* Air conditioned artist lounge

* Artist only bathrooms (you have an event with 100,000 people quick access to a restroom is invaluable)

* Snacks brought multiple times a day

* Volunteers to help load and unload

* Sandbags

* Loads of security

* A weather alert team

* Board members ask artists what they want and act on it. (really rare to have a real person ask you instead of a qustionaire. Rarer still they follow through)

What My cheapest event offers for FREE perks.

* Donuts and coffee in the morning. first come first served. When they're gone they're gone.

Cost ratio about 20 to 1.

Resources For Finding The Right Art Fair For You

The Two Best Ways To Find Out If An Event Is Right For You Are:

1. Go to the event if at all possible

2. Ask Other Artists

Other artists are by far the most reliable way to find out what a particular event is like. Comparing sales information is relatively useless since no two artists do the same at any given event. But for everything else an artist who's been there is the best solution.

Resources For Finding Quality Art Fairs

I have used all of these at one time or another and all provide excellent information. But perhaps the best option is to go to the events you are interested in and talk with exhibiting artists.

The Art Fair Source Book

Art Calendar Magazine

Midwest Art Fairs

Sunshine Artist Magazine

Brookings SUmmer Art Festival
Brookings SUmmer Art Festival
Mona demonstration of oil pastel
Mona demonstration of oil pastel

About The Author Of How To Choose The Right Art Fair

Mona Majorowicz of Wild Faces Gallery

My name is Mona Majorowicz I am a professional artist who has been making my living selling my work for some time now. I am an animal artist, (meaning I paint critters) who works primarily in Oil Pastel or Water Soluble Pencil.

I spend my summers selling my art with my husband Mike, through various art fair events across the Midwest. We also have a large web presence as well as own and operate Wild Faces Gallery in a small rural town in Iowa. There we sell my original artwork and prints, as well as do quality custom framing and offer Giclee printing for other artists as well as for ourselves. I have over 20 years experience in the art and framing industry, both as a business owner and as a working artist.

I write a regular column for Apples 'N Oats (an equestrian magazine) about painting horses. If you would like to see real life photos of Catch, or want to follow the painting's progress (with full story) from start to finish please visit my blog, Fur In The Paint

Animals are my passion and art is how I chose to express it.

Do You Have Any Art Fair Tips Or Experiences You'd Like To Share? - How To Choose The Right Art Fair Guestbook

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    • WildFacesGallery profile image
      Author

      Mona 4 years ago from Iowa

      @cleew09: Thank you for taking a moment for the kind words. I'm still doing events regularly. My last event was a very expensive one and while sales were quite good when removing costs all of a sudden it doesn't look quite so good.

      As to the secret we may have missed ... here's hoping perhaps there still is one. :)

    • profile image

      cleew09 4 years ago

      This is a great article, Mona. In fact, everything you have written is on target. I make jewelry and have been doing shows for 5-6 years, mostly in Florida. I was relieved and dismayed to find your advice so close to what I have learned. Relived, because "aha, I was right" and dismayed because "uh oh, there really isn't some secret I've missed". Either way, I am happier and better informed having read all of this information. Thank you!

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 5 years ago

      This lens has some excellent advice. My mom used to do these.

    • paperfacets profile image

      Sherry Venegas 6 years ago from La Verne, CA

      Mona, your lenses on this subject are excellent. I added your niche to my Coolest Squidoo Niches... . It is nice to meet you and I will be reading your lenses of the circuit of traveling art sales.

    • profile image

      inezbenoit_designs 7 years ago

      Great tips for artists! You've really covered all the basics. I wish someone had told me some of these things years ago. But thanks for putting it out there now!

    • WildFacesGallery profile image
      Author

      Mona 7 years ago from Iowa

      @Lee Hansen: Thanks so much Pastiche. I've been doing art fairs for around 20 years now and I really wished I would have had some sort of resource when I started out. I'll be over to check out your art fair lenses. I had thought about creating a few lenses about the actual events I do but haven't quite gotten that far.

    • Lee Hansen profile image

      Lee Hansen 7 years ago from Vermont

      As a veteran of the art and craft fairs circuit with family members still working it in the fine artisan crafts genre, I really like this excellent lens. You've covered all the aspects pro and con of small versus large, art versus craft, and the all-important traffic to earnings ratio. Lensrolling this as a "view from the other side" on my New England Arts and Craft festival lenses.

    • WildFacesGallery profile image
      Author

      Mona 7 years ago from Iowa

      @norma-holt: Thank you so much. :)

    • hayleylou lm profile image

      hayleylou lm 7 years ago

      I love looking around art fairs and seeing how talented others are, great lens and well presented , thumbs up :)

    • norma-holt profile image

      norma-holt 7 years ago

      Very thought provoking for artists. Blessed and featured on Sprinkled with Stardust

    • nebby profile image

      nebby 7 years ago from USA

      I love visiting art fairs. When I was young my Mom used to take me to the all Greenwich Village art fairs & it just stayed in my blood.

      Really enjoyed touring this lens :)

    • LadyFlashman profile image

      LadyFlashman 7 years ago from United Kingdom

      I love a good art fair! Browsing is such fun and addictive too! This is a great lens for anyone considering to show at an art fair, very thoughtful and knowledgeable.