Summer Art Fairs: Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

By Karen Cooper in Art Business Advice > Selling at Art Fairs

Yesterday I received a friendly email from a fellow artist inquiring about a summer art fair that I exhibited at in 2008. She wanted to know whether or not it was a ‘good one’ to attend, and after responding to her email, I got to pondering the very concept of the summer art fair.

I have exhibited at summer art fairs since 1992, and normally attend between eight and twelve events each year. So I’ve seen a few, but definitely not all. My range is limited to the Midwest, no farther east than Michigan and no farther west than Colorado.

But the times they are a changin’. . . and I’m I especially curious about how this summer’s art fairs will play out.

For example, several other artists who regularly post blogs at FASO have mentioned staying home from shows this summer, or at least limiting the ones they attend.

Why is this? Well, besides the economy troubles, I believe that we have too many summer art fairs. There are some great oldies that have been around for a long time, but there’s also a massive flock of "newbie" art fairs that I think need to be eliminated.

So here’s the top ten questions that I ask when considering an art fair, all of which lead up to the ever-important final question: "Should I stay or should I go?"

1. Did it work for you last year?

Or, has it been a good show for you some time in the past? If you’ve sold art, made contacts and generally found it worthwhile then there’s at least one mark in its favor.

Of course, that’s a tough question to answer if you’ve never exhibited at a summer art fair before (see question 6 for more on that topic).

2. How much do they advertise?

Hopefully they do more than purchasing a spot in the local paper. For example, does the show have a patron email list ready to send, numbering more than 500 recipients?

Preferably there’d be another 2 zeroes added to that number, because the more advertising THEY do, the better it will be for you.

3. What else is going on at the fair?

Will there be a slew of sideline events, carnival rides, 10k runs, antique car show, and etc? That list could go on and on. Generally, you want the art fair to be about art, not anything else.

4. Where is the art fair?

How far do you have to travel? Too many artists will think, "It only costs me a tank and a half of gas to get there." No, and no. Charge yourself mileage just like your accountant will do.

5. Are they desperate for artists?

Does the "jury" line of the application form say something like: "…or until full"? If so, that could mean, "We haven’t been able to get as many artists as we want, but we’ll keep trying."

6. How will the economy affect this eventr?

Is this a good year to try exhibiting at an art fair for the first time? You might want to read a copy of the Wall Street Journal before you answer that. The answer might not be the same for all of us, or for every location.

7. Who is behind the fair?

Who is promoting the event and what is their purpose? Are they truly doing it to create interaction between artists and community? Most will say they are, but sometimes it’s easy to see that their bottom line is really prefixed with a $ sign. In those cases, you might find it more appealing to go elsewhere.

8. What’s the cost to enter?

Did they increase their jury fee this year? And if so, why?

9. Does the fair have a helpful website?

Find out if they maintain a website. If they do, does that website keep info from previous years’ artists to help with patron referrals?

10. Will your artwork be in good company?

As you look at the website mentioned in question #9, do you see artwork that you’d want to spend an entire weekend next to? Or are they just promoting "whatever" to make a buck?

And so go the thoughts of an art-fair-artist early in the season.

If you’re wondering whether or not I’ll be exhibiting at any shows this summer, the answer is yes. At the moment, I have exactly one on the calendar. :)

But what about you? Are you still an art fair regular?

Regular or newbie, I hope you’ll take a minute to ask a few questions this year and make sure the fairs you DO go to are worth your time and effort.

For additional articles, please take a moment to visit Karen Cooper’s art blog .


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