In an ideal world, the amount of effort you put into art events such as festivals and shows would bring about an equal number of rewards—things like sales, recognition, and publicity.
Of course, in the real world it’s not that simple. Your time and energy is limited, and you have to decide which art events are actually worth the effort. If you have an overwhelmingly positive or negative experience with a particular event, then it’s pretty easy to decide whether or not to keep that event on your calendar for next year. But what if it’s not that cut-and-dried?
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What if you have mixed feelings about your results, or you’ve had positive experiences in the past at a particular event, but not this year?
In my opinion, there are some rather clear signs that it’s time to go ahead and remove an art event from your calendar. Here are five that I look for:
1. Rising costs
If you’ve made a good profit (or lost your shirt) you’ll likely know before you even begin to break down your festival setup whether or not you want to spend the money to attend the event again the next year.
But let’s say you’ve hit a financial gray area for a particular event. Consider the following:
• Has the cost to participate gone up?
• Does it cost more to travel there than in the past?
• Are your prices too high for the venue?
• Do you need to make a lot of sales just to cover the cost of the event?
And don’t forget about commissions! Are you handing a percentage of your profits over to the event organization, and also paying an entry fee?
If so the majority of your answers are “Yes,” it may be time to cut your losses and seek out an event that meets your financial needs. Costs are a part of doing business, but if the organization running the event is consistently making more money off of you than YOU make off of you, consider whether or not you want to continue to pay them for your hard work.
2. Lack of promotion
How are people supposed to know to come to an art event (or what to expect at the event) if it isn’t properly promoted? A few flyers around town and an email blast aren’t enough to draw a large crowd to an art event, particularly if it’s a newer show.
When you find yourself frustrated at the lack of promotion for one of your upcoming events, make your concerns known to the organizers. If you don’t see a meaningful increase in promotional efforts the next time around, it may be time to move on to an event that’s better advertised.
Of course you should be putting in your own promotional efforts, too, but a successful art event likely has a dedicated promotional team. If it doesn’t, don’t expect much in the way of attendance.
3. Declining quality
Being required to “jury into” an art event should bring you some piece of mind. After all, it means that artists are being held to a high standard before they can show their work.
The problem is, once you’ve made the cut, some shows will give you the all-clear for future participation without having to re-apply. . . and what if a few years down the road, you look around and see that what was once a fine art fair has turned into a fine art/cutesy craft and novelty fair?
As former fine art participants grow frustrated and seek other events, the show organizers will be tempted to relax their jurying standards even more so they can continue to collect fees and fill booths. If this happens, it’s time to take your art and find a more appropriate venue.
4. Bad customer service
If you’re spending your hard-earned money to participate in a show or festival, ideally you would be considered a customer and should have some input into the event.
You’re not going to get to call the shots, but if you have a reasonable request or suggestion that would make the show function better, wouldn’t it make you feel like a valued customer if your request was a least taken into consideration?
If you have a fixable issue (say, a buildup of trash around your booth because there weren’t enough trash bins available) it would make sense to let the organizers know, suggest a solution, and see some improvement the next time around. If your requests have gotten repeatedly ignored, however, leaving you continually frustrated, take it as a sign that the only contribution the organizers are interested in from you is your booth fee—and you can always take that fee elsewhere.
5. You dread the idea of going
This one sounds like a no-brainer, but sometimes you might not realize what’s happening. After all, you’ve planned an entire year of shows in advance and prepaid booth fees early to save a few dollars. It’s all scheduled and decided on. The only problem is, as the time for the event gets nearer, you find yourself less than excited about attending. Maybe it even makes you sick to think of it.
If it does, give yourself an exit strategy. Plan on attending the event THIS year, but set a goal for it, whether that’s making a certain amount of money, or adding a particular number of subscribers to your newsletter list. Do everything you can to make the event a successful one when you’re there, and then decide at the end of the day whether or not to take it off your list.
If you follow this plan, you can rest easy that you gave it your best effort and are ready to try something new. Immediately look for another event to replace it on your calendar for the next year, and commit to that event instead. This way you can make a clean break and focus your energy on building on your successes, rather than trying to hang on to something that’s no longer working for you.