Years ago when I was new to the art show circuit, there was a local arts and crafts show in which I participated. All set up and waiting for the inevitable crowds of customers to come, I started conversing with my neighboring artist.
“You really should do this one show I just did last month,” she said, “Your work is great and you would probably sell out!”
Now that I’m a seasoned vet of art shows, there are certain phrases that make me run as fast as I can in the opposite direction. “You will probably sell out” is one of them. I mean, how do they know that I would probably sell out, and why would I even want to sell out? That day, however, the words of that well-meaning woman caught my interest.
"You have to set up the night before, because people will come out early to shop." she said. "There is not much for people to do in this area, so people really look forward to the show. I’m not kidding you, women come out to shop, with wheelbarrows and wagons and flashlights, before it even gets light!” Imagine the vision I had in my head: an art show where droves of people are coming to buy my art before the break of day! In my naive mind I knew one thing:
I MUST DO THAT SHOW!
I dutifully acquired the show information and sent in the application. I got accepted and put my production into high gear. After all, these people coming with flashlights and wagons are going to buy all my stuff, so I better bring a lot! After settling into my hotel on Friday evening and driving around without the help of GPS in some very rural parts of the state, I found the show site and got my booth set up. The layout of the show was sprawling and random, and my space was on a hill about 50 feet from any other booths. Across from my booth was a vendor who was selling a clutter of antique and vintage rusty parts of machines and farm equipment. Down the hill and around the corner were other vendors assembling booths full of country signs, doilies, kitchen towels, wooden ducks, gingham dresses and wooden Adirondack chairs. As far as I could tell, mine was the only booth of original, hand made art pieces.
By the time I was finished setting up, I was starting to accept the fact that this is not my type of show. Nonetheless, anticipating those women with wagons and flashlights, I showed up before the sun came up and opened my shop for the day. And out they came! And yes, my well-meaning neighbor was right. People were shopping, and they had wagons, flashlights and carts. But were they my type of customers? NO!!!! They were shopping for antique rusty parts, kitchen towels, wooden ducks and Adirondack chairs! My jewelry as well as my booth are colorful and designed to stand out. Nevertheless, at that show I felt absolutely invisible for the entire weekend.
After that unfortunate event, I hobbled home with my meager earnings and discouraged heart. It was high time for me to either get serious about show selection or get out of the way! I decided to spend more time researching shows and getting selective. Since then I have compiled a list of questions regarding potential shows. I adhere to this list without exception. The answer to each question must be a big fat yes, or else it is simply not worth my time.
- Is it a juried art show?
- Is it within a 250 mile radius of my home?
- Do other professional artists recommend this show?
- Has it been in the same location for a number of years?
- Is it exclusively an art show and not part of a beer or music festival?
- Can I mentally picture selling my work there?
- Is the application clear and detailed?
- Is the application specific regarding jury images?
- Is the booth fee worth the investment?
- Are there affordable housing choices close to the show?
If the answer to any question is a “no”, I do not consider it. I have no interest in "selling out", so am not at all tempted when some well meaning neighbor at an art show uses that phrase. I simply turn and run the other way! Whether you are a seasoned show goer, or just considering jumping into the ring, it may benefit you to consider these questions regarding potential shows. It may help you narrow the search and find some shows that are a perfect fit for you.