After participating in two art shows I have some wisdom to share with anyone thinking about jumping into the art show circuit. The best advice I can give you right now is do not jump in! Do your research. After attending two shows with very little traffic and very little sales (for all artists not just me) I’ve realized, especially after having in-depth conversations with other artists, that before applying to a show, and before accepting the invitation, you need to ask certain questions.
Here are the 5 things I learned by attending my second art show:
- All of the art shows will proclaim to get a lot of traffic and that they have excellent advertising. This may or may not be true. Ask what kind of advertising they are doing. Ask for specifics. It’s been my experience that art shows are a bit behind the times when it comes to utilizing social media and the Internet. Sometimes it is the little things like will there be a big sign on or in front of the building so people driving by can see it? This last show I did had a tiny sign on the side of the road that I never actually saw, but someone else told me it existed. I am sure many people had no idea what was going on inside the building this weekend. Visit the art show a year in advance to see what kind of traffic the show is getting. Take notes on what kind of art is being exhibited (I’ve found myself to be the lone wolf when it comes to bright colors. I’ve stood in a sea of traditional painters and wondered, “Is this show a good fit for my work?”) and what kind of people are in attendance (is the demographic your particular style appeals to represented?). Don’t be afraid to ask the artists how the show is going. Let them know you are thinking about applying to the show the following year and find out what their experience with the show has been. I wish I had done this before committing to both of the art shows I have been in. I will be doing this in the future!
- At this last show I attended I spent about an hour talking to two artists who have been doing a new show almost every weekend. They both said this year has been slow for sales even at shows with healthy traffic. At the same time, many shows they attended have also been slow, with few in attendance when compared to previous years. Without this tidbit of information it would be easy to think you are the only artist struggling or that you have bad luck when choosing a show to attend, but obviously that is not the case. Maybe this is just an odd year or perhaps art shows are not as popular as they once were. Either way, you can’t sell art without potential customers coming to the art show. You can’t sell art to people who are worried about paying rent and putting food on the table either. The economy impacts art sales and no matter how much people appreciate your work they may not be able to justify purchasing it. This in no way reflects on the quality of your work so try not to take it personally.
- Art shows aren’t really about sales. Sometimes you have to think about it as an investment. For example, I gained valuable knowledge about displaying art, other art shows, and why the Internet might be a better tool for exposure than live shows, especially when the economy is still in recovery. I also made some really cool artist friends that I plan on keeping in touch with: People who are more than happy to share their vast wealth of knowledge and experience with someone just starting out. I also gained access to some other resources that are available in or near my community that I was previously unaware of. There is a fiber clay sculpting class coming up that I would like to attend. There is also a group you can join for a small yearly fee. The fee includes access to jewelry making classes and rock polishing equipment. Pretty cool! Not to mention, being surrounded by creativity inspires so many new ideas. I met an artist that does all kinds of printing and got some ideas on how to incorporate printed papers into my mixed media pieces. The shows have many opportunities to learn, especially when traffic is slow. In seven hours you really get to know your neighbors. Also, as one artists pointed out, these shows help you build a following. People need to see your work a few times before they decide to buy it. You might not sell anything today, but that doesn’t mean you won’t make a sale later.
- When a seasoned art show veteran gives you advice, take it. A lot of artists are excellent teachers and love to share their knowledge. When you meet these artists treat them like gold. On day two of this art show an artists told me that my booth display looked like a flea market. Now, I know that sounds harsh, but she said it in a nice way. She told me I needed to start thinking more like a gallery and that my work was really good (I was over the hardest hurdle – I could paint!) but I wasn’t treating it like fine art. So, I thought about what she said and decided it rang true.
I wasn’t confident enough to truly embrace my work (or myself) as fine art. I was still lacking confidence and that trickled down into everything including my pricing and my display. On the last day of the show (it was so slow I think I can count the number of people visiting the show on my fingers) I started rearranging my booth. It wasn’t perfect, but I did notice a shift. When people stopped by they lingered a little longer to look at my paintings. With so many paintings on display, like I had it set-up in the beginning, it was too overwhelming for the eye.
Later on my new artist friend walked by and gave me a thumbs up. She said I was moving in the right direction. She gave me her business card and I am positive she would be happy to answer any other questions about booth set up (and displaying art like they do in a gallery) that I might have in the future.
- It’s exciting at first to be accepted into a juried show. It feels good and very validating, but it might be better to start out smaller. Do as many local craft shows as you can. Then work your way up into doing some local juried shows. It’s easy to want to rush into doing a big show with a hefty booth fee in a far-off location. It feels more prestigious, but it can become very expensive. There are fees to have your work juried, then the booth fee, and the expenses of getting to and from the show. It can be very discouraging to discover you are out hundreds of dollars if the show doesn’t go well. There are no guarantees so I suggest building a little nest egg up before embarking on the more expensive shows and doing a lot of research on shows before you choose one.