A REAL LOOK AT WHAT IT TAKES TO PARTICIPATE IN ART FESTIVALS
By Anna Bailey
While many of us soak up the slower pace that winter often brings, some of us are already planning for what our summers have in store, especially when you’re an artist.
For some of us, planning the family camping trip is on the forefront, making sure we get that favorite campsite reserved. Or, planning a detailed destination road trip, that pairs with summer like baked beans and potato salad.
In many artists houses and of course the Bailey house, though we love all things summer, we also are already focused on planning our summer activities around our ever-growing Art Festival Itinerary.
For many artists like us, art festivals are a huge part of the bread and butter that we depend on for our yearly sales. Art festivals allow artists to gain the maximum exposure in the least amount of time, reaching new people that may have otherwise never found them. Aside from social media, Art Festivals are one of the best ways to grow our business.
It sounds romantic, right?
Taking road trips to new places; immersing ourselves in the culture of working and traveling artists; eating from delectable food trucks. While these can be really fun parts of the gig, I’m going to share with you the reality and hard work of participating in the art festival circuit.
Art Fairs aren’t a first come, first serve gig. You have to apply to each art fair for a spot in their limited spaces. For every art fair that we are offered a spot, there is at least one that we’ve been rejected by. The larger, more well known fairs are the hardest to get into. For example, out of the five fairs that have responded to our applications so far, we have only been accepted to two of them.
Oftentimes, the application process involves a lot of questions about your art, your business, and your vision as an artist, with provided examples of your work. A lot of time is invested in filling out each application, as each one looks different. And with each application is a required and non-refundable application fee of $40-$50.
Many large festivals make their acceptance decisions through what is called a blind jury. What this means is that each application is viewed as an anonymous submission. The jurors do not know the names or any information about the artists, and make their decisions solely on images of the artist’s work. This process can take several days. In the event that you are accepted and they choose to offer you a larger space, which is usually a 10X10 booth, there is an additional $500-$1000 fee involved.
Being accepted into an art show feels like a great accomplishment. However, that is just the beginning.
Once we accept a spot into an art show, we must then begin the planning phase. The gamble with art fairs is the hope that the revenue you gain will greatly outweigh the money and resources you need to put into preparing for the show.
The location of the show will determine how much needs to be set aside for fuel, lodging, and food, as well as paying any help you need to bring with you.
When it comes to art festivals, we’ve learned to expect surprises! There is usually some quirky aspect to each show that we need to work around. A common one is the strict guidelines on booth set-up and tear-down, usually having to do with parking and time frame. There are times where we’ve had to set up at midnight in the dark, with only fifteen minutes to unload our large trailer and truck. We’ve learned how to hustle and communicate!
You can plan for many circumstances, but some things are out of your control, such as the weather. We’ve had to set up and tear down in stormy weather, and you deal with it the best you can!
I’ll never forget the time we painstakingly set up our booth at the Minnehaha Falls art fair in 2019. We set up in the middle of a downpour, with a tornado warning, only to be faced with tearing down when the event was canceled due to weather. And with those experiences, we’ve also learned to be resourceful! Later that day, after the weather cleared, we sold our art straight out of our trailer in a parking lot! You find creative ways to make up for the losses.
There is a psychology behind prepping for an art fair as well. You have to plan for each festival individually, taking a look at what you think the target audience is for each event. Sometimes it’s downright perplexing! And we don’t always get it right.
What flies off the shelves at one event might be a total bust at another. At the end of the day, you hope to bring enough variety that will appeal to everyone, and hope you don’t run out of the best seller.
This year, we are spreading our wings a little.
Actually, a lot! We are traveling further than we’ve ever traveled before for an art fair. We are excited that the first two fairs we’ve been accepted to are two places we’ve never been before.
Before the snow retreats here in the Northland, we’ll be heading to sunny Naples, FL for the 34th Naples Downtown Art Show, on March 19th and 20th. This art show has been rated #7 of the 200 best art shows in the country, ten years running, by the Sunshine Artist Magazine.
From there, we’ll head to the big state of Texas to participate in the Bayou City Art Festival on March 25th through the 27th, at Memorial Park in Houston, TX. This festival is in its 50th year, with 300 artists from across the country, representing 19 disciplines.
As you can imagine, these events will require a lot of planning. And as artists with children and pets, even more planning! The balance of business and family is always a consideration. As our business grows, it is something we’ve had to continually reassess. We are excited to travel to parts of the country that can expand our festival calendar into the cold winter months of Northern MN. We are also excited to use this road trip as an opportunity to bring our kids, for some family time along the way.