MUSINGS ABOUT ART FESTIVALS – are they worth it?

Yesterday, I exhibited at the Kirkwood Festival in Atlanta. Because lately it has been raining everyday, I had an hour of down time during a steady rain. I used that time to reflect on my observations from exhibiting at festivals.

First of all, let me explain. This spring was my “dress rehearsal” into the festival business. I have been experimenting with different setups to see what works best. We all know, it isn’t always the good art that sells, it is often the art that generates a buzz and has a story. But, my dress rehearsal is coming to an end, and I am going to apply to festivals in the future that I think will attract an audience that really has an interest in the arts.
So, here are my 10 observations:
1. Where is the festival located? While the Kirkwood Festival was in a city neighborhood where young families have relocated for the past several years, I now know it is a close knit neighborhood. I estimate 90% of the festival goers walked there. People were not there to purchase art, or even look at it, they were visiting their neighbors and having a family day out.

2. How much should you expect to make? General rule of thumb is your booth fee should be 7-10% of what you make. But for me, just starting out, there are other things I want to happen. While I want make a good profit, I also want to network with other artists, learn of other opportunities, and be recognizable to festival goers. Artists at festivals have a wealth of information about what works and what doesn’t. There is an agreement from artists which neighborhoods in Atlanta are more supportive of the arts and have residents that like to purchase local art.

3. It is an art festival, or a community event? If there are alot of family activitiesl, purchases probably will be few and far between. I unwittingly did a festival that had rides, complete with a ferris wheel and pony rides. Every parent was literally being pulled to the rides by their children and very few were able to stop for very long. However, if your product is geared to children, this might be the place for you!

4. What kind of company are you in? Look at past websites and see who has been exhibiting at this particular festival. For me, being a fine artist, I want to be in a festival that has art. While crafts are good, I want art to be prevelant.

5. Do you down size in the recession? I don’t have the answer for this one. Yes, I have done smaller pieces for under $100. However, you don’t want to cheat past collectors by “cheapening” your work too much. If someone that had paid $600 for a painting walks by and see everything now is $50 – how is that person going to feel? You must tread gently here.

6. Why is continuity important? If you are embarking on a career in festivals, doing them with consistency is important. But, once you have a toe-hold, you need to pick and choose the events that are good for you. I have done 4 festivals this spring, and had someone at each festival tell me they have seen my work before and have been looking for me ever since.

7. What should an artist do when there are no patrons? It is easy to take a book and sit down and read. However, I reserve that for a storm, when no one will be coming by. As a festival goer, I never go into a booth where someone is reading. So, when I nothing to do, I straighten up, organize, clean, stay busy. I’ll talk to my neighbors and learn new opportunities, never straying far from my booth.

8. Is the festival desperate for artists? I am no longer going to submit to festivals that are “until full”, except for a couple in town that have been very profitable for me already.

9. How do you greet clients? Never say “can I help you?”, you will get the SAME answer, “No – I’m just looking” – and I feel at that point, conversation is over, until the client opens it up again. Just offer to answer questions, and if they look at something with interest, start telling the story about it.

10. How do you get someone inside your tent? When someone would stop in the opening of the booth and look around, I’d urge them in by telling them the art is more interesting up close, there was alot of detail they couldn’t see from there. I have also tried having drawing for a free print, to grow my mailing list. But, I’m open to suggestions on this too.

If you have any observations to share, please let me know. I’m learning, and I know there is not any right or wrong way.

4 thoughts on “MUSINGS ABOUT ART FESTIVALS – are they worth it?

  1. Dianne Poinski

    Hi Vickie,
    After doing art festivals for the last 10 years, I can say all your observations are right on. You probably already know this, but make sure you send out postcards before a show whenever you can. I have had shows that were “saved” because I did that. I am taking a break from shows this year but I plan to return to a scaled back schedule in 2010. Keep me posted on how it’s going! Good luck!

  2. mariannepost

    There is a series of CDs by Bruce Baker that address the whole art festival scene, from booth design, to submissions, to selling. You may be able to Google him and get more info. The CD especially the sales one is a good reference for all artists to turn any interaction into a sales opportunity without looking and sounding like a used car salesperson.

    Good luck!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *