Home > Artist Tips, Uncategorized > I’m Done With Outdoor Festivals

I’m Done With Outdoor Festivals

June 21, 2011

I am done, done, done with what I now call “Arts & Crap” outdoor shows, and here my 6 reasons why.

  1. Primary Problem – You’re OUTSIDE: Rain, wind, burning sun, bugs and dust layering onto the surface of my lovingly crafted oil painting.  Where’s my upside, exactly?  I am an off-the-grid tent camper and a craft show weather ninja.  I have jumped every hurdle nature can throw at me short of a tornado, know tricks galore to manage any atmospheric fluctuation and am bone tired of messing with it all.  With the exception of certain sculpture parks, this is why galleries are indoors.
  2. Free Entertainment:  A lot – usually the majority- of people drifting around the event are not there to buy art or handcrafts! They are there for the distraction of something to look at.  To feel like they bought something and thus participated, they will walk with a low budget item, generally less than $20.00 and then they are done with commerce.  This brings me directly to item #3:
  3. Too Much Fucking Jewelry: People will pay to decorate themselves a lot faster than they will adorn their home with art.  I did one event in my neighborhood last year and had framed oil paintings and silkscreen prints in a variety of styles selling from $10.00 to $20.00 as a show special.  I am in a rich, educated yuppie puppy Chicago northside ‘hood with a median value of homes holding at $2.2 Million.  I did not sell one thing, but I noticed that at least six thousand dollars worth of tattoo ink and much more in jewelry traversed my sales space in the eight hours I was vending.  So people generally spend money on tattoo and jewelry art, not fine art.  Every year, another self-anointed beader will invade the art territory.  If you are in a show where there is a plethora of bauble dealers, you are in a crappy show, because no one screened them out.
  4. Standards? What Standards?:  This is where the “crap” from “Arts & Crap” show comes from.  The word “art” elevates the event to something classy.  You may have paid to participate in an “Arts & Antiques” venue only to show up and look around at you, then realize you have been lured into a flea market.  If someone is selling airplanes crafted from beer cans or clothes for cement lawn geese, you are totally screwed.  These events have to be carefully researched as to their nature and profitability; trust me, event hosts conflate their numbers on attendance to sell you a space and they sure don’t give refunds.  Avoid any church or charity events like the plague, they are always a bust.
  5. The American Public: Regardless of region, rich or poor, suburban or urban, dealing with the general American public is a terror.  I have often warned recent immigrants that common courtesy is dead here and we are the rudest people on the earth.  One time, in the most dirt poor art and music show I ever did in my life, I actually had the nicest time.  I did not sell a thing but received a great level of appreciation because it turned out the local school system had a vibrant arts program and the people I spoke with had first-hand experience informing what they saw; they knew how my work required skill because they had hands-on experience trying drawing and painting themselves.  The majority of Americans lack this.  On the lowest rung of the outdoor show hells, I have dealt with rude questions on how I made something, flagrant insults (“You want how much for that?!”), attempts at haggling, people running their grubby paws all over my art or poking it and one of nature’s most destructive forces: toddlers -hoards of sticky, hyperactive, poorly restrained toddlers.
  6. The Economy is Still Trashed: People that want to buy art and still have the money to do so are largely going through more traditional channels like student shows and galleries.  These venues do not guarantee but make more likely a possible future return on investment.  In a perfect world, people would want art for appreciation of the work, the merit of its expression and to enrich their lives; yet more educated art buyers are being highly conservative right now and sticking to conservative venues.  They view art as an investment and are not looking for any diamonds in the rough.  They are not going to pan the muddy waters of a river hoping to find gold when the clean and clear halls of galleries are being very flexible on prices and offer free wine, cheese and air conditioning.

If you have a string of shows that work for you and outdoor vending has been successful, then more power to you.  I did it just short of three years full-time to survive and pay the rent and off-and-on for over the last decade.  The two shows I have done in the past two years were strong reminders on why I quit doing outdoor shows.  Often the profit margins were very narrow or completely absent for a lot of hard work of setting up and taking down a sales booth and the wear and tear on my work.  There are people who succeed in these venues; I am not one of them.  Wrong work, wrong crowd; I need a totally different environment.

Chicago artist and blogger Darnel L. Williams [D.Will] wrote a great article breaking down the math on costs, giving valuable tips and advice on effort needed to succeed at outdoor art festivals.  One excellent point he makes is that some booths are vendors who are reselling and not the artists themselves:

“They are called merchants, and they sell other artist’s artwork or creations.  Some are good merchants, such as those who deal in fair trade products, while others just buy wholesale from third world countries and sell the art here at compounded prices.

When looking for artists, event managements do not care where the items came from or how much work goes into making each piece. Their only concerns are to fill up the booth spots, and to consequently make money.”

He also advises you find the best match for your work:

“For the best return on your investment, try to find the shows and festivals that feature and cater more to actual artists.  Most festivals will claim that there are artists selling at an event when in fact, they are not. Half of the time the only vendors are food and commercial companies with product and services, such as cellphone plans. Also, know who will be there besides you. It makes no sense to have three of the same type of thing at one event.”

If you have an outdoor festival or show that you want to take a stab at, read the whole article here.  I am personally burned out from doing years worth of that rodeo; I am done with the whole outdoor festival thing.  I would rather chew lead.  You can have them now.  They’re all yours.

Categories: Artist Tips, Uncategorized
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