Saturday, March 23, 2013

ART SHOWS 101: Survival Tips for Show Artists and Crafters

                               ART SHOWS 101: Survival Tips for Show Artists and Crafters

                                                                        Volume 1: DO YOUR RESEARCH!

So you’ve decided to sell your work at art and craft festivals? Good for you! Making that decision is step one of a long, sometimes crazy, journey :-)

But where do you start? 

This is the first of many posts aimed at offering a bit of insight into shows and festivals; it's NOT meant to be an all inclusive HOW TO guide. There are as many show experiences, opinions, and suggestions out there as there are exhibitors. I encourage experienced show artists to share their knowledge and experiences by commenting and adding on to this and future posts.

Okay -- here are some of the basics:

Getting Your Feet Wet: Shows come in all shapes and sizes. If you’re just starting out you may want to visit a show or two before committing to exhibit. Fees for shows range from $5 to $10 for some local markets, to hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of dollars. Your set up can be as simple as laying down a table cloth and your product on a table that is provided for you -- to setting up a fully stocked street corner boutique! I suggest starting out small before investing large sums of money on a canopy, display walls, shelves, and expensive lighting systems. 

Juried vs. Non- juried Shows: Many people are surprised to find out that show vendors compete for a limited number of spaces at shows. Whether you are applying to a Juried or a Non-Juried show, be sure to read all of the rules and regulations put forth in the application. In most cases you will have to apply under a particular category (ex. painting, ceramics, glass....) and show/sell ONLY that type of work.

A Juried show requires prospective exhibitors to submit images of their work along with a non-refundable application fee. You may be asked to mail in actual photographs or photos burned to a CD; or you may be able to apply online.  More and more shows are switching to online, digital applications that allow you to upload your images directly to their websites.

In contrast, Non-juried shows do not ask for samples or images of your work. Simply filling out an application and sending in your exhibitor's fee will hold your space if you apply by the deadline, or until the show is full.

DEADLINES!!!!! Setting up a show is a LOT of work! Application Deadlines are often several months before an event takes place. Don't get discouraged if you find out you've missed the deadline for a show! Mark it on your calendar for next year and go find a show that's still accepting applications!

Beware of New and “Add-on” shows: Truth be told, there are probably too many shows and festivals out there. While I wouldn’t outright discourage anyone from applying to a “first-year” show, keep in mind that a new show will have to build an audience and attendance may be low. 

I WILL suggest that you think long and hard before jumping into an “Add-On” show. You won’t find the words “Add-On” in any show description or application. It’s my term for shows that are added onto existing events. For example, a show in conjunction with a concert, parade, football game, runners marathon, etc. While these events may have attendance in the tens of thousands, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have tens of thousands of customers. In my experience, most people go to an event with a certain mindset. When they go to a concert or a sporting event,  their minds and wallets are usually set on the main event, not on buying your art or craft work, regardless of how fabulous it is :-)  I'm sure there are exceptions to this rule.  If you've had a good experience selling at this type of event please share!

Finding shows: Help! Please!!  If you know of a show, are promoting a show, or have a good source for reliable show information, PLEASE let us know!!

Here’s a list of a few places you can look for show listings:

  • Artists Friends and Buffalo Etsy Team members 
  • ArtVoice, Buffalo’s free, weekly newspaper dedicated to the arts

  • Exhibitors at Shows, show "neighbors" can be a great source of reliable information

Upcoming Deadlines for Local Shows:

Buffalo Saturday Artisans Market at the Central Wharf. DEADLINE: April 5th, 2013

The Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts DEADLINE: April 1st, 2013

• The Lewiston Art Festival DEADLINE: May 10th, 2013

Until next time -- keep creating!


Next Blog Post Topic: What Type of Show is Right for you?... determining your target market.......


  1. Very informative Alison! I am really thinking about entering a few shows and this helps a lot. Thanks and I look forward to future articles.

  2. So much good information! I like the way you present all the facts, warts and all. I can't wait to read and learn more from your upcoming posts!

  3. What a great article! You know it helped me much more than I even thought it might and not in the direction you might think! I've talked to a lot of people about craft shows, the different kinds why they do either and I really though that this summer, after doing a year on Etsy, that I would be ready and gung ho to go for that craft show business...but..I'm so not. And that's ok. Know that I will be out at all the shows, well all the ones I can get to. to support you all in anyway I can. I'm thinking 20-14 is the year for me. THANKS SO MUCH look forward to your next blog! :)

    1. I'm so with you, Tracy... doing shows involves more prep than simply having a big stash to sell! Alison did a great job teaching us about the "behind the scenes" kinds of stuff!

    2. Thank you Tracy and Carla! I certainly hope I haven't scared the two of you off of shows for good, but there really is more prep involved than you'd think. I made a BIG mistake when I started doing shows. I did little research and spent a lot of money on supplies and display materials up front -- and I carried that debt for a lot of years before finally paying it off.

      Shows can be great! They allow you to interact directly with buyers. They give you a chance to find out what other artists, including your competitors, are doing, and they can also be a great way to make some cash. But they are a LOT of work; and there is NO guaranty that you'll make a million bucks -- or even enough to cover your costs. I really DO encourage both of you to try a show or two -- but taking a bit of time to formulated your personal show strategy is a wise decision.

  4. Great tips Alison! I teach a workshop on craft shows each semester and have to explain that there is very little in common with selling on Etsy. But selling at shows and selling on Etsy can be a winning combination. Better to warn people about the set up and display costs as well as application costs and deadlines up front so people aren't disappointed. Great to hear from someone with experience...!

    1. Thank you Sara! I'd like to sit in on one of your workshops. I'm sure there's a lot I could learn from you! This is a CRAZY business that we choose to work in, isn't it :-)