Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Ultimate Art Fair

Art fairs, especially the juried kind, are a good venue for artists.  Or so I've heard.  I've not done one myself, but I know plenty who have.  In the better weekend art fairs, some artists pull sales in the four- and five-digit range.  But it takes a certain type of artist to do this.  I have to admit that one of my failings as an artist is the inability to seriously schmooze.  As an introvert, I find my "charm battery" gets discharged pretty quickly.  I'm not a natural salesman, and that is, unfortunately, my biggest obstacle to higher sales.

Another issue is transportation.  Loading, unloading and reloading the number of paintings plus all the furniture is a lot of work.  Plus, I'd have to rent a vehicle to cart it all.  If I were rich enough, I'd hire a moving company to schlep everything and a model to stand in for me and sell.  (Sort of like Microsoft and Apple do at trade shows.)

I remember talking to my Dad about his time in the Marines.  He was one of the few who survived Iwo Jima.  After he described to me what it was like for an 18-year-old boy to be under the gun, I told him I don't think I could have handled it.  He replied, "You'd be surprised what you can do under presssure."

So, I suppose I could do an art fair - if I had to.

Why do I bring this up?  Because I just had a chance to visit a fair I actually can conceive of doing.  It might be called the "Ultimate" art fair.  This is the Arizona Fine Art Expo.   It's the ultimate because it's not just over a weekend - it lasts ten weeks!  The organizer has connected three huge tents, complete with booths with walls to hang your work on and carpeting for you to stand on.  There's even a cafe and top-of-the-line Porta Loos.  The idea is that this is your studio for nearly three months.  You are expected to be on-site and work five days out of seven, including weekends.  As we toured the fair, we recognized that a lot of camaraderie had developed among the artists, and there are spots you can go to for rest if you find your "charm battery" is low.  Some of the artists even live in their RVs, which are parked in a side lot.

I also like the fact that nearly all the work is original.  A tiny percentage of your inventory can be reproductions, but the organizers really believe in the value of original art.  Additionally, artists are juried in.  I found the quality of work - which wasn't just paintings but also sculpture, woodwork and pottery  - to be very high.  It's not cheap to get in, though.  Depending on your booth location, it can cost $2500 and up to participate.

There's a second ultimate fair in the area and running concurrently:  the Celebration of Fine Art.  Both of these are in Scottsdale and worth a look.  Maybe I'll even see you at one of these in a future year.


VickiRossArt said...

Thanks, Michael! I've always said this about art fairs...pack, setup, stand there,Mack back up, unload...not to mention the interaction which most artists don't have the energy for. Then weather, storms, tornadoes, and your investment can go down the drain, along with your art.

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

I'd forgotten about all the weather issues, and you're right!

Unknown said...

I too checked into doing art fairs. But the thought of having to shlep the tents, and walls, and all that' necessary, as well as having to swelter in the high heat, and freeze in the damp rain, was just too much. If I could have a tent already waiting, different story. I'm 62 and not into all that set up and break down stuff..plus no help. Maybe if there were an indoor fair. But people who work these venues regularly say they love it and sell lots of their pieces. Maybe rent a tent and get the company to set it up. Still researching.

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

It is a lot of work, Betsy! I think the ten-week gig is best because it's long enough you can make it your only event in a year - set up once, break down once, and deal with it once. I can't imagine doing weekend after weekend of traveling and setting up/breaking down.