Making the Most Out of Artshows, Festivals & Craft Fairs

By: Charlene Davisphoto

With the arrival of sunny skies and warm weather, outdoor festivals and gala events are springing up all across the country. Many artisans prefer to display and sell their work at art shows, craft fairs, and farmers’ markets for exposure and networking opportunities. And often when an artisan participates in the same shows year after year, he or she will develop a following. Some do this year-round on a full-time basis, while others may do it seasonally.

Participating in shows and festivals gives potential customers the opportunity to see your work up close and personal. People develop a better appreciation if they can touch and feel the products. Jancik Arts International (http://www.jancikarts.com/), is a world-renowned artisan studio specializing in stained glass ceiling domes and vertical flat glass for travel and leisure. They typically exhibit in large, national expositions such as the Hospitality Design Expo. Their original stained glass pieces are too large for display purposes; however, show attendees can still view authentic material such as a curved glass panel sample of their stained glass dome product, a small scale 3-D model of one of their infamous ceiling domes, and a sample of their new faux casted glass. Angelique Jackson, Chief Designer and President, says, "It's important to appeal to the aesthetic sensibility of designers (and people) and to present actual product, as they are very tactile driven.”

New exhibitors typically start with local level events sponsored by schools, churches, and community groups. Once you have some experience with setting up booths and are comfortable showing your work, you can move on to bigger festivals and shows in your state or region. After your application to a show or festival has been accepted, the next step is to find out what will be provided and what you need to bring. For outdoor festivals, exhibitors generally supply their own tents or canopies which can be purchased, rented, or borrowed. Depending on what products you are displaying, you will also need to provide dividers or walls to hang pictures on, tables to display jewelry, and/or shelves to showcase pottery or other types of crafts and handiwork.

Before participating in a show or festival, it would be wise to visit a few to see what other artisans are displaying and how their work is exhibited. Constance Mettler, publisher of the Art Fair Calendar (http://www.artfaircalendar.com/) recommends taking lots of notes on the booths you see. "Things you want to look for are types of display equipment such as tent, tables, chairs, walls, weights, lights, and shelving inventory,” she says. "Which booths are getting more attention? What is the pricing on products similar to yours?” Mettler also suggests even when you are exhibiting in a show to set up early, then go out and look over the other booths while taking notes and making plans for your next show.
You will also need to consider how to present your work to its best advantage. You may be in a line with 100 other booths, so think about how to draw visitors’ attention to yours specifically. This tiny little area will essentially be a mini-showroom, so curb appeal is important.

Amy Kalinchuk of Olde Crone's Bewitching Bath Soap (http://www.soapcrone.com/) says that it’s important for vendors to make their displays multi-leveled. "All of my products are rustic and meant to be used, so my display reflects this approach,” she says. Kalinchuk makes clever use of denim and vintage tablecloths, wine boxes, tangerine mini-crates, and baskets to display her handcrafted soap, sugar scrub, body butter, lip balm, and other items.

Often, new exhibitors make the mistake of wanting to show off everything they have, which can be overwhelming if you have a large variety of colors, styles, and shapes. Luanne Udell (www.luannudell.com), designer and sculptor of ancient and tribal art, cautions vendors to leave room for customers to browse around. "A cluttered booth that is overcrowded with stuff will make people nervous,” she warns. "They will not want to come inside your tent for fear they will knock something over.” If possible, keep the sides of your booth open so that people will not feel intimidated about walking around inside.

Barbara Stanton (http://www.barbarastanton.com/) is an artist who specializes in miniature oil paintings and recommends demonstrating your work. "People love to see artists at work,” she says. "With my work, sometimes people don't believe I actually painted something that small unless I'm working on one.” Even if you are not comfortably creative in front of people, you can still set up a small demonstration area that looks like something is in progress.

Stanton also advises exhibitors to pay attention to people coming into their booth, but cautions them not to overwhelm them with a big sales pitch. "Ask them about themselves and what they might be looking for,” she says. "Is this the first time they've been to this show? Do they live in the area? This can help break the ice a little because people generally like to talk about themselves.”

Have a guestbook, notebook, or pre-printed index cards available so that visitors can sign up to receive email or direct mail notifications from you. This gives you the opportunity to keep in touch with existing and potential customers to let them know what shows you will be participating in and/or send out postcards and newsletters alerting them about new products, sales, and discounts.

Get to know your fellow exhibitors. You can learn a lot from someone else who has been in the trenches. Become involved with your Chamber of Commerce and local art associations. Often these organizations provide discounts to members who are registering for a show. Plus they can provide information on upcoming events.

Participating in art shows and craft festivals provides many networking and marketing opportunities. Although this can be a demanding process requiring traveling, setting-up, and surrendering weekends, it can also be a gratifying one.
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CHARLENE DAVIS (http://www.cdavisfreelance.com/) is a nationally published writer specializing in business, retail, e-commerce, and food. She has written Design and Start an Online Travel Business in a Week, Start Your Own Photography Business, Start Your Own Clothing Store, and How to Sell Clothing, Shoes, & Accessories on eBay, as well as two additional books co-authored with Jacquelyn Lynn, Make BIG Profits on eBay and Start Your Own Senior Services Business (all published by Entrepreneur Press). Charlene wrote this feature article exclusively for the Association of Artisan Businesses (http://www.artisanbusinesses.org/), an organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the artisan industry.