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Decline of Arts Festivals


#1

Was: How many shows to apply to?

the worsening economy has apparently caused people to need to do
more shows to earn the same money, and some who had stopped doing
outdoor shows to resume. 

Artists and craftsmen who rely on shows for most of their income ARE
in general applying to more shows. I think that the decline of sales
at shows is less a matter of economy than it is of generational
trends. Art Festivals and Craft Fairs were much more exciting and
profitable ten or twenty years ago. Then there was still something
novel about them and it was the only access much of the public had to
a certain approach to design and style.

I think it is a mistake to think of these kinds of shows as
permanent institutions that will go on forever. The oldest festivals
have been around for 50 years. Many of these are still viable, but
most are on the downward slope of the bell curve.

Things change. Shows were a great way to get started in business
without taking on a permanent retail location. I did shows for many
years and have gradually cut back as other things have worked out
better to sell my wares. Shows got me started, but I have met SO MANY
people at shows who think that this is their only option.

I used to love doing shows when they were good and I would be very
glad to be wrong about this. If it is a cycle rather than a bell
curve, I will be delighted to see the next wave of good years. But I
am not really a pessimist. When I moved on from dependency on shows,
things got a lot better for me.

Stephen Walker


#2
I did shows for many years and have gradually cut back as other
things have worked out better to sell my wares. Shows got me
started, but I have met SO MANY people at shows who think that this
is their only option. 

A couple of points: what are those options that you refer to?

And are the broad comments concerning shows an extrapolation from
your personal experience? If not, on what do you base your comments?

There’s another possibility to account for the decline of sales at
shows: some exhibitors keep repeating themselves and those who do
will eventually wear out their audience.

Just a possibility
KPK


#3
A couple of points: what are those options that you refer to? 

In my own case, beginning in the early 1990s I started advertising
in magazines for direct retail sales. It worked very well for me
then, but the Internet has replaced that as the way people find
things for mail-order. I also opened my studio as a full time retail
store ten years ago. Our local studio tour has also become a viable,
but small alternative to traveling to shows and it has done a lot to
promote my local market. My son just opened a second store for our
jewelry in Rochester, NY. I am actually doing the Park Avenue Arts
Festival this weekend to help him promote his store, which is right
off Park Ave.

And are the broad comments concerning shows an extrapolation from
your personal experience? If not, on what do you base your
comments? 

These are my personal observations.

There's another possibility to account for the decline of sales at
shows: some exhibitors keep repeating themselves and those who do
will eventually wear out their audience. 

I think you are absolutely right about wearing out the audience.
There is another thing I have observed; that I call "jury inflation"
A show has a reputation for good sales, so more artists apply to it.
Since the better ones who are juried in tend to be more expensive,
the lower priced work that has a broader market appeal shrinks. In
this way the show becomes top heavy on price as the jury eliminates
the more modestly priced work. Now you have a better show as far as
the jury is concerned, but the audience cannot support it, so sales
go down.

Stephen Walker


#4
Shows got me started, but I have met SO MANY people at shows who
think that this is their only option.... But I am not really a
pessimist. When I moved on from dependency on shows, things got a
lot better for me. 

Stephen, you’ve peaked my curiosity with those statements. I’m one
who doesn’t see much alternative to the shows. Wholesale seems like
more work for less money, plus would include doing the same item
over and over again in quantity… boring. Consignment is out of the
question, as that not only takes my jewelry out of my hands for
selling at shows, but I have had more product stolen in consignment
shops than any where else. I do sales online from my website, but
thus far, only enough to replace one show a year.

As I get up in years, I am thinking of when shows will be too
difficult for me. The only alternative I come up with is opening a
store to sell my jewelry along with carrying other crafter/jewelry
items. How does one get started selling directly to stores? How did
you get “over my dependency on shows”?

Bev Ludlow
Renaissance Jewelry
http://www.wirewrapjeweler.com


#5
And are the broad comments concerning shows an extrapolation from
your personal experience? If not, on what do you base your
comments? 

If Stephen is referring to wholesale shows like ACC and Buyers
Market then I would agree with him. These shows are much less
lucrative than they were when I started doing them. The number of
buyers at these shows has dropped continuously from the early 90s.
When I started you could do a few wholesale shows and basically have
your years work in hand. The past few I did we barely covered all the
expenses of doing the show. I have also given up on these wholesale
shows. As for retail shows I have done so few that I have no relevant
data.

Jim

James Binnion
@James_Binnion
James Binnion Metal Arts


360-756-6550


#6
A couple of points: what are those options that you refer to? 

This wasn’t me, but here are the options I have found: wholesale,
consignment, individual studio-based commissions, internet, and
association/corporate sales (sales if items to non-profits for their
fundraising, or to foundations or businesses for recognition awards,
corporate gifts, etc). Other artists might also add teaching to this
list.

M’lou Brubaker
Minnesota, USA
http://www.craftswomen.com/M’louBrubaker


#7
I think that the decline of sales at shows >is less a matter of
economy than it is of generational trends. 

Stephen- Your comments ring sad but true. But I think the statement
above suggests even more than you state in your post.

I really fear that people under, let’s say 40, are just not as
attuned to fine arts and crafts. It scares me a little to realize
that my average customer is probably over 50, and I wonder if there
are any more generations coming along behind them with any kind of
artistic sophistication and appreciation.

An A&C show is a special kind of marketing model that encourages a
unique connection between artist and art lover. I truly enjoy that
connection and would hate to think it’s headed for extinction. Those
of you who have retail stores can still have that, but there’s still
something at least a little romantic about being a travelling artist
who comes to your town once a year to tempt you with new goodies.

And as wonderful as the internet is, it will never replace that grin
on a customer’s face as they walk away from your booth with something
they fell in love with.

Allan Mason


#8

I’ve been reading this thread with interest-- if people are not
doing much retail and have given up on wholesale - how are they
selling their work? Galleries are taking big hits too. Where is the
work being sold ??? – and these days, between metalsmiths, PMC and
beads, there are more people making jewelry than ever.

Grace


#9

I have heard this complaint for the last 12 years I’ve been doing
shows. Maybe I missed the “good” years, but I find this sort of
thinking to be Chicken Little-ish. The sky is indeed not falling.
Rather I think shows and we artists need to change and evolve with a
changing marketplace.

My fellow artists who are most certain that shows are in decline are
also the ones most resistant to change. They sit in their booth with
the same old stock they’ve had for years, reading a magazine. Our
customers have evolved so must we. We need to be better marketeers,
better sellers, more innovative in our products and how we display
them. I have friends, painters, who are kicking butt on the show
circuit. Their work is wonderful, large, and they sell the heck out
of it.

Call me an optimist, but I think shows are still viable, if they and
we artists evolve.

Carla
www.carlamfox.com


#10

Here is the link to a post I made as part of a similar message
thread a while back. You may be interested in all of the associated
posts.

https://orchid.ganoksin.com/t/art-shows-is-it-worthwhile-to-do

J. S. Ellington


#11

Hi

how are they selling their work? Galleries are taking big hits too.
Where is the work being sold ??? -- and these days, between
metalsmiths, PMC and beads, there are more people making jewelry
than ever. 

I believe there may be more and more out there selling directly via
the Internet…which is the direction I am going to go

Kim Starbard
http://www.kimstarbarddesigns.com


#12

There are more people making jewelry and fewer selling it.

KPK


#13

I also missed the ‘gravy boat’. I started doing shows in the San
Francisco area in the late seventies. I heard exactly the same thing.
I wonder if exhibiters just sat in their booth and accepted money
from passersby?

KPK


#14

Wow, Stephen Walker,

Your comment makes SOOooo much sense: " There is another thing I
have observed; that I call “jury inflation” A show has a reputation
for good sales, so more artists apply to it. Since the better ones
who are juried in tend to be more expensive, the lower priced work
that has a broader market appeal shrinks. In this way the show
becomes top heavy on price as the jury eliminates the more modestly
priced work. Now you have a better show as far as the jury is
concerned, but the audience cannot support it, so sales go down."

I’m thinking that the smart show promoter should strive to keep a
range of prices in the show, and appeal to a broad range of
customers. Everyone wins.

Judy in Kansas


#15

I sell my silver jewellery at a higher class Farmer’s Market every
Saturday. And every Saturday I do demos of different processes.
Sometimes I will sit and wire wrap, sometimes do silver (I take a
small kiln with me) and other times I demo glass engraving. People
are always at my booth but I am finding lately that they are at my
booth just to watch me doing something. When I put it down, even to
drink some diet soda they scamper away. This last Saturday I decided
I would offer Free Ring Cleaning. Talk about drawing a crowd. The
people actually lined up to have their rings cleaned, but I also
found that as they were lined up they were also looking and buying
everything on my tables. Today I have an Art Show in the Park. No
power so I will be just glass engraving and doing some simple first
steps in metal clay and wire wrapping (not allowed to take my little
kiln). This is a first for me and I will be the only jewellery
person there, it should prove interesting.

Leslie


#16

I’ve been doing shows since 1992 and I have been consistently
growing the bottom line. I worked in the fashion retail management
arena for many years prior to launching my metal career. I work my
booth in the same way I was taught working a store. I am on my feet
and engaging the public. I would much rather be selling my work than
someone else’s goods.

Susan


#17

I’ve also been having trouble with the shows I’m doing…perhaps
it’s the types of shows, which have been smaller, local shows, but I
just get so tired of hearing people say how beautiful or fantastic my
things are and then walking on to the next booth because my things
are pricier than they want (which is usually something under $25-30).
I stopped by the big Biltmore Village show here in Asheville today,
as I’m considering applying for next year, and spoke with some of the
other jewelers there and while some felt it was worth the hefty booth
fee of $640 for a 10x10 foot space, many of them were down in sales
by quite a bit over last or other years, some even by half compared
to the last time they did the show. I know the weather was probably a
factor in this particular show as it was one of the hottest weekends
we’ve had this summer so far and temps in the tents were approaching
100 degrees on Saturday.

I also think there may be something to the shows I’ve been doing
being local. People know they can find me ‘later’ if they want to buy
something, where a show farther away may make people more inclined
to buy something as they may not be able to ‘come back to it’ later
by tracking me down in my studio. Another factor here in Asheville is
the down is glutted with artists/jewelers and we’re all fighting for
the same customers/money…

http://www.jeannius.com


#18

There is a lot wrong with shows, but as a way of selling they are
still viable. “Back in the day” I had some great sales at Ann Arbor
and if I went back today I would consider it worth while to do it
for half those sales. I don’t think that shows are going to die out,
although some specific shows naturally will. My expectation is that
they will be around for the rest of my life, but that the best days
are past.

There is always going to be a lot of complaints about greedy
promoters and what it all really costs, but it is still a good way
to get started without spending the kind of money it takes to open a
shop. One thing that those of us who are trying to save the shows
should really worry about is how few young exbitors there are and
also how few younger customers there are compared to the old days.

Another thing that I believe is part of the problem is that the jury
system, considered sacred by many, is not going to choose the same
exhibitors that will please the customers. How many high end shows
do you know of where you cannot find a basic, usefull well crafted
poti The high art ceramics have pushed it out of some of the better
shows. This makes for a beautiful show, but if you are shopping for
the kind of accessible thing that originally brought people to art
fairs, you have to go to a lower end show. If the promoter can
choose the show based on what they know their audience will
appeciate, they can include “crowd pleasers” but if the jury is
strictly followed the show is over the top for most of the potential
audience. I really like the few shows that state up front that the
committee reserveds the right to override the jury for a certain
percent of the exhibitors. I think a hit-and-run jury is not the
best way to balance or diversify a show.

Jim Binnion says he thinks wholesale shows are suffering also. If
you want wholesale you can make the approach directly at a lot less
cost. Back when I did wholesale I got some good accounts just by
making cold calls on shops. But I also found that phoning and
mailing to existing customers kept the pot boiling at a lot less
cost than shows.

Stephen Walker


#19
There are more people making jewelry and fewer selling it. 

Actually there are more people thinking they are “making” jewelry
using shoddy technique and the public is refusing to buy it. Hard
work, good design & technique is still being rewarded by sales.

Carla
www.carlamfox.com