Is the art fair world predictable? Can you believe that the same event will be consistent each year? Is there a pattern or trend? And how do you handle your expectations of events?
These questions swirl around with each event we do. The truth is we have that nice college education that wants life to be predictable, trend-able, quantifiable, and able to create trend lines on a spreadsheet. The truth is far from that! Honestly, We have learned that there is no pattern or rhymne that makes sense.
We have displayed our work at the same venue several years in a row and thought it was well attended, and patronized with a buying crowd, then the next year it all but dies on the vine.
We just experienced a underwhelming experience at Great Lakes Art Fair. We love the venue, in a large and very modern convention center in a northern suburb of Detroit, situated in a “growth edge” of the region. The homes look expensive, and new, and a lot of new corporate development too. In spite of Detroit sharing the dubious reputation of an old rust belt city, there is life and economic vitality in this portion of the region. We did the show in 2014 and were blown away when in the first day we recouped the expensive booth fee, and covered our expenses for the trip (gas, lodging, and in that case care repairs). The group that organizes this is dynamic, and works so hard to get publicity in the news media, print, and social media. We were seeing the social media all over the instagram, and facebook feeds, along with their well designed website. So there was a growing buzz.
And they were careful to jury some amazing artists from a number of states, as far away as california and new jersey. And it was well curated. Artists were well spread out, worked hard to bring their efforts together in their spaces with a style and unique panache.
The doors opened and a sleep group came through. And the chatter began. “Lookie Lou! Yes Look, isn’t that pretty! Oh, hey Jenny you could make that couldn’t you? And what on earth is that? Would you pay for that? I don;t wear scarves, do you? Oh how much do you want for that bar of soap? What makes it so special?”
Another group wandered through, meandered, spotted the candy dish filled with hershey kisses and made the bee line to it, acted interested in a few things, grabbed a hand full of candy and …..gone, gone, gone.
These were not the typical art fair patrons that come to bask in the talent and skills, find that something special, make an impulse purchase, and walk around inquisitive of the creative process. We love people, but you can often tell when a crowd is not as anticipated. And there it is… anticipation unmet leads to thoughts, eagerness to try to drill down to the issue…. and my mind begins a check list of thoughts: Is it our display? Did i make a mistake in the layout? Is it my body language? (Yes, Hulking with your hands on your hips does scare them off!!! But body language is a whole different blog post, right?) Is is pricing? Is it where i was positioned in the show that is not bringing the buyers? Is there something else going on in the area that has drawn down the crowds? Is there an economic event like the layoff of a large amount of people that is impacting who is visiting the event?
Old veterans of art shows will tell you that there is no predictability to art shows. One year they may be brilliant, well attended, filled with hungry buyers eagerly looking for unique things, and that same show may tank the next year. But how do you handle expectations?
1. Be reasonable and err on the side of conservative caution – What i mean is if you did incredible the previous year don’t focus on that. Instead calculate the cost of the show, lodging, gas, expenses and double that – setting the bar at a reasonable place. If the show goes better, so much the better. But your expectations should never be so high that they are a complete let down when the sales dont meet plan.
2. Do your research about the show – read reviews. And that gets to another point. Always be willing to give a review of the events you participate in. Be honest, fair, and without emotion. Your honest thoughts will help others make a decision on how they approach the event.
3. Do your research about the area– Thanks to the internet we can find out the median income of a town or city, and we can read about the economic conditions of the area. This ties in to the idea of knowing your market- if your typical buyer makes a good income, lives in suburbia, and has the expendable income to spend then look for shows that will draw that market of people.
4. If it is a multiple day show and your first day is slow rearrange the booth – Give it a fresh look so that people will want to stop. Try to put something in your booth that will draw the eye, and make them want to come in, touch, smell, feel. (OK, we have a sensory experience with the soft silk, wire crochet, and the soap that smells incredible and everyone wants to sniff.)
5. Let it go! Not going to break into the song from Frozen, but that is good advice. Let go of the things you can not control. You have no control over who responds to the event. Yes, you can send out an email blast. Yes, you can make a few calls. And yes, you can be friendly, excited, conversational…. but you can’t make people come out. Let it go!
6. Remain positive! Things may have just not worked out… but in every art fair there are people who sell tons of their art, and others that watch the grass grow, and sell slowly. Smile, be thankful for your opportunity, and the friendships you have made. Your time will come.
Art shows are a lot like life… some things can be expected and planned, and others cannot.