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Peer Session: Fairs, Festivals and Shows
Moderator: Cheryl Hartley
June 2, 2006

a diverse group from NY, GA, MI, WA, OR, Canada, etc., including larger festivals, small venues, gift shows, international and bi-coastal shows, juried and non, craftspeople, artist-run organizations, American Craft Council, GLM

How to grow your show, or make peace with being small:

  • Smaller groups usually have to go through ACC or GLM to reach national marketing for their show
  • How do you capitalize on other groups’ interest in your event?  You could share a guide, multiple committees, try to politely maintain an identity
  • Overcome/ignore fear of growth
  • Identify what you want at first (bigger/faster is not always better) and establish what you want out of it, i.e. set your goals and limits
  • Provide workshops for exhibitors, have peer critiques of products, and charge vendor fees
  • Get new exhibitors to participate by offering promotions such as 1st time exhibitors under the age of 28 can get 50% off their fees
  • “Niche marketing”
  • Be happy with your size, bigger is not always better
  • Larger shows are now going in reverse as well.  Quality is going down as density of audience and number of objects increase
  • Hold Anniversary events

Gas expenses as a new issue, other impacts

  • Some possible solutions: use public transportation, provide coupons, offer free parking
  • Communication of the event to the market is key – if a person wants to go to it, they will – but you have to see the event as a business
  • Must communicate your quality to the public
  • On moving the show to a new location: people follow if they like the show
  • Gas is probably more of an issue for the vendors than for the visitors
  • Increased delivery costs is a serious issue
  • Duration of show determines what geographical locations the audience can come from (i.e. if they are from far away, is it too expensive for people to stay a few days for the whole length of the festival?)—those expenses add up for them; it’s a balancing act to be profitable
  • Scheduling dates of show determines who comes; depends when other fairs are going on, etc.
  • Wholesale artists are pulling out of shows because they can’t afford very long fairs or multiple fairs or distant fairs
  • Internet is also affecting things (like how artists are choosing to sell their work)
  • You must make the event special compared to other venues (“our event can…” for example: educate the public about the importance of craft; provide setting for public to meet the artists; opportunities for all ages to learn; offer free parking, etc.)


  • Sponsorship is where the profit is
  • Mostly provides money, but also “in kind” benefits
  • Strengths to having sponsors: helps in all aspects of show including marketing, attendance, prestige, etc.  Weaknesses: sponsors may have specific demands, you may lose independence
  • Sponsors may be able to provide programming for kids, etc.
  • May be used to give money (in coupons) to kids to buy art also – starts them collecting earlier
  • Alignment with the correct sponsors is important because you need to have the right association
  • Instead of direct sponsorship, try connections to other fundraising organizations (e.g. children’s hospital) – not necessarily always buying ads, but developing other relationships

Issues Involved with Applications

  • Slides vs. digital
  • Post office/snail mail vs. internet
  • More people are doing digital more and more, thus costs are going down for the organization
  • It’s all in the marketing—you have to know who your market is and how they want to apply
  • Where is your efficiency going to go?  Money vs. time
  • Change is possible even in larger, older organizations!
  • Pros and cons of Zapplication were discussed.  Many organizations are moving to Zapplication.

June 3, 2006 - Second Peer Session

 Possible reasons for the decline in show attendance

  • City requiring vendors to have private show insurance
  • Discourages artists
  • Possibility of ruining smaller shows if hobby vendors are intimidated
  • People do not want to spend their weekend in a convention center
  • There is a shift in the way people buy things
  • More web shopping. 
  • Pre-shopping shows.
  • Not attracting younger generation
  • Need to be marketing to the thirty something’s with the extra income.  They are looking for handmade, DIY, art, new
  • Older generation has already filled their homes with arts & crafts.  Slowing down their buying.
  • No new art
  • Not a lot of new artists coming to shows
  • Getting the same artists year after year

One solution to raise customer awareness of new art/artists:  send out email to mailing list with images of new art/artists.  Makes the customer feel part of the community; people like to be invited to events.  ‘Parta Mail’ Software was suggested as good mass emailing program. 

Jury Problems

  • Jury may be selecting their peers rather that new applicants
  • Same people getting in year after year
  • Can raise problems when customers are looking for vendor they saw last year and they are not there current year.  Solution:  List past show vendors with images of work on website to refer people to.

Keeping people interested while at your show:

  • Demonstrations
  • Have special promotions around a theme.  Allow all artists to create a theme specific art piece and advertise around it (i.e. Kids) Creates new work and can bring a different demographic in
  • Go out into the communities rather than making people come out to you
  • Do a community art project where everyone or many people can contribute to an art piece that will be publicly displayed
  • Build an exciting national art project that travels around to different shows/fairs.

Attracting quality buyers: more sophisticated show cards

Problems relating to shows/fairs 

Problem: Upsetting community – tying up/blocking roads, disconnected from community
Solution:  Connect back with community – throwing special event/party for community before show begins.  

Problem: Street people coming into show trying to sell items/ music
Solution:  bring in police.  Be tough about it – jeopardizes the quality of your show.  Get buffer zones written into permits with the city.  Can explain that it’s needed for health and safety issues 

Problem: artists selling items not juried in
Solution: Try walking isles beforehand.  Check out artist’s website to see if work if consistent with what you expect.  Some exhibitors may be asked to leave the show.

Problem:  Solicitations toward artists during show – Non Profits, Donations - Can be difficult to turn down requests from legitimate charities.
Solution: Set up room and time before hand for solicitor.  Email artist if they are interested they are free to meet at designated time and place.  Make a non-profit booth area.  Artist can go to them, not other way around.  Don’t let them bother artists.  Explain that exhibitors need to conduct business during show.  This is their living.  Partnerships with professionals you think would be good for artists may be okay.  Political solicitations – give them a real soapbox 

Other issues:

  • Turf repairing Fees
  • Fire codes
  • Tax Dept.  Issues/ licenses

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