Friday, January 16, 2015

The Business of Art (Festivals)

"Faith, noun - sending $500 entry fee to an art show taking place half way across the country in unknown weather conditions in 5-7 months, where you will be trying to sell artwork you haven't yet created in an economy which may implode anytime between now and then." - Stephen Bach, landscape artist

The above quote was posted by Mr Bach on an internet forum for all things related to art festivals. And it is exactly true. I spent a great deal of time recently, working on my potential schedule for 2015. I say potential, because so far I have no idea if I will actually be exhibiting at any of these events...

The way art festivals work is that you submit photographs of your work, and your booth, for judging. The industry term is *jurying* but make no's judging. Judging whether or not you will fit in some very narrow parameters. And the people who are judging you? They have about 30 seconds to make the decision(s) that will affect your abiltiy to exhibit. Because if the jury doesn't give you a high score, you're not allowed to show up and play. Or (sometimes) worse, you're placed in limbo...the art festival Wait List.*

And how tough is the competition? One of the shows states: 

"145 artists are slected from a jury pool of approx. 1300 applicants". 

Y'know what that works out to? An 11 percent chance of being accepted. About ten people have to be rejected for me to make it...and my odds aren't even that good, because the jewelry category has more competition than the rest. So a good number of those applicants will be applying for MY category...which means more of them will have to be told "no" for me to get the chance to exhbiti at this festival. 

And, we artisans pay for the privilege of having our work juried. Most festivals charge a "jury fee" of anywhere from $25 to $55. That's just to have 'em look at you. Non-refundable, of course. These add up to hundreds and even thousands for artists who will apply to many festivals, often some overlapping on the same weekend, just to hope that they can get invited to one of them. Some of my spots on the calendar above have three post-its on them, because I'm applying to three events. 

If we are fortunate enough to get accepted, we then pay a space or booth fee to the festival. This ranges, from $200 on the low end (though many of those are now $300) to $1000 at the high. And that's with no guarantee of a return on your investment, of course. You pays your money and you takes your chances...

The most I've ever paid for a festival booth? $775. That's a big commitment with no guarantee of return. I think the odds may be better in Vegas. :) 

Often, exhibiting at arts festivals means traveling, which means that even a $300 booth fee (plus that $35 jury fee) isn't the only expenditure. There are hotel stays, food, gas, and any other necessary expenses. If the show hours extend late and you want electricity (assuming the festival provides it)? That's another charge. Most out of town events will require at least a two night stay, and that's assuming you can arrive on Friday night, set up EARLY Saturday morning, and leave Sunday evening...but a lot of festivals have scheduled set up hours. And some only allow you to set up the day *before* the event. Which means an additional hotel night...and more meals to buy. 

And I'm not even going to get into what happens if you make it to a festival and the weather is uncooperative...we all just hope for the best, all the time. There's no eternal optimist like an artist. :) 

I'm not saying any of this is good. Or bad. It's just what is. The art festival life is a game of chance, and like any other gamble, sometimes it pays off, and sometimes it doesn't. 

So. The next time you take yourself to an art festival, you might pause for a moment and consider what the artists have gone through to get themselves in front of YOU. Support them, if you can, if you like the work, if you have a budget for some handmade jewelry, ceramics,'s not necessary, of course, if you can't. 

But know that they're not their for the great fun of it all...though festivals can be great fun!!...they're there because they love what they do. They love it so much they are willing to live an often very uncertain existence, with no regular income, a life that is subject to a LOT of rejection, sometimes, to continue to put goodness and art and beauty into the world. And they (we), hope...that you will love it too. :)

Now I'm off to actually make some jewelry. For those future festivals... :) 

* Wait Lists are the artisan version of Hell. Because you don't know IF or WHEN you might get called off of the wait you can't *really* plan around it. You either have to assume you won't be exhibiting at that festival,....but you are always hoping (eternal optimist!) that you'll get an email or a call saying that a space has opened for you. And to be called off the wait list means that someone else had to cancel.'s bad news for someone else, good news for you. A bit of Schadenfreude, that. Sometimes an outright rejection is actually easier because it's like ripping off a band-aid. Wait list status is like you're hoping the band-aid will come off at some point...but not ever knowing if it will. 

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