Getting started in the art festival circuit: Research

Getting started in the art festival circuit: Research

This is a three part series to help you get started in the art festival circuit.

As a photographer who attends art festivals across the country, I get a lot of questions about what is involved in a weekend art fair. Well, it’s not as simple as buy a tent and set up your product. So much goes into a weekend art festival behind the scenes. Before you spend money and jump in, I highly suggest doing some research.

Research

Before I exhibited at any shows I attended local art festivals to see what they are about. I didn’t go to buy art, I went to research the show. Research will also allow you to understand how you fit into this circuit. You will see first hand what’s accepted into shows and what’s missing. You can see the quality of the art and the audience. So much can be said for taking the time to attend a show before jumping in. Questions to ask as you wander through an art festival. Will your art fit in? Is it crowded? Are patrons buying? Who else is exhibiting there? Is there a music stage? Is beer available? Is it craft vs. art? Are people walking around for entertainment or actually engaging with the artists? These are all factors for knowing if you’ll fit into a show. Is your art similar to what’s on exhibit? Is your quality is up to par with others? I say this not to be mean, but realistic. If your art doesn’t fit with the show, then find a different one. Keep in mind your target market as you walk through art festivals and see if the patrons there are your target audience.

Different types of festivals

Most people do not see any difference between fine art and craft as they are both considered to be forms of creativity. Let’s consider how fine art and craft differ. Fine art is usually a form of work that is the expression of emotions. Craft is a form of work, which results in a tangible output. Some fine craft is also fine art and it’s a hard line to be drawn. However, when you attend different events, you will see a clear difference in a person making a living as a fine artist and a crafter. Both can have a great product and can make money, but there is a difference. This is also a very sticky debate among artisans. What is considered art to one person might be a craft to another and vice versa. I don’t want to get into that debate here. Instead, I want to lay out the basics for the difference in shows and festivals.

Fine art

This is strictly for high end quality art. You will usually find bigger pieces, higher price points and a uniform look to these shows. I’m talking the organizer requires a white tent. The spaces are uniform sizes – either 10×10 or 10×20. The booths look professional and inviting. Everything is handmade by the artist who is present selling themselves.

Craft

It is usually a lower price point. The booths don’t usually look as uniform. The art might encompass items that are less refined than fine art. Usually church shows are craft fairs. The shows are usually smaller, less expensive to buy a booth and many times more community based than fine art shows.

Music

This one should be obvious. There are jazz festivals all over. Blues festivals. Folk festivals. Rock Festivals. These are usually focused on the music, but may allow some artists/crafters to exhibit. I highly suggest avoiding this type of show unless your art fits into the music scene. Usually the patrons are there to listen to music and not buy art. They may spend under $50 on small items. But again, it’s not the focus.

Carnivals/Summer Festivals

These are more family orientated. Some might have rides or bouncy houses. Unless your art/craft is a very low price point or oriented to families, you probably won’t sell well here. People are there to spend time with family, enjoy a bouncy ride, buy cotton candy/popcorn and not to buy art. Keep in mind these are guidelines and suggestions. They by no means are the end all answer. You may do very well at a local church show or festival. You may not sell a thing at a high end fine art show. I can’t stress enough to know your market and target audience.

How do you find out about shows beyond your local community?

First and foremost the best tool at your fingertips is the web! Go online. Search for fine art festivals. Maybe you have a particular location in mind? If so, search for that area. Say you know you are going to be in Washington state. Search for fine art festivals Washington. Keep in mind art shows are mostly outdoors and go with the weather. So for northern states, art shows are in the summer. Southern or warmer states have art shows in the fall, winter and spring. Some central states it gets too hot in the summer so they are mostly in the spring and fall. It really varies by region, but keep that in mind when researching.

A few website suggestions

I found all of these websites to be the most helpful as I got started in the art show circuit. Each one adds something different to the research phase and beyond. Visit or join Zapplication. This is a website dedicated to artists applying to fine art festival across the country. However, if you are doing research, it has dates, deadlines and information about so many shows; making it a great starting point for the fine artist. Sunshine Artist Magazine is also a great magazine to pick up. It has reviews, helpful articles, lists, dates and more about some of the art festivals. Artfairinsiders is another great starting point. This website has reviews, helpful hints from seasoned professionals, suppliers, a place for buying/selling art show setups and supplies and more. While the format is a little antiquated, there is definitely helpful information on there.