This is a guest post from Katie Phillips. There’s a giveaway at the end too!
As an artist, I’m sure you’ve attended art festivals and thought, “Maybe I should sell my work at one of these things.”
But then, you may have felt discouraged because you weren’t sure what all is involved or how to get started. [Note From Laura: Or I know a lot of you have tried them and they’ve not gone well! This is still a helpful article for you if you fall into that box.]
With several years of experience under my belt, I can say that art festivals have provided me with many opportunities to make money doing what I love.
BUT LET ME BE HONEST WITH YOU, ART FESTIVALS ARE NOT RIGHT FOR EVERYONE.
A great show will put you on “cloud nine” but a bad show will send you crashing back down to Earth – hard.
Yes, there’s a lot of risk, hard work, and emotional stress that come with festivals. But there’s also the potential for great rewards. Let’s quickly look at a few pros and cons so you can decide if the art festival life is the one for you.
First, the good news (Pros):
1 POTENTIAL FOR GREAT PROFIT IN A SHORT AMOUNT OF TIME.
Personally, I’ve found that festivals are a great way to sell many art pieces in a short time frame. Retail can be slow and agonizing. Galleries are intimidating and selective. Online sales can be confusing if you’re not tech savvy or have good understanding of digital marketing avenues.
When a popular festival full of potential customers presents itself, I’ll jump on the opportunity because I know I can (usually) make a great profit in one weekend. For me, a great profit is a couple thousand dollars. Some shows have brought in even more but there have been times when I made a LOT less… even negative numbers.
2 EXPOSURE TO A LOT OF PEOPLE.
Most of my experience has been in the Atlanta area where the more established festivals can have upwards of 200,000 in attendance. That’s a lot of potential exposure, which is great for several reasons:
Your email list is VERY important. This allows you to continue reaching out to potential customers beyond that one show. They may not be ready to purchase from you during the festival, but with a little email nurturing, they are likely to consider your work in the future.
Most of my commissions have come from people who I met during a festival. Often, they see one of my paintings, but want something similar in a different size or color scheme. Why, of course I’m happy to customize!
I’ve met shop owners who wanted to carry my artwork in their stores. It’s possible to meet interior designers and influencers. Or you may even inspire someone, like a high school art student curious about your process.
3 MEET OTHER ARTISTS.
There’s usually other artists set up on both sides of you. Get to know them! This is a chance to swap valuable show information like finding out their favorite events and which shows they avoid at all costs. You can also exchange marketing ideas, display tips, and other resources. I encourage you to meet other artists in your specific medium as well. It’s good to hear about experiences from someone who’s selling a similar product.
4 FIRST-HAND FEEDBACK.
Okay, some may not consider this a “pro,” but I do. Festivals give me a chance to gauge peoples’ reactions to new artwork and see which pieces get attention & which ones get ignored. I also get to see emotional reactions and hear personal stories that connect customers with my work. Yes, you could hear negative feedback too. But use constructive critiques as an opportunity to grow.
And now, the Cons:
1 LARGE UPFRONT INVESTMENT AND NON-REFUNDABLE EXPENSES.
There are usually several upfront expenses for each show. Most likely you’ll have to float these expenses for several months before you see any return on your investment. And, if it’s a bad show, you may even lose money.
The main thing to note is that some of these fees are non-refundable so you’re truly gambling with each festival registration. Here are some of the fees you can expect:
This usually ranges between $20 and $40 for each entry. This fee covers the festival’s administrative costs. This fee is non-refundable.
A booth for a small festival starts around $150-$200 and goes up to $400 for larger shows. Highly ranked, national-level shows may have booth fees in the $500-$750 range. Most festivals offer a partial refund until a certain date. Also, refunds are not given in the event of bad weather. READ THE REFUND POLICY CAREFULLY.
You may need to rent a U-haul if your personal vehicle is too small. Is the festival out of town? Be sure to include hotel and gas in your show costs too.
2 FESTIVALS ARE A LOT OF WORK.
There’s a lot of pre-show preparation like creating inventory and advertising the show to customers. During the show, there’s the set-up (sometimes in the early morning), long show hours, and then packing it all up when it’s over.
3 THINGS CAN GO WRONG.
Your most prized art pieces are exposed to the elements. So artwork or equipment could get damaged. I’ve seen a gust of wind send a beautiful display of pottery crashing down. That same gust of wind flipped over my table and put a giant rip through one of my paintings.
Festivals are usually rain or shine events with no refunds. If it looks like you’re in for a rainy weekend, you’ll need to weigh your options and decide if it’s worth your time and the risk to your artwork.
4 INCONSISTENT INCOME.
Art festivals are fickle beasts!
Depending on your location, there may be certain times of the year when art festivals don’t take place. In the Atlanta area, festivals don’t start up until April and it’s simply too hot (for me!) to sit outside in the summer heat. That means there are several months when I’m forced to find other outlets to sell my work.
You also never know from year to year if you’ll be accepted back into the same show. Each year there may be a different jury and a different applicant pool, so there are no guarantees.
And surprisingly, you can have spectacular sales at a festival one year and slow sales the next year at the same event. No festival is ever a “safe bet”. Your booth could be placed in an unfavorable location or there could be other outside factors affecting attendance.
Now that you’ve had the chance to evaluate a few pros and cons, it should be easier to decide if you want to pursue the art festival route for your business.
If you’d like to give the festival business a shot, then I’m sure you have even more questions like, “How much does a display cost?”, “How do I find festivals and apply for them?”, and “How do I handle sales during a show?”
Well, I’ve got that covered (and much more!) in my Art Festival Crash Course ebook. At just under 50 pages, it’s meant to be a quick read of essential of essential information you’ll need to get started.
I get quite candid (and even embarrass myself a little) in hopes that it reduces your learning curve.
You can get a peek at the introduction and table of contents here to see what it’s all about and grab a copy. But I’m also so excited to be partnering with Laura to giveaway 3 free copies! Three! Be sure to submit your email address below to enter the drawing by Wednesday, September 5th.
Art Festival Crash Course Giveaway
[Giveaway is closed.]
Winners will be drawn and notified by email Thursday, September 6th. All entrants will be added to Laura and Katie’s email lists to receive occasional updates. You may unsubscribe at any time.
Katie Phillips is a palette knife artist based in the Atlanta, Georgia area. Her artwork can be found in private art collections across the country and purchased from juried art shows and retail locations around Atlanta. Connect with Katie on Instagram and learn more about her artwork on her website.