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How to Prepare for a Successful Art Fair or Festival

Now that spring has arrived, we’re going to see a lot more outdoor art fairs and festivals showing up on our calendars. These art events can be an excellent way for many artists to market and sell their work directly to the public, plus they can also be great networking opportunities. 

Some of you are probably already scheduled to participate in one or more art fairs, and you know it’s a big investment of time, energy, and money. You want it to go as smoothly as possible, so preparing in advance will help you be more successful and have more fun. Here’s a quick countdown, but feel free to add in your own steps and adjust the timeline to fit your needs:

Eight Weeks in Advance:

  • Send out press releases to media contacts in the event’s area. Yes, the fair or festival organizers will probably do this, too, but it doesn’t hurt for you to write up a press release and send it out to the appropriate journalists. News media usually like to focus on one or two individual artists when they’re covering this type of event, and it might as well be you! While you’re at it, the local newspapers probably have free event calendars, and you should make sure your event is posted on them. (Here’s how.)

Four Weeks in Advance:

  • Re-read the contract. As you start to pull together your plan for your booth or room, it’s a good idea to review the terms of the event contract, just to make sure that whatever you’re planning will work. It may also reveal some hidden things, like the need for fire resistant fabric drapes and additional fees for things you may need, such as electricity.
  • Evaluate your tent, displays, and signage. Look things over well in advance, and give yourself plenty of time to buy new and/or make any needed repairs and changes.
  • Restock any promotional and marketing items. Now’s the time to think about printed promotional items you might want to hand out, such as business cards and brochures, so that you have enough time to design, update, and print new ones if needed.

Three Weeks in Advance:

  • Launch your pre-show marketing. You’ll want to let all of your contacts know about this awesome upcoming event, so use every means possible. Over the next couple of weeks, send out printed post cards, post several rounds of social media announcements, and include the news in your next e-newsletter. When announcing the event on social media, remember to incorporate any relevant hashtags, such as the name of the event. Include lots of pictures of the new work you’ve created to get people excited about attending.
  • Set yourself some goals. Selling your work is obviously the primary goal of participating in an art fair or festival, but it’s not necessarily the only reason. Perhaps you also want to build up your e-mail address list, or maybe you’re feeling the need to meet and network with some other artists. In the hustle and bustle of a busy event, it’s easy to forget these secondary goals, so it’s a good idea to write them down.
  • Check your credit card device. Thank goodness that companies like Square and Intuit now offer devices that attach to our smartphones so we can accept credit cards. Just make sure your device is working so you can replace it if needed.

Two Weeks in Advance:

  • Start packing up all of your artwork. I have a bad habit of waiting until the last minute to do this, which always ends up stressing me out, especially if it turns out I don’t have enough bubble wrap, storage bins, and boxes. Get ahead of this time-consuming chore by starting in advance.
  • Practice your sales techniques. One of the keys to a successful show is knowing how to talk to people about your work. If this is uncomfortable for you, consider role-playing with a trusted friend or family member. Imagine talking to people about your work, prepare an engaging anecdote about each work, and think of questions you could ask collectors to keep the conversation going. Above all, get comfortable asking people if they want you to wrap up that artwork so they can take it home. Learn how to close a sale.
  • Know your sales policies. You’ll also be asked a lot of questions about your sales policies, such as whether you offer discounts or payment plans, or whether you’re willing to sell a work of art unframed. By making these decisions in advance, you’ll be prepared to give an answer you’re comfortable with.

One Week in Advance:

  • Finish packing up your artwork. For your own sake, don’t wait until the night before you leave for the event. 
  • Go to the bank for cash. Some people still pay with cash, so you’ll need to be prepared to make change with small bills.
  • Make a list of everything you could possibly need and pack it. Here’s just a partial list: tent, display racks and cases, hangers and hooks, price tags and/or price sheets, tables, chairs, promotional items, address book for collecting e-mail addresses, sunglasses, sunscreen, rain gear, box cutter, package wrapping materials, tape, and a cooler for drinks and snacks.
  • Assemble your banking center. I think it’s a good idea to create a special box or pouch for the really important, don’t-want-to-lose items like your credit card device, cash, receipt book, inventory/price sheet, tax/business license, and any other paperwork related to the show that you may need to have handy.

Two Days in Advance:

  • Get your clothes together. This may sound silly, but you really do want to think about what you’re going to wear so that you’re comfortable but still look professional. It may be time for a load of laundry.
  • Get your food supply together. You’re going to need plenty of water, plus you should take along food items that are easy to eat on the fly. It may be time for a trip to the grocery store.
  • Get your giveaways ready. Some artists like to give away little treats, such as candy, to encourage people to stay in the booth a bit longer. Pick those up at the grocery store while you’re getting your snacks and water.

Set-Up Time:

  • Arrange your booth or room for maximum impact. Two tips: 1. Based on the traffic patterns leading up to your space, arrange your absolute best pieces where people will immediately see them as they approach your space. And 2. Don’t overcrowd and put out everything you’ve brought. It’s okay to keep some items packed, and use them as replacements for items that have sold. Keep in mind that if a person seems interested in your work but isn’t seeing exactly what he or she wants, you can always unpack a particular piece that you think will interest that person.
  • Shoot photos of your space for later. Not only is this a great way to evaluate how to do things better next time, you may be asked for photos for future applications to other shows.

After the Event:

  • Evaluate your photos. How did your booth look? Is there something you could do better? What did you see other artists doing that you’d like to emulate? Make some notes.
  • Evaluate your preparation. Go back to your prep lists and add in ideas for improvement, and by all means customize this list for your needs.
  • Record any useful comments and feedback on your work. What were people saying about your work that could be useful to you? What did they say about your displays that could be better? How did you feel about your sales techniques? Any room for improvement there? Write it all down so you just get better and better at this!

Did I forget anything? What do you do to ensure a successful, relaxed art fair? Please share your tips. Let’s connect!


2 comments

  • Hi Bonnie, There are several websites that you can use to identify art fairs near you and to discover how to apply to them. You might need to pay a fee and/or create an account to use them, but it’s well worth it if this is a path you think you’d like to take. I recommend starting local with one or two shows to see how you like it first, and try to borrow a tent and display stuff from someone in your network of friends before investing in a lot of equipment. Try these sources for more info: artfaircalendar.com, artfairsourcebook.com, craftmasternews.com. Let me know how you do! Jennifer

    Jennifer

  • Thank you. Where would I find a list of art fairs. This is new to me
    Bonnie

    Bonnie Belden-Doney

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