After many years of attending art fairs as a spectator, I finally took the plunge and became one of the Artist/Vendors. The 57th Annual Park Forest Art Festival, held on Saturday and Sunday, September 15-16, 2012 was a great inaugural event for me.
First, my disclaimer: I have participated in a couple of art fairs as part of a student/group activity. You know the kind of event - where everyone contributes something, but no one does everything. It was enough to give me a taste of the Art Fair experience without bearing the sole risk, investment, and time commitment made by so many artists who put themselves and their works out for public consumption.
I would like to thank all those who provided moral support; those who shared their experiences and do’s and dont’s; and those friends who made the trek to Park Forest to give me encouragement first-hand. Many well-wishing friends said “Be sure to let me/us know how everything goes” (or something to that effect). So here are some of the many good things, a few not-so good, and some the lessons learned for the next time.
Weather - was absolutely gorgeous (direct quote from Chicago area weather man). I could not have wished for any better. Temperatures were in the 50’s in the early am, a tremendous boon to the setup on Saturday am. During the Festival open hours, temperatures were generally in the upper 60’s to 70’s. No rain, no clouds, no fierce winds. Just very pleasant early fall weather.
Location - as a first time artist, I was amazed that I received my choice of location - a pleasant spot on the grassy area, close enough to the entertainment to provide a relaxing backdrop, but far enough away that the music was not loud or intrusive. There was plenty of space to store my ‘stuff’ behind the tent, and my front door was right at the walk-way for general traffic.
Festival Organizers and Volunteers - the Tall Grass Arts Association has organization down pat - they are very artist friendly and go out of their way to make sure that all artists are taken care of. This includes booth sitting for bathroom breaks, water deliveries, and just stopping by to make sure the artists have whatever they need. The volunteers (over 120 of them) put on a wonderful buffet of home-cooked meals, side dishes, and desserts on Saturday night after the fair closed for the day.
Tall Grass (https://www.facebook.com/tallgrassarts) is an active group in Park Forest, with great support from the community and art lovers. They used a variety of methods for promoting this long-standing annual Festival, including promotional postcards, the Luminosity exhibit and pre-event reception in the nearby Gallery, newspaper coverage, and social media.
Traffic and feedback - well there was some good and some not-so good. I would characterize the traffic as light, but mostly eager to engage with the artists. I received many positive comments and compliments, a few suggestions that I will take under advisement, and lots of first-hand experience at people-watching (other artists as well as attendees). Mostly, the good part was getting exposure for my work, meeting other artists, feeling comfortable in dealing with the public, and the thrill of landing that first sale, of wrapping a piece of artwork up and delivering it to an eager recipient. I wish I could say that my sales were fantastic, or even that I made my booth fee, but those milestones are yet to be reached. Based on feedback from other vendors, sales levels were generally low in comparison with other years, so I did not feel alone in that regard.
Setup and Take Down - for a first fair, this was a good choice. There were just under 70 vendors, and therefore plenty of room to spread out, no contention for unloading and loading spots. I was a little nervous about having to set up on Saturday morning, with registration opening at 7:00 am and the Festival starting at 10:00 am, but with the help of my husband in setting up the tent, I was ready to go with 1/2 hour to spare. We had practiced setting up and taking down the tent - twice - in the back yard. The second setup was a key learning experience, that ‘aha’ moment when you realize that smart take-down and packing makes for efficient and stress-free set up the next time.
I had also prepared measurements and diagrams for how I wanted to hang my artwork - a 24x36 inch ‘showpiece’ on the back wall to draw people inside the tent, and a very deliberate selection of pieces for each wall. The idea was to have a minimalist, uncluttered look that simulated a gallery feel in arrangement and presentation. I brought selections of framed images from two bodies of work: “Spring Ahead...Fall Back” and “Flowers with Attitude.” On Sunday, I added additional pieces on the outside walls, being very careful to not expose them to the harsh sunlight.
The Not So Good
My first little tragedy occurred during the unpacking - I brought a consumer-friendly frame that holds multiple 4x6 images in 9 little subsections, with a staggered inset/outset system that gives a 3-dimensional effect. I had been somewhat careless in packing this piece, thinking it was quite resilient. When I unwrapped it, there were three panes of broken glass. Not to let this stand in my way, I carefully picked out and discarded the shards, and set the frame up on an easel with a “display only/not for sale” sign. This was another piece intended as an attention-grabber. I did hear some people comment favorably on it, but I am not sure it was successful, and I felt embarrassed for its hapless appearance. Unfortunately its first accident was not its last. The wind blew up several times on Sunday, and the frame came crashing face side down on the grass, not once but three times before I moved it inside. Next time, the easel stays at home, along with the clever little 9-section frame.
Most importantly, I learned that with help from my husband I can set up and take down the tent without difficulty. I even rolled up the front entrance by myself on Sunday morning, and removed the side wall to expose the outside mesh. I gained the confidence that “I can do this” and even had a relaxing and enjoyable time.
Although I brought items at different price points, my low-end pieces did not sell, and did not seem to attract the attention that I wanted. So, next time, I will try something different. I have some specific ideas, but may change my mind between now and next year.
Next time, I will leave the ‘specialty’ frame at home, and set the tent up right next to the walkway instead of setting it back a foot or two. This time I did not have a banner, because I was not sure how I wanted it to look. I do have some ideas now, and some time to develop them before next year.
I enjoyed the creative aspects of designing my booth space, but found that I need to exploit all available space without making things look cluttered. A few awnings will help shield the outside work from the elements, and hopefully provide some additional visual incentives for people to stop by for a closer look.
The direction of traffic flow was not something that I had thought about, but will certainly consider for next time. I am not sure this can be predicted, other than previous experience at the same Festival, but I will definitely keep it in mind when planning my future display layout - being flexible and adaptive to whatever circumstances present themselves.
Most important lesson learned is that I really enjoyed the Art Festival experience, and fully intend to participate in more fairs next year. I am already planning which shows I want to apply for in 2013, and will be ready when the applications open.