What I Learned by Participating in an Art Festival | Part 2 – Setup

Earlier this week, I shared my experience planning to participate in an outdoor art festival. Planning was a lot of work and took a lot of time, but once the week of the event arrived, the planning paid off in a big way. Having done a dry-run of the booth set up in our gallery space and figured out how to set up the canopy, how the display walls went together, and how the art would be displayed, the day of the setup was pretty low-stress.

In testing the setup in the gallery, I quickly realized it would be far from ideal to transport and set up everything on my own. I wouldn’t be able to enlist the help of our part-time team member, Sandy, in Pinetop because, in addition to volunteer-chairing the event, she was setting up and running a booth of her own.

So I enlisted the help of my family. Our daughter Mikell works for us in our gallery in Scottsdale, and my son, Parker, is on summer break from his first year at ASU. I called and asked if they would be available and willing to come to Pinetop and help with the operation; they both agreed.

Their help was crucial. Mikell ran the Pinetop gallery while Parker and I set up and ran the show.

Parker with some of our gear in our booth space as we began setting up

For this art festival, the venue space opened for setup Thursday morning, the day before the event officially began. Parker and I loaded the canopy and ProPanels into my Jeep and drove them to the venue. While we couldn’t drive up to our booth space, we were fortunate that our area was near the front entrance to the venue. The walk from our vehicle to the booth wasn’t more than a few hundred feet. We took several trips to carry all the Pro-Panels, the canopy, and a folding table to the space.

Once everything was unloaded, we set about unfolding the canopy and setting up the walls. Thanks to our planning and having marked the order of the walls, the setup went smoothly and quickly. We knew which walls needed to go where.

The one hiccup was that our booth space was a bit uneven. It’s hard to discern from the photo of the area above, but the ground rose toward the middle and had several dips and divots. Fortunately, the ProPanels have adjustable legs, which allowed us to even out most of the walls, but even with these legs, some spots needed a bit more help, and this is where plastic shims came in handy. We could get the walls level and stable enough to be functional with some work.

Because the hooks were already installed for hanging, we knew that installing the art would go quickly. Having determined this, we decided not to hang the art until Friday morning, the first day of the event. Even though the venue would have security, and we were reasonably confident about our canopy, it seemed like waiting to install the art would reduce the risk of theft or water damage.

This plan would have been great if I hadn’t misunderstood the start time for the event, which I remembered to be 10 a.m. When Friday morning arrived, we ran to the gallery and loaded up the art for the show, and headed to the venue, where we arrived at 8:30 a.m., which should have given us, I thought, plenty of time to set up.

Indeed, the art went up on the walls very quickly, but at 9 a.m., people started walking through the front gate of the show. This caught me by surprise, and I quickly discovered that the event ran from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday.

The booth space all set up

We kicked into high gear and put the rest of the art into place. By 9:15, we were ready to greet our first customers. All-in-all, things seemed to have gone pretty smoothly during the setup. Our total setup time between the two days was about three and a half hours, greatly facilitated by the time we had spent preparing for the event.

A massive factor for us was that the event venue was just half a block away from our gallery. We quickly made multiple trips to the venue during setup. Had we traveled a distance to the event, I would have needed a box van or a trailer, as I saw many other vendors had.

Looking back, I can see that there are several things we did right and some things I would change if we were to do it again.

Things we did right during the setup

We planned the setup carefully ahead

Every minute spent in pre-planning helped make the setup a breeze and helped put my mind at ease about what we would face.

I had help

As mentioned above, I might have been able to set up and run the event on my own, but having my son help me during the setup made things much more manageable.

We completed the setup over two days

Setting up the booth on Thursday and installing the art on Friday made the process much more manageable.

 

Things I would do differently

I would study the event information more carefully

While it wasn’t catastrophic, it was a little embarrassing not to be ready to go at the 9 a.m. start time. Even though I had read the event instructions carefully as we were registering for the event, if we do another event like this, I will revisit the instructions again right before the show.

I would get better containers for hauling small stuff

Watching other vendors, I could see that they all had great systems for hauling stuff from their vehicles to their booths. Many had big plastic bins carefully organized with both products and supplies. They rolled these bins in on carts or hand trucks. We hauled all of our stuff in small cardboard boxes. These worked, but they weren’t easy to move, and they got cluttered as we set up for the event.

 

How do you set up efficiently for outdoor art festivals?

Do you participate in outdoor art festivals? What tips and tricks can you share to help make the setup process easier? What advice would you give an artist getting ready to set up for their first outdoor art show? If you are considering offering your art at a festival, what questions about setup would you ask artists with many of these events under their belts? Leave your thoughts, comments, tips, tricks, and questions in the comments below.

Keep an eye out for upcoming posts on selling at the show, the surprises, the results, and the tear-down.

About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of the Art Business Academy. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.

15 Comments

  1. When you say you planned the set up carefully, have you actually walked the show previously paying attention to the way artists set up, or did you just walk the show as a potential customer. I have about 40 years experience doing all kinds of art shows and now work to photograph artwork for artists jury images and answer all questions (consultant) asked on any of the art show related groups. I always start out by recommending the artist visit the show a year before applying. Walk around and pay attention to the displays and ask questions from the artists when they are not busy. Pro Panels are great (I have 3 sets that I rent out in my area) but you could also have a clean looking booth with mesh walls which take up much less space in your vehicle. Pop up tents are great until it rains. For a little more than a $300 – $400 pop up tent you could have purchased a used more professional looking canopy that would protect your paintings from the weather. Weights should be part of your planning, 45 pounds per leg is recommended as are sta-bars or stabilization bars that connect the legs at the bottom and prevent the tent from twisting in the wind. A hand truck would have made transporting your display and art easier. Actually with the proper hand truck, you could have dollied from your gallery 1/2 block away. The top; two are the Magliner Gemini and Rock-n-Roller which has an all terrain version which is great for dollying on grass.

  2. I haven’t done outdoor shows in years, as I evolved into mural art. However, when I did, I got in with the organizer and was able to set up where I wanted. The reasoning for this is, this was my school. I set myself up next to people whose work or whatever, I admired. Flesh tones, composition, palette, their setup, I even learned how to do my taxes from one artist!

  3. I did shows for many years. There is a lot to learn when you are starting out. Let’s start out with a simple thing. I noticed your that tent has no weights. Surprised that the organizers let you stay. Get some weights, at least 50lbs per corner. Do not, and I repeat for emphasis, DO NOT hang the weights from the trusses of your tent. This is especially true for the type of tent you are using. Make sure that the weights sit on a plate that captures the foot of your tent pole. If you hang the weights from the trusses you are preloading them with stress. A gust of wind hits and the tent will telescope into the ground. I’ve seen it with both the type of tent you are using and for the more heavy duty types that are common at festivals. For the record, I have an old tent like yours. Although it is a heavy duty model that is no longer produced. Never had any issues. Though, I did take down the art every night. Sometimes things could be in quite a state of disarray after an over night storm, but the art was safe.

  4. Pack light.
    I agree with the above mentioned propanels, a canopy that sheds water, and a small sales table that also conceals a supplies box. I have a 3 sided one with a top (only open to the back) that folds flat to go into my van.
    Multiple boxes of stuff are simply things that must be picked up and moved, multiple times. I suggest that is where the need for a helper comes in. An individual artist can/should be able to do it on their own 🙂

  5. In the late 90s and early 2000s, I did several festivals around northern New England. I planned and drove (sometimes from NH to Maine) and set up on my own. One summer, I did 9 shows. I hired a young teenager sometimes to help with setup and take down when the show was within 10 miles. I enjoyed talking to visitors and selling my work once set up, but when two gallerists (scouting for artists) invited me to show in their galleries, I stopped doing art festivals. I had to raise my prices for the galleries which made my art more expensive side than the other artists at the festival. I enjoyed working with galleries.

    As far as suggestions go: plan for wind gusts and have weights set on all four legs of the tent. Some used artists pipes filled with cement, others used gallon water bottles filled with sand. One could always tell when the wind blew who was new to doing shows because their tent would take flight or panels would crash. I rememberer hanging onto my tent with all the strength I could muster.

  6. I do pottery and fused glass. Before a show I decide what I’m bringing, take pictures of it, and post to FB so my customers can see some of what I’ll be bringing and to where I’ll be. I have made sacks of different sizes out of old towels or bedspreads found at Goodwill, etc., numbered them in a size scale between 1 to 8, and wrap my pieces. I put them in hard plastic tubs with lids that I’m able to carry relatively easily myself if I have to. I make a sticker for the tubs to say what’s in them and when unpacked put the numbered sacks in the tub. Sometimes I may not totally empty the tub for displaying; having extras if needed. My set-up is on 2 4 foot tables and 1 shelving system with 4 shelves that are 4 feet long. I have weights for my canopy of about 50 lbs. per leg. I have a box that contains the props I’ll need for what I’m bringing and have several thickness of small blocks to put under my set-up if it needs to be level. I have another box that I carry what I need to make a sale; sales permit, sales tax sheet, brochures, business cards, cash, bug repellent, sun screen, etc. I bring a dolly and a folding chair. And I take an ice chest with my breakfast, lunch, and waters inside.

    1. Terrific suggestions Laurie – thanks for sharing! I didn’t mention permits, but we made sure we had copies of both our state and local permits on hand.

  7. I’ve shown my fine art photography at at least two dozen shows over the last few years and I agree with the good advice above. For my booth I have a Pro Shade canopy (which really needs a second person to set up – takes 3 minutes) and ProPanel walls matching prints bin and what they call a desk, which is where I hang my sign, right in front of the booth. For me the keys to efficiency are 1) making a plan ahead of time of how I’m going to hang my photos and 2) packing most of them in bubble bags that makes putting them up a breeze. When making my hanging plan a key decision is to figure out where to hang the pieces most likely to attract people to my booth, since my name recognition is not high. My process is also efficient because I have a good and consistent packing plan for transporting all the materials in my Sienna minivan with the seats removed.

  8. As a photographic artist I usually have indoor exhibitions, but due to Covid and lockdowns last year, I decided to try and make outdoor artboards in steel frames. Last year I set them up with a friend and they stayed in a castle garden for nearly 6 months. Last weekend however, there was an ‘open garden’ day in a neighboring village. Houseowners invited artists into their garden, now open to the public. I made the mistake of bringing 9 of these boards in steel frames (9 inches tall) and having to drill them into the ground all by myself. The owner had said that the soil was soft and wet and that I wouldn’t have any trouble putting them in. Well, he was wrong. The soil was hard and dry and it took me hours to get the frames in…. and only for one exhibition day…. Lesson learned! Do a quick survey of the environment, bring less artworks if its a hostile working environment and hire help!

  9. Doing booth shows is like being a Carnie. It is a ton of work. Setting up takes me about 6 hours and take down takes about 3 to 4. The set up is usually the day before and after I had spent a few hours loading my car. The take down is on the last day that you already worked for 10 hours. Then there is the drive time and putting away of everything until the next show. I display original paintings and drawings and only do shows that make a good paycheck to cover my time. Also, only do shows that are close to home or where I can stay with a friend to not have to pay out for a hotel.
    I usually do it all by myself so things are organized in a way that can be done by one person. Most shows allow you to drive close to your spot. I have a Honda Odessy. I can fit my whole 10×10 booth and art in it with no problem and still sit two people in my car. Love my van. I use it for everything. I have found that cardboard boxes are better than plastic boxes as the sides are straight for transporting small artworks and my coaster tiles, but use plastic boxes with lids for greeting cards, bags and bubble wrap, marketing materials, extention cords, velcro strips, lighting materials, etc. I have a foldable hand truck so I can move several boxes at once. Pro panels has these nifty velcro hangers for smaller works and a wire hanger with an adjustable hook for heavier artworks that hooks over the top of the Pro Panel.
    The thing I noticed right away about your set up is that you made a small entrance and had a table somewhat blocking the entrance. Some booth shows would not allow you in them if you send a booth shot of that set up. I am talking about high end juried booth shows that require a booth shot along with examples of the artwork. I have found keeping the “door” as wide as the front of the booth is important to being inviting. And your bendy walls make the inside of your booth small. Five people could barely walk around in there at the same time. I never ever sit down in my booth or outside my booth or behind a table when people are looking in my booth because to me that is not being a good host to the customers.
    One booth show I was at was along a street and my booth was right up against the white stripe. There was many, many people who did not come in because of that stupid white stripe. They subconsciously stopped right at it. I had to invite them in. I use my personality and sense of humor a lot at booth shows to entertain customers, but also pay attention to what personality each person has when they come to my booth.
    A 10×10 booth is not a very big space and I have learned how to maneuver customers in, over and even out of my booth by the way I stand when I talk to them. It is like a dance and usually small movements at a time. One step back, one step forward, one step to the side. As people come, I want to make sure they are able to walk in and go right to the pieces that they are attracted to so my eyes are always paying attention to where people are and my body is always position with them in my view. If I am talking to someone who just wants to talk, I actually maneuver them right out of my booth politely so the “real” customers can visit and let them know if I have to attend to a customer politely. Nobody ever notices they are being positioned where I want them to stand and I am able to attend to paying customers and not accidentally miss them because my back was to them or I was too engaged in conversation. It takes some practice to be able to do the “dance”, listen, pay attention to the customers, ask the right questions that fit each buyer type, and know how to answer those questions.

  10. I only sell original work and my work is heavier than most, so I developed my own hybrid wall system that has served me very well. Pro panels can be heavy and bulky for a single person set-up and the fabric panels that hang between the tent legs just didn’t seem like they could hold up my work very well. I have lightweight metal grids that i cover with the same fabric used by the tent leg people. Very light weight, easy to move around and the fabric allows light to filter in and wind to filter through. On a high wind day my panels stand strong because they are not resisting the wind, it just flows through them. I pull off the cover once a year and wash them. I also do not keep my tent up on a sunny day since I have glass works and the sun is thier best friend. I also us a fold up tent and love it. I didn’t buy the cheap one but I need it to come down and set-up everyday so a pop-up is the only solution. I added two wheels to two legs so we can lift one side of the tent up and roll it off the art for the day, then wheel it back out for the night security factor. As a former designer I enjoy seeing peoples solutions and have enjoyed designing my own solutions.

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