What I Learned by Participating in an Art Festival | Part 4 – Results and Teardown

Over the last week, I’ve shared my experience preparing for, setting up, and participating in an outdoor festival in Pinetop, AZ, where we have our second gallery. Overall, it was an exciting, grueling, engaging, mystifying process. All that remains is to examine the show’s results, the teardown, and lessons learned (in addition to lessons already mentioned in my other posts).

Results

Sales

Let’s get right to the most important result, sales. At the end of the day, other benefits came from participating in the show, but the sales were the goal. So how did we do?

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the event. Would we generate hundreds of dollars in sales? Thousands? Tens of thousands? I had no idea. I understood that we would have thousands of people seeing our booth and art, and one can’t help but dream of a big payday. Having thousands of people through would significantly increase exposure, as, during a typical summer in Pinetop, we might only have a thousand people through the gallery all summer.

In the end, raw visitor count doesn’t correlate to conversion. It turns out that our conversion rate (ratio of visitors to sales) is way better in the gallery. This makes sense, as visitors to the gallery are self-selecting an interest in art. The festival attracted many prospective art buyers, but it also attracted visitors simply looking for a pleasant summer activity. The exciting challenge at the show was seeing which visitors were buyers and which were enjoyers (spoiler: it’s tough to tell by appearance).

As mentioned in my previous post on our experience at the event, we quickly discovered that sales didn’t start early in the day. Visitors would wander into the festival and explore for a while before making decisions. Once sales kicked in, two to three hours after the event’s start, they were pretty steady, though small. Our first sale was for a $165 item, and subsequent sales through the first day were likewise for $20-$200, though some buyers bought multiple items. Total sales for the day were around $1000.

Okay, $1000. If the pace of sales continued through the rest of the three-day event, we could anticipate about $3,000 in sales total. Not great, we wouldn’t make back the initial investment we made to prepare for the show, but we would break even and make a little in terms of operating expenses.

Day two, Saturday, ended up creating a similar dynamic. A few hours before, we saw our first sale, but then steady sales throughout the afternoon (at least when it wasn’t raining). On Saturday, however, we had several sales in the $200-$500 range, and we didn’t have as much rain as we had on Friday. By the end of the day, total sales were just above $3000 for the day. That’s more like it!

After accounting for artist commissions, we have now at least nearly recovered the cost of our ProPanels, canopy, and booth fee, and we still have one day left.

Sunday came and was a completely different experience. Sales still didn’t kick in until about 11:00 am, but there was a different vibe when they did. Visitors were more engaged. There was a sense of urgency as the event would be over at 3:00 on this, the last day.

Right away, we had interest from visitors in a $2,150 original work. The visitors didn’t buy the piece right away, but I could tell they were serious, and they promised they would be back after exploring the show.

By 11:00, the sales were coming in steadily. I had figured out how to manipulate my mobile internet connection so that I could process sales in a reasonable amount of time, which was good because the tempo of purchases steadily increased. I was engaging with multiple visitors to the booth simultaneously, and buyers sometimes lined up to make their purchases.

Original painted glass sculpture sold on Sunday

Soon a couple who had previously bought from us at the gallery appeared. They fell in love with a $2,150 original and decided to buy it. Yes, of course, it was the same $2,150 original that the earlier visitors had liked, setting up the greatest drama for the event – more on that in a moment.

Already the sales are adding up, and by noon, we had surpassed Saturday’s total sales. So we are now sitting somewhere north of $7,000 in total sales for the event. Excellent!

In the last three hours of the show, the sales continued steadily. Items selling were still mainly in the $75-$300 range, but they were adding up. Then, right at the end of the day, we had a family come in and purchase four prints, each in the $400-$500 range. I did give them a great end-of-the-festival price for the package, but it served as a nice cherry on top of our early sales.

Total sales for Sunday were around $6,000! Added up, our total sales for the event were just under $10,000.

Not knowing what to expect, I felt pretty pleased by the results. To be clear, I’m not sure I have ever worked so hard to generate $10,000 in sales! Still, between the sales we had generated for ourselves and the artists we represent, we felt the show was worthwhile, even before considering the other benefits of the event.

Follow-on Sales

additional art sold after the festival

In addition to the sales generated directly from the event, we also experienced strong follow-on sales sparked by our participation in the festival. The clients who purchased the original art on Sunday came into the gallery the following week and purchased three additional originals, two from an artist we featured at the festival and one from another gallery artist we hadn’t shown during the event. The client who bought the four prints last minute at the event also ordered an additional print after the event.

I have followed up with several other interested clients, including the would-be buyers who missed out on their purchase Sunday.

Exposure

The week following the event, we had many first-time visitors to the gallery who had discovered us at the festival. I can’t help but think that the exposure we received and the awareness built during the show could more than double the sales we generated during the festival, perhaps even more than that over time.

Teardown

All good things come to an end, and so to did the show. Talking to other exhibitors and employing my imagination, I didn’t look forward to the prospect of taking down our display and canopy in the rain. We were fortunate that the sky was clear at 3:00 when the show ended.

For the teardown, I enlisted the help of my entire family. My wife, Carrie, her sister, and our four kids pitched in, and we got everything down and safely back to the gallery in less than 90 minutes.

Recovery

I’m a runner, and I’ve completed many long-distance runs, including a marathon. I can tell you that nothing I’ve ever experienced was as physically exhausting as the art festival. I was fortunate that the Monday after the show was a holiday and the gallery was closed. I slept in and rested most of the day. I was still a bit drained on Tuesday, but back to work I went. It took several days to get the gallery back together as I rearranged art to fill spaces where work had sold.

Final Observations

Mix of art

It was interesting to see the dynamics of what was sold at the event. We dedicated about 1/3 of our booth to original works and 2/3 to prints and collectibles. 80% of our sales were for the latter, with only one original sale. We had items from $20 – $4,500 in value. I felt that the mix of impressive originals attracted attention to the booth and drew buyers who ended up purchasing smaller items. Overall, I feel pretty good about the results, but I’ll be curious to hear from art festival veterans about what they feel is the best mix of art for this kind of event (leave your comments below!)

Empathy

I now understand the effort involved in participating in these shows. My hat is off to those who do multiple shows every year. So much effort is involved in getting to the show, setting up, taking down, and running the show! Not only is it a lot of work, but it’s high stakes. You have a brief window to introduce buyers to your work, build relationships with them, and close the sale. If you are traveling to out-of-town events, your opportunities for follow-on sales are more limited in scope.

I will never visit an event like this again without having a greater appreciation and admiration for the vendors.

What do you think of our results?

This was a great learning experience for me. As I said at the beginning of this article, I didn’t know what to expect from the event and still have no way to gauge how successful the event really was. For those experienced with these kinds of events, should I think of $10,000 in total sales as a success? What might you suggest we could do better if we participate in future events? What criteria do you use to evaluate the success of shows in which you participate? Share your experience, thoughts, questions, and suggestions in the comments below!

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.

20 Comments

  1. Jason,
    Glad you did well. I love doing art festivals, it is grueling, but it is so worth it being able to meet customers directly and close the sale right on the spot. I will be in Carefree, Scottsdale, and Tempe for shows this fall and spring, can’t wait.

  2. Very Good series. Your total sales for the event is excellent for what I gather is your first time doing the art fair. I think you have one advantage over artists representing themselves in that you offered a variety of art in your booth ie you were representing a number of artists with different styles and techniques as opposed to an artist with just his work and one style. This is not a bad thing it just seems that it can give you a marketing edge in that your booth has more selection to offer. Most fairs that I have been at do not have booths that allow for multiple artists to be in that booth. Art fairs are a lot of work and us older artists really feel the physical toll it takes. Still it is a great way to get exposure and meet new collectors as well as other artists. Due to the amount of work and expense it is important for the artist to know the type of show they are going to participate in. For myself, I only enter juried shows that tend to offer higher end fine art. Some shows have more craft and less expensive items for sale or they also have a heavy influence on food and entertainment. Checking out a show before participating gives you a good idea of the traffic, type of art and price points of art for sale. After moving to a new state i spent a year going to art fairs in the area to check them out. I did one out of state show recently without personally checking it out, however it was recommended to me by people who had been to the show and thought my work would be a good fit. I got accepted and It turned out to be a very good show for me. Other shows I visited that I thought would be good, then saw them decided it would probably not be a good mix for me personally . These shows are not cheap so an artist on a budget needs to decide carefully. Jason makes an excellent point in that you can never judge a buyer by how they look particularly at an art fair. Lots of people are just out to walk the dog or see an interesting event. Still if they express interest in your art welcome them and definite get contact information as you may get a sale at a later date by just reaching out later on. Again this was a great series thanks

    1. Great point about the variety Bettina – while it meant that we didn’t have a lot of depth for any one artist, the breadth of work allowed us to draw a wider audience.

  3. Art shows certainly are hard work, but I enjoy meeting the clients and telling them the stories behind each piece of art. And the sales are typically good…as long as the weather holds. A rainy or cold, foggy day can kill everything.

  4. I agree 100% with Bettina about choosing the right shows! The more art-oriented shows attract a more appropriate audience. When there are lots of inexpensive craft people, my sales suffer as the attendees seem to be in more of a “fair” or “flea market” mindset. As for your sales, most artists I’ve become friendly with at art shows would consider getting into 5 figures an extraordinarily great result. Typically, they seem to say that “success” these days is 2-3 times booth fee and hotel costs. I’m interested in how other artists define art fair success.

    Also, your experience as a gallery owner is likely a bit different from an individual artist. Many art fair artists speak grudgingly about “be backs.” In most cases they rarely do come back, although that does depend somewhat on the number of artist booths and the size of the fair.

    Finally, some art fair artists I’ve met say that you need to participate in a fair multiple times in order to build awareness and familiarity, which does lead to higher sales.

    Thanks for sharing your experience Jason.

  5. I have done quite a lot of art shows. I came to realize that large paintings get your visitors to stop and visit your booth. Smaller paintings are not as attractive. I paint landscapes. Therefore I have 3 walls of large ones (36 inches x 48 or more) and a middle wall of small and medium ones. (Middle wall is made of small grids hanging from the canopy in the middle, creating a fourth small wall) The two last art shows done that way this year provided me with more sales of large pieces that an art show of small or medium size paintings, Therefore being much more profitable. You need one buyer to make your day or week-end as with small paintings, you need to attract many more buyers. … but I still offer small and medium pieces in smaller number.
    Cheers from Gatineau, Québec, Canada!

    1. Exactly right – just a few buyers can make a huge difference. Chance plays a part, but you want to line everything up so that you have the best shot at good luck. Thanks for sharing!

  6. As an artist considering selling my work at art festivals, I’ve been to many across CA and PA, and they varied considerably. I believe your sales were excellent! I totally agree with Bettina that researching art fairs before participating is well worth it! I liked that you had both original paintings and prints as it offered different price points for your visitors! Being that you had a number of artists, I would love to hear the variety of styles you had in your booth. Customers will come back to visit if you repeat the show each year. I thoroughly enjoyed the article and feedback.

  7. I am so glad you published this series, Jason. This weekend and next will be the first times I have ever entered into such a venue. We’ve been doing rehearsals with the tent erection! We had to return one tent because we couldn’t get it erected so a rehearsal or two is a good thing. I have a layout planned for the paintings, a variety of subjects, sizes, and prices, price stickers ready, cash float, Square and e-transfer ready. We are borrowing the grids from our local art organization but I think I should be pumping weights and running track to get myself in shape. It was 113 F yesterday so I’ve got spray bottles and baby wipes!
    I always love your writing but this one was so timely! Thank you.

    1. Carollyne – Thank you for your kind words! I’m glad you found the series helpful and that you’re planning on participating in your local art fair. I’m sure you’ll do great! Let me know how it goes!

  8. I am just starting to sell at art festivals. Yes it’s hard work, but it’s fun to see people get excited about your art. I also have heard that if you go to the same festival each year they look forward to seeing you. I had a client buy 3 paintings at a show and asked if I was going to be back next year. Just entered the Beverly Hills Art Festival, fingers crossed I hope I get in. That is another problem, these festivals can only hold so many artists. If it’s a popular art festival it can be hard to get in. Love all your articles Jason.

    1. That’s great to hear! Art festivals can be a great way to sell your work and connect with potential collectors. I’m glad to hear that you’re having success with them so far.

      It can definitely be difficult to get into popular art festivals, but it sounds like you’re doing everything you can to increase your chances. I wish you the best of luck and I’m sure you’ll do great!

  9. I think some of my biggest takeaways were the same as yours. When I had a gallery up the street, I saw the most repeat customers the first week after the show…but that continued for the following year, too! That in itself was gold. Now, as an artist looking for high-end gallery representation, the picture is a little more complicated…but I’ve seen big-name artists do these shows as a means of unloading a lot of little studies (which we all produce). I’ll have to say last year at both a western venue which discourages prints and at Pinetop, with rain, it was my major pieces which sold. No smaller stuff. Got me. Yes, offering a range of pricing is a better idea.

    But it’s exhausting, physically even when you live in the town where a show is held, and even more – and more expensive – when you have to stay in a motel or with friends. In previous years, the Pinetop show had helpers that would help you in and were experts at EZ-ups. I understand they’re working to get helpers like those next year! Major if you have to do it alone.

    Uh, Jason, your phone might not have a jack, but your iPad probably does. And your iphone can act as a personal hotspot. A solar battery helps.

    I like your layout. And the meticulousness of your post-analysis. That is gold.

    1. One of the huge challenges that I didn’t mention is frame damage. It’s hard to do all of the shlepping, trailering, hanging and weather protection that is involved without dinging the frames.

  10. Excellent article Jason. Your willingness to invest in this experience says alot. Here are a few observations from a 26 year veteran of art festivals.
    Your 1st show success is attributable to several factors. 1. You are a veteran at art sales and merchandising and display (this is huge) 2. You have name recognition in the community. 3. From your experience at the gallery you exhibited a variety of art that probably has a proven track record. 4. You no doubt have self confidence when it comes to sales which can really help timid buyers make a decision.

    Regarding the ratio of what sold: from my experience as my work has gotten more high end, I’ve noticed when my ratio of displayed items is smaller and more affordable then that is predominantly what sells. When I display mostly larger high end pieces with a few smaller pieces, I do much higher sales. I think it sends a subconscious message to higher end buyers to take my work more seriously. It’s about positioning. One can always explain to customers that you have more selections of smaller work that you can pull out for them to consider.

    Returning year after year to the same show can help tremendously. I have made so many sales to people who have told me that they have been following my work for years and are finally in a place to buy it.

    Also keep in mind there is also a huge randomness to all of this as well. Some times the crowd is off and just not responding to my work while my neighbor is killing it. It’s all part of it.

  11. Thanks for this series, Jason! Maybe I’ll add Pinetop to the list of shows! $10,000 sounds like a good show to me. It’s been said that making 10x your booth fee is a good number to aim/hope for. I try to keep my shows local to keep time spent and costs down. My mostly SW landscapes might not be all that marketable in other areas. If I range far, I consider it more of an exploratory, working vacation of sorts. Apart from the show, I explore, paint, visit galleries, museums, etc. If I do head out farther, I try to do a few works specific to that area. I only do 3 – 5 booth shows a year. I balance them with gallery, sales, commissions, workshops, and an annual studio tour. I don’t want to get burned out doing too many booth shows. I figure a mix of ways to sell helps. If one way is not doing so hot, another often picks up. I also try not to worry about any one show. You can’t always predict these things. It just is what it is. If a shows has weak sales, I just roll the work into the next one, give some to the galleries that represent me, or promote them online more. I’d look closely at how I’m doing things if a string of shows does poorly . Hasn’t happened yet…fingers crossed.
    Some of us call the sales, commissions, or workshop sign-ups following a show “residuals”. Sometimes the residuals make more money than the show!
    Yes, always engage people who come into your booth! Never understood people who just sit and do nothing. Never judge people or worry they didn’t buy something – they might be your biggest collector next time! I rarely sit at shows. If it’s slow or I’m feeling it, I’ll set up my plein air rig and paint. This often draws people in.
    If you do enough shows each year, the setup and take down become routine. It’s still not super easy, but at least you know what to expect, and you know that unexpected things will come up – like rain, loss of cell service, etc. Pro Tip: If you set up your booth in a certain way, you’ll have a backroom or closet of sorts for supplies, extra art, cooler with lunch, etc. One of my panels is a door to the closet so I can duck completely out public view for a moment if needed and still be in my booth.
    Thanks again!

  12. I sell oil paintings (originals only) at art festivals as well as at galleries and other venues. As has been said, the shows are a lot of work. Also, the tent and display equipment are not cheap if you want to do it well and get into top shows. But I enjoy the festivals and find them worthwhile. Some + and –

    + Possibility of good sales, if I’m at the right show. This cannot be overstated.
    + Being at the shows has given me a much better understanding of how people respond to my work, and how people go about deciding on an art purchase.
    + I have met a lot of great people…artists, patrons and festival staff/volunteers.
    + It is a good mental exercise to stay focused, positive and undistracted through the entire festival.
    + I like road trips.

    – It’s a lot of work. This gets easier with more shows because you develop efficiencies, a rhythm and things get less stressful when you know the process. But it’s still hard work.
    – It’s risky. So many things can damage a weekend…weather, economy, scary things in the news, etc.
    – It interrupts my creative life. To minimize this I don’t do too many festivals. 7 this year, a series of 5 in the spring and a series of 2 in the fall. I like long periods of steady painting time.

    I do like to return to good shows year after year, and I develop mailing lists for each location (very important!). I engage with visitors but try not to overdo it…not all visitors want a lot of interaction, even if they intend to purchase. I take a low-key approach, I think I am more artist than salesman, though we all have to be a bit of both.

    Thanks for doing these posts, I enjoyed reading them and the comments.

  13. Thanks for the feedback, Jason. I am glad you had a great show. Congratulations! I agree that part of your success was because of the variety of artwork. There was ‘something for everybody’!
    I have done shows for quite a while and the hard work part of it is more of a factor the older I get. Newbies that approach me will get a strong warning about how much work it is!
    I agree with your comments and the comments of others here, that you cannot sit in your booth reading or looking at your phone and have sales just walk in, although it does happen.
    My advice is to make your setup attractive as possible. Each show is different as far as location, how many sides of your display are available, etc. In my opinion, the old ‘horseshoe’ arrangement is probably the most unattractive set up. If exterior walls are available, use them. Breaking up the interior with some kind of a variety of panel arrangement can and will entice clients to walk in and see what you have to offer.
    I also believe that you can have too much artwork displayed. As a gallery owner, you understand how important presentation is. Cramming everything you own into a 10′ x 10′ space is not the best idea. Having a price range is also a good idea. I offer unframed plein air pieces at a reasonable price, $100-$125. Sometimes I wonder if this distracts people and am I losing a higher priced sale.
    Thanks again.

  14. Congratulations on a good show Jason! I agree that the mix of work you carried was helpful in attracting a diverse audience. I learned a few years ago to always have a large expensive piece to draw attention and act as an anchor. And to have a backup piece to hang when the first one sells!

    You will be able to use all your display materials again so that initial investment gets amortized and your profit margin improves. I just finished doing five festivals in a row and one of them was nine days. Now you understand the level of exhaustion I’m feeling. Glad to be back in the studio for a little while.

    1. Thank you so much for your advice! I will definitely keep this in mind for future shows. I’m glad you had a good show season and I hope you enjoy some time in the studio!

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