Show Report: Festival in the Park, 2010

Worst. Show. Ever.

After last year's rain out on Saturday, and dismal sales, I'd decided this year would be the one where I'd decide whether to do Festival in the Park again.  After this weekend, the decision is clear.  Past years have been good, and I even won an Honorable Mention ribbon in 2008.  The crowd was usually great, with many art enthusiasts looking for original art. 

Stan behind our tent at Festival in the Park, 2010
Not this time:  we sold nothing on three of the four days of the show.  That's right; nothing.  We made 4 sales on Saturday, but did not meet our expenses.  So, in 26 total hours of selling time, we made 4 sales.  What were we doing the rest of the time?  Watching the passing parade, as my Dad would have said.  There were thousands of people there, but they weren't there to buy art.  We saw lots of food and drink being consumed, and kids had balloons and toys, but there was scarcely anyone carrying bags loaded with newly purchased artwork.  To say this was disappointing is a vast understatement.  And, our experience was not unique; every artist with whom we spoke shared a similar story.  To add insult to injury, it rained for most of the final day.  After the weekend we'd had, we decided to cut our losses, and leave early, along with many other artists.  Under normal circumstances, we would never do this; having been a show promoter, I know it's important to follow the rules.  But, it was clear there would be no sales (attendance was almost non existent because of the rain), as there had not been for the duration.  It seemed ridiculous to stay, so we didn't.

Stan and I always ask each other what we've learned after each show.  Here's our list:

1.  Previously successful shows don't always stay that way.
2.  It's important to know when to quit doing a show that isn't successful for us.
3.  The economy has negatively affected art sales, especially in Charlotte (we already knew it; this just confirmed it in a big way).
4.  It's time to look to other venues and markets for my work.

This is the last show of our year.  For next year, I will be searching out other shows in different markets, and other avenues for getting my work "out there", as well as reevaluating the shows we've done in the past, so I won't have to make another report which begins:  Worst. Show. Ever.


I am so sorry to hear that! That must have been disappointing. Shows like that are so much work to prepare for. At least you still have inventory to work with.

I stopped doing some of the shows because of exactly that reason. I now sell only smaller ticket jewelry pieces ($15 - $45) that aren't so difficult to justify for the general public to buy.

There are still plenty of wealthy people who are willing to buy art right now. You just have to sell where they are buying. Looks like the festival isn't the right place right now for your work. At least your bigger pieces. Maybe it will be in the future again?
Michelle said…
Cindy, I agree with you about the venue. This show got me to thinking about the kinds of people who frequent festivals, and whether they're really the people I'm tying to reach with my art. Your statement "you just have to sell where they are buying" is so true! Next year, I'll be looking to venture into those places, to see if I can attract those who are looking for original art, and who don't mind spending the money. Not that my prices are that outrageous (at least that's what I've been told); but that's another area I need to examine--perhaps my prices are off-putting to those who want to spend more! It's so hard to know exactly what will work!
Thanks for stopping by, and leaving a comment; I truly appreciate it.
Edie Mindell said…
Well, sometimes, things don't turn out okay just because it was successful the past years. Things change, along with people and the economy. Just be patient and look for other alternative places to showcase your art again. Don't lose hope, just be patient and everything will turn out okay. Somewhere, people are waiting to see, appreciate, and purchase your artworks. Goodluck.:-)
Kanika Marshall said…
Oh Michelle, where to start?

First, your work "IS" amazing! I love, love love the Ancentress series and I love your quilted mirrors and your clocks are fabulous. The colors, the tribal designs, the layout, the utility of the artwork. It's all great as it is.

Second, Don't stop doing what you love - the Ancestress series, in particular. What we love fuels who we are as artists. Doing what we love doesn't create blocks and boundaries. With that said, it is so frustrating when people don't buy the work that we love to make. I would suggest that you consider marketing the Ancentress series to spiritual-type stores and via online sources and alternative galleries, if you still do not have luck with them at vendor fairs in 2011. Because they are shadow boxes you should be able to easily ship them around the world. They are fabulous! I don't know the price or size of them but I have to believe there is a niche market for that type of work. I have many of the same struggles with my African-oriented masks. But there definitely are a few markets that gravitate toward ethnic masks: gay men, people on a spiritual journey, and folks who appreciate Afrocentric art.

Third, nearly all art shows were crappy in 2010. Everywhere. I had my worst sales year in 8 years last year. I really felt as though I lost a lot of ground. But most of my artist friends did too. Don't beat yourself up. Don't lost faith in your talent. See #2 above.

Fourth, I have reevaluated where I sell work, big time. I used to do a lot of vendor art fairs. But being a clay artist you know how heavy the work is, how careful you must be to pack it, how sturdy your display must be, how difficult it can be to physically set up the show and sit there for hours, etc. It is great to meet lots of interesting people and talk with them about the work, but shows are hard. Then there are galleries which have their own set of problems, like they take 40-50% of the sale and, because the economy is bad for them too, they do not pay the artist as regularly as they should (see my Blog on this topic:

Fifth, this year I shall have more studio shows for my customers. They get to see the studio and where the art is made, how art looks in a home setting, and how the outdoor art looks in a garden setting. Oh, and the artist does not have to pay a booth fee or commission on the work!

Sixth: I got a new website,, thru Artspan and I intend to sell more thru the website, like I used to do. Shipping to art lovers all over the world is rewarding on so many levels.

Seventh: People still spend money on their hair, nails, Starbucks coffee, nighttime movies and other short-term investments. All of those things disappear quickly, but art lives on and can be inspiring every day. Do your collectors know that?

Eighth: it is a good idea to always be growing in technique and substance. Looking thru your blog, you are never standing still and are always learning.

Bottom line: don't lose heart my new friend. Know that your talent is there and that people will love your work. The right people will come. 2011 is a much better year for selling art already. Keep on keepin' on!