Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Festival Season: Time to Pitch the Tent and Sell the Art!

Guest post from Michele Banks!

In May, outdoor art and craft shows begin to spring up like dandelions, ranging from small, local events lasting a few hours to four-day extravaganzas with hundreds of elaborate booths.

In my 20 years of making and selling art, I’ve participated in hundreds of outdoor art and craft shows. I vastly prefer festivals to gallery shows, for one simple reason – people buy my work.  At my last gallery opening, after devoting months of work to creating a meaningful and cohesive exhibition, I sold one small painting. The very next day, I set up a tent at a festival and sold twelve.

The Michele Banks tent!
The Little Shop of Science: set up and ready to go
And I absolutely get it! A tent on the street is much less intimidating than an art gallery, where you often have a vague sense that you’re doing something wrong and it’s mysterious how you might go about buying something, or if you’re even supposed to. In the tent, the work is clearly for sale, the price is on the tag, and you can take it with you.

One of the best things about art festivals is getting direct feedback on your work. It’s incredibly instructive to observe which pieces people look at and which ones they choose to buy, and how those categories diverge. Festivals are also great opportunities to describe or explain your work to people (over and over and over), honing your message as you discover which images and words make people’s eyes light up.

There are, of course, major drawbacks to showing art at festivals. Obviously, the success of outdoor events is highly dependent on the weather.  No amount of marketing will bring out a crowd to look at art outdoors in a rainstorm, and even the strongest tent is no match for high winds.

Also, doing festivals is hard physical work. All my stuff - paintings, tables, tent, weights, display walls, bags, and more - has to be schlepped from home to car, car to tent, set up, taken down, tent to car, car to home again. It might take two hours to set up my tent for a five-hour event, not including loading in and out and driving to and from the venue.

The top outdoor art festivals are competitive and expensive, with some selecting one in 10 applicants and charging up to $1000 for a 10x10 foot space. In theory, I could get on the circuit and do these major festivals, where I could probably sell higher-priced work. However, assembling the infrastructure to do the big shows (heavy-duty booth, portable walls, lighting, etc.) practically demands that you have a van and lots of storage space - and I live in a condo and drive a Prius.

So I end up generally doing the best one-day events I can find that are close to my home in Washington, DC. And that’s where you’ll find me, in my traveling Little Shop of Science, about a dozen times a year. My next stops are at SoweboFest in Baltimore on May 26 and Glover Park Day in DC on June 1.

I’d love to see you there! I expect to be adding more events around DC to my calendar soon, and as always, if you can’t make it, you can shop online.

While on the subject, I'll be in booth 626 at the Tephra Fine Arts Festival in the Reston Town Center this weekend!