Life As An Itinerant Artist

Stories and anecdotes from fifteen years on the art show circuit. 

1000 Words on Finding Nirvana

A recent comment spurred me to write a bit about how I go about selecting shows. It used to be much more of an arcane science than it is now, with the help of the internet, several printed publications and lots of other artists to rely on.

Finding shows is pretty easy. Online, there is the king of the heap, Art Fair Sourcebook, managed and maintained by Greg Lawler, who haunts most of the top 25 shows in the country handing out his literature. If you haven’t had the chance to speak with Greg personally, you can visit his site and take a free test drive of the online search capabilities. AFSB is broken down into regions and ranks shows by sales and attendance. Rankings and sales data are compiled from artist reports, and AFSB only lists the top 600 shows in the country. You can subscribe to the A-List edition, the B-list edition, regional subsets, or the whole shebang. Depending on the level of service you purchase, you can drill down into historical sales data or artists comments and see how the shows stack up against one another. An online calendar of events, emailed deadline alerts and online show tracking is available, as is a printed version, which is published once a year in January. With all of the features, AFSB is definitely not cheap, but it is definitely worth the money, especially if you are just starting out.

Another similar online application is the relative upstart, Art Fair Schedule, run by another Greg, Greg Erb. AFS has many of the same features, with the notable exception of the sales data. Mr. Erb feels that the artist-submitted data is likely to be tainted. The price is very reasonable however, at $69.95 yearly. There is no printed version available however, and no rankings for comparison. You can try it for free for thirty days, too, which is generous. It looks quite promising, but I haven’t had a chance to try it out yet.

Another very good source of information online is Connie Mettler’s Art Fair Calendar and the associated social site, Art Fair Insider. She is a long-time veteran of the show circuit, and directs several art shows in the Michigan area. You can subscribe to the regional art fair newsletters, for free, by filling out this form.

The top shows in the country are almost all online now, using a digital application process. There are two major players, ZAPP and Juried Art Services. Both require the artist to set up an online profile, and upload images to use in the application process. If you are curious about what the top shows are, this is not a bad place to start. But you won’t find a lot of smaller shows on these sites, just the cream of the crop. Another smaller player, EntryThingy, also has associations with a few national shows, most notably the Bonita Springs National Art Festivals and Art on the Square in Belleville, Illinois.

Offline, there is one major publication that covers most every single fine art and craft show in the country. Unfortunately, it’s not generally available at newsstands, so you do have to subscribe. The pub is “Sunshine Artist”, and you can search their database for basic information on shows for free on the site . To get the contact information for each show, you do have to subscribe to the magazine though. They also publish a hefty compendium of shows bi-yearly, called the Audit Book, which compiles artist feedback forms and lists contact information for most of the shows across the country. The monthly magazine contains articles on creating, marketing and selling your art, and is written by a competent editorial staff and a number of regional contributors who exhibit at shows and provide commentary. Each month, several past shows are written up, with comments and opinion. Good for finding filler shows, but not as incisive and direct as AFSB.

Other publications include the Crafter’s Blue Book, and regional lists, such as FestivalNet. A quick Google search for your state and “art show list” will turn up hundreds of listings, some good, some not so good. There are also some big art show promoters that run big national shows year-round:

So if finding shows is easy, how do you pick the winners from such a broad array of choices? First off, try to determine what your market is. If you are new to shows, go to a few local shows and walk around. Observe what artists are showing, what kinds of people are attending, and if there is a lot of “energy” or excitement in the air. Word of mouth is one of the best determining factors, and one of the reasons that AFSB is such a good resource. There is no substitute for your own experience at a show, but other artists’ opinions are very helpful. When I first started out, a good friend of ours sat down and wrote out a list of what she considered to be the top 25 shows in the county. This “A” list saved me a good deal of time (years!) in figuring out which shows to apply to. I’m still trying to get into some of those shows, however!

Artist groups can also be helpful. One in particular stands out — the NAIA, or National Association of Independent Artists. They have lots of helpful information on their site, but much of it requires that you join. For a yearly membership fee of $65/year you gain access to the forums and to many discounts on travel, art supplies and resources, including a 15% discount on the Art Fair Sourcebook!

I still apply to many more shows than I get into in a year. There are many artists now, and many shows competing for those artists.  ZAPP and JASV have leveled the playing field in some respects, as it is much easier to apply to shows than in the old days, using slides. My criteria for shows is probably different than yours however, so think about who your primary collector is, and why they might be drawn to your work. Then look for shows that cater to that kind of buyer. Once you get on the mailing lists, you’ll find that you get many more offers to participate than you have time for. Be picky. And good luck!

January 21, 2009

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  1. Five things you must do to succeed in the Art Show World | Life As An Itinerant Artist - [...] in your area. There are several well-known resources for locating shows, detailed in this post on Finding Nirvana. To…
  2. 3 reasons why art shows may be a good fit for your work | Life As An Itinerant Artist - [...] the sales that a show with 10,000 people will. Sunshine Artist, The Art Fair Sourcebook and other resources can…

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