Life As An Itinerant Artist

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

Wells Street Art Festival – Review

Wells Street crowd

Oh boy. This is not fun.

I did Wells Street again this year. I can say this emphatically: it has the worst load-in and load-out of any show I’ve ever done, and the rain Saturday morning compounded it. They stagger the artist load-in times from 6AM to 8:30AM and queue the vehicles on North Ave or Division while waiting. The closer your booth number is to one of the two entrances, the later your load-in time. They have improved this system over the years by checking booth numbers and loading sections in numeric order so that vehicles don’t block access, but it’s a tight narrow street with booths down the middle, and invariably a crabby time for all. My time was 6:45, and I got in around 6:55. Kudos to the volunteer staff for being this organized in a sketchy situation. #Star.

Wells Street Booth 2009

Wells Street Booth – lit up for the evening crowds

But then you must move your vehicle, and even though I paid for two parking spots, I ended up in a street spot at the opposite end of the show. It was a good fifteen minute walk back to the booth. We were amused watching the volunteers try to get Bob Trisko’s yellow Hummer and 22′ trailer into a spot barely big enough for two cars. Volunteers had no clue how impossible it is to park a 40′ foot rig on Chicago’s narrow streets (Goethe is a one way residential street). I rented a cube van for this show knowing that I’d never get my normal rig parked here. It still took 45 minutes to get parked and get back to the booth because of the show disorganization on this issue. The volunteers really need to be better informed about parking, as they continue to provide the wrong information which wastes everybody’s precious setup time. Maybe letting folks start setting up earlier? #Fail.

The judging, if you can call it that, starts promptly at 10:30AM on Saturday. This is pretty unfair to the artists that load-in later, as they just don’t have enough time to get setup and as a consequence, they don’t get judged at all. They should change this system, or just eliminate the judging. The prizes are piffle anyway. Why bother? I never saw a judge since I was still setting up when they went by in the rain. #Fail.

Many photogs opt for a double at Wells Street. So do I, and it takes over 4 hours to setup. Saturday the rain stopped about the time we finished hanging the art, and people starting coming out in droves. We lost about three selling hours because of the rain and long setup times. Even so, I had a great day Saturday, and a phenomenal day on Sunday. I did have a very good spot, and a lot of Chicago images. But my sepia-toned prairie landscapes were well-received, and I sold a couple of those, lots of smaller matted prints and a few large framed pieces. Aside from the drunken party that starts about 5PM Saturday and kills sales after that point, the show was well-worth the agonizing setup. Sunday the weather was perfect, and there were hordes of people all day. It was one of the better shows I’ve done in the past twelve months. Shows in Michigan and Florida have been way down so far this year, at least for me, and it was nice to finally have a good show. #Star.

Not every artist did well, however. The high-end glass sculptor behind me had a very disappointing show, with sales of 10% of what he had done in previous years. Another photog a few booths away did not appear to have done as well with his black and white work. I heard other artists complaining, too, about buy/sell jewelry and poor sales. Overall the work seemed good in Wells St. I didn’t have a chance to walk the show or visit the Old Town show. #Star.

Karyn is happy

Karyn sitting by the front of our booth at Wells Street.

Load-out sucked, too. Since the music and beer-drinking goes on well past dusk, the artists cannot bring their vehicles onto the street until 11PM, according to the show handbook. In practice, many artists start dollying out to whatever street parking they can find on Sunday morning, and leave some cleared space for those of us with larger vehicles. I got my truck in about 11, but wasn’t loaded and on the road until 12:30AM. More confusion and mayhem. Made for a very very long day. Thank goodness that the weather was nice for load-out, and that everything had a chance to dry out. #Star.

A big thank-you to Frank and Jennifer for making Hotel Belmonte available to us and selling like aces on Saturday.

June 16, 2009

You May Also Like…


Submit a Comment