Are You Selecting the Right Art Shows?

by Carolyn Edlund

When planning your show schedule, take a practical look at the costs and benefits of events. You may dramatically change your plans.


shoppers at Florida outdoor art festival


Have you ever applied to an art show because it was conveniently located? Or because the booth fee was inexpensive? Maybe you’ve added an event to your schedule because you have friends who are exhibiting, and thought it would be fun to get together. Or you selected a show to fill in a gap in your schedule. Those are all reasons to apply to an art show, but they may not be the best ones.

There are costs to doing shows, not only in terms of booth fees, gas, hotels and meals. Your time is valuable. It can take hours to load your vehicle, and hours to unload. Add in the drive plus time spent working in your booth, as well as the cost of lost production time in your studio. Are you making enough in the way of sales to realize a profit? Or perhaps just “break even?”

Many artists and makers earn their living on the road, traveling from show to show. But before you commit to booking more events, take a hard look at your costs and revenue and decide if there is a better way. Painter Carroll Swayze did just that, with surprising results (read her story here.)

What Makes a Show Worthwhile?

Every artist has different goals. That’s one reason to evaluate art shows to see whether they help you fulfill those goals. Are you looking to enter a new market in a particular city, and does the show help you do that? Have you found a venue that offers awards or recognition you are seeking? Do you feel that a certain art show will help you reach your sales target? When a show is in alignment with what you want to achieve, that gives it the green light.

There are other considerations as well when vetting a show:

Target audience. If your art clearly appeals to an urban crowd, that suburban show may be a waste of time. No matter how big a show is, you may experience poor sales if you’re not a good fit for the event.

Attendance. Shows with light attendance may be a poor choice for you, but if shoppers are in the right demographic and fit your niche perfectly, it might be a wise decision.

Expense. Some shows can be astronomical in cost if you have to fly, ship your booth, or stay in expensive lodgings during high season in a resort area. Get full information when considering a show to understand the price tag and determine whether there are hidden expenditures that could blow your budget.

Reputation. Is the show nationally ranked, or known and respected? Newer shows aren’t necessarily bad, but well-seasoned exhibitors rarely take a chance on a show that hasn’t yet built a name for itself. You may want to apply to some aspirational shows to see whether you can get juried in to the best. Be sure to put together an amazing application to wow the jurors.

One quick way to learn more about a show is to ask other artists. Find a discussion group online, or check a site like to learn how other exhibitors rate particular shows, and why.


Customer looks at prints at an outdoor art fair


Search for the Right Event

Searching for shows is easy; fair and festival listings are available through many website directories, including:

Walk the show yourself

One of the best ways to evaluate a potential fair or festival is to attend it and see for yourself. Did the fair director do a great job of advertising? Is parking easy and convenient? Is the event crowded, and are people carrying shopping bags? Take a look at the exhibitors. Are they at your same level, or significantly higher or lower in quality? Are the price points of work at the show compatible with yours?

You may find that the best venues for your work aren’t even typical art fairs or festivals. Some artists with nautical work may do very well at a yacht show. Equine artists often exhibit at horse shows to reach their best audience. If your work fits into a particular theme or niche, you may find the perfect place to sell is where your ideal customers like to go.


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