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An Inside Look at Art Festivals: What You Know and What You Don’t

There are many questions I get regularly about my work as a professional scratchboard artist, including what the heck scratchboard is, how long it takes to complete a piece, where I show my work, and how commissioning a custom pet portrait works. One part of my business that people don’t typically ask questions about until I bring it up is art festivals and how they work. Once I start explaining it, the questions and the surprised looks come rushing out, so I thought I would take a little time to give you an inside look at art festivals!

The first step in attending art festivals as an artist is RESEARCH. There are so many festivals in every state and depending on the artists work, different shows are more appropriate than others for the various mediums and styles (pottery, painting, drawing, fiber art, jewelry, sculpture, etc). It takes diligent work and a lot of time to find the festivals and fairs that are best fit and will have the right audience for your work.

After deciding which festivals are the best fit, then artists must APPLY, which includes filling out the application and providing information about the artistic process and work, submitting 3-5 images of the artwork and one of the festival booth display, and paying the jury fee which is typically $20-$60 and is used to pay the panel of jurors. The submitted images are then presented to the JURY who score each artist and determine who will be invited to display at the festival (typically only a fraction of applicants will be invited). If invited, then each artist must pay the booth fee (typically $150-$1000). Some artists are placed on a waitlist.

*Example of some of my recent application images

SCHEDULING | The application and payment process happens months before the actual event. Some artists travel to festivals all over the country and all year long. I travel from February to September and have participated in festivals across the US, including Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan, Colorado, Texas, and Florida.

PLANNING + PREP | Before and in between shows, there are always many different tasks that need to be done to be prepared for a festival. These can include actually making the artwork to be sold, marketing and advertising for the shows, creating and printing promotional materials, printing and packaging reproduction prints, framing new artwork, and tracking inventory, preparing the vehicle for cross country travel, and packing.

*An indoor show set-up once the main structure is up and with all the artwork bins ready to go. (This set-up is from my 2018 set-up at the Stevens Point Festival of Arts)

Set-up for festivals is often the afternoon before or morning of the event. Each artist is assigned a specific spot and typically reserved a space of 10’x10’. I always set-up my booth as early as possible so the structure is in place and I can take my time with the artwork the morning of the event. Each artist is responsible for providing their booth structure and any display materials required. Those white booths you see are the property of the artist and not provided by the event.

FESTIVAL | Every festival has specific hours that artists are required to be open to patrons, typically 10am-5pm, give or take an hour. Festival organizers sometimes offer volunteers to ‘booth sit’ so the artist can take a quick break, a complimentary breakfast, and occasionally an artist dinner when awards are presented. Most outdoor shows go on rain or shine. These festival days can be very long, upwards of 12 hours in the booth, because I set up my artwork each morning which takes several hours and take it down each night so it can safely travel with me when I leave for the night.

Once the show is over, everything is taken apart, repacked, and loaded into the vehicle and trailer. Then the travel home or to the next show starts and all the day-after tasks begin, including reorganizing everything, accounting, updating inventory, and restocking supplies and reproduction prints.

*My new art festival display from 2020 Art Fest Fort Myers.

This is just a snap shot, but hopefully it gives a better insight into the world of art festivals! It's a complicated process but with some color-coded organization everything falls into place.

Find your joy!


Updated 04/28/2020 by Melissa Helene

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