What I Learned by Participating in an Art Festival | Part 1 – Preparation – RedDotBlog

I vaguely remember traveling with my parents to several outdoor art festivals. I was too young at the time to understand what was going on – I just knew that dad was setting his art up in the park, people were coming to see it and talk to dad, and we would celebrate when any art sold. Dad soon moved toward gallery representation and stopped participating in art festivals.

I would go on to open a gallery with my wife, Carrie, and we’ve been very focused for most of our adult lives on building our business. As consumers, we’ve attended a few outdoor art festivals over the years and have enjoyed the experience. In my interactions with artists, I talk to many artists who make a living through their participation in outdoor art shows.

All of that is to say that my connection to art festivals has been casual and somewhat distant. Until this last weekend, that is.

In 2019 we opened a second gallery location in Pinetop, Arizona, a small mountain resort town in eastern Arizona. We’ve enjoyed cultivating a clientele here during the summer season. In a small town like Pinetop, it’s easier to get a sense of what’s happening in town, so it’s hard to ignore the summer art festivals. The biggest is held on the weekend leading into the 4th of July. This show attracts thousands of attendees and dozens of artists, jewelers, and other craftspeople. Over the last few summers, we’ve noticed that the gallery is pretty quiet over the show weekend as most art lovers in the area focus the art experiences on the festival.

When the chair of the art festival, Sandy Pendleton, who also happens to work a couple of days a week in our Pinetop gallery, invited me to consider participating, it seemed like a great idea. Not only would we have an opportunity to expose thousands of new people to Xanadu artists and introduce them to our gallery, but I would also have a chance to experience first-hand what many RedDotBlog readers experience when participating in art festivals.

So, what did I learn?

First and foremost, I learned that selling art at an outdoor show is a lot like selling art in the gallery . . . but with rain.

Over the next several days, I will share some of the biggest takeaways from the event – things I think went well, things I could have done better, and what I learned by participating in our first art festival. Today, I’ll talk about preparation.

I was shocked by how much preparation was involved in getting ready for the show. First and foremost, we had to buy a canopy and display walls. I talked to a few artists and determined that the best option for the display walls was ProPanels. These panels are durable, lightweight, and versatile. They were not cheap, but I was assured they were worth every penny.

my initial back-of-napkin design

I had registered for a 10′ x 10′ booth space, so I developed a design for the walls that I thought would give me a good display space. Once I had the plan, I called Pro-Panel and asked them to take a look and give me feedback. After asking some additional questions, the rep took a look and made a few suggestions to improve the display. I ended up buying 13 wall panels.

I hopped on Amazon.com to buy the canopy and found a highly rated one from ABCCannopy.

Now that I had the walls and canopy, I needed to figure out how to hang the art. ProPanels offers a variety of suspension solutions, but they were expensive and more complicated than I had hoped. I did an internet search and found a small company, Harmon Hooks, out of Payson, AZ (just down the road!), that makes velcro-mounted hooks that will hang right on the ProPanel fabric. I ordered some of these hooks and tested them on the panels. They seemed to work great.

Now that I had the display space taken care of, I needed to plan the mix of art we would display and figure out the display. I was also nervous about how the setup would go. It’s one thing to sketch out plans, but I’ve learned that the execution can be quite another.

The booth set up in our backroom.

I decided that the only way to be sure I knew what I was doing would be to do a dry run. I cleared out a space in our back room, set up the canopy and walls, and then hung the art. Doing this not only allowed me to figure out how everything worked, but it also permitted me to have the hooks in place so that I didn’t have to figure out anything on the day of the event. I’ll have more to say about this in my post on the setup, but this dry run was tremendously helpful, and I’m so glad I did it.

About a week before the event, I realized I didn’t have a sign for the event. I quickly put together a design and ordered a vinyl banner with grommets from UPrinting.com. Fortunately, their turnaround was quick, and the banner arrived several days before the event.

The final preparatory step was to print pricing labels for all of the art going to the event. We used the same tags we employ in the gallery and put them onto 3″x5″ cards to hang on the ProPanels. This did not work well, but I’ll have more to say in an upcoming post. I’ll also have more to say about the mix of art we showed, which was critical. All of this was preparation, but these subjects deserve their own posts. Stay tuned for more in the coming days!

Do you participate in outdoor art festivals? What do you do to prepare? What tips would you give an artist preparing to show at a festival? If you are considering offering your art at a festival, what questions would you ask artists with many of these events under their belts? Leave your thoughts, comments, tips, tricks, and questions in the comments below.

Keep an eye out for upcoming posts on setup, selling at the show, the surprises, the results, and the tear-down.

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