Earlier this week, I shared my experience planning to participate in an outdoor art festival. Planning was a lot of work and took a lot of time, but once the week of the event arrived, the planning paid off in a big way. Having done a dry-run of the booth set up in our gallery space and figured out how to set up the canopy, how the display walls went together, and how the art would be displayed, the day of the setup was pretty low-stress.
In testing the setup in the gallery, I quickly realized it would be far from ideal to transport and set up everything on my own. I wouldn’t be able to enlist the help of our part-time team member, Sandy, in Pinetop because, in addition to volunteer-chairing the event, she was setting up and running a booth of her own.
So I enlisted the help of my family. Our daughter Mikell works for us in our gallery in Scottsdale, and my son, Parker, is on summer break from his first year at ASU. I called and asked if they would be available and willing to come to Pinetop and help with the operation; they both agreed.
Their help was crucial. Mikell ran the Pinetop gallery while Parker and I set up and ran the show.
For this art festival, the venue space opened for setup Thursday morning, the day before the event officially began. Parker and I loaded the canopy and ProPanels into my Jeep and drove them to the venue. While we couldn’t drive up to our booth space, we were fortunate that our area was near the front entrance to the venue. The walk from our vehicle to the booth wasn’t more than a few hundred feet. We took several trips to carry all the Pro-Panels, the canopy, and a folding table to the space.
Once everything was unloaded, we set about unfolding the canopy and setting up the walls. Thanks to our planning and having marked the order of the walls, the setup went smoothly and quickly. We knew which walls needed to go where.
The one hiccup was that our booth space was a bit uneven. It’s hard to discern from the photo of the area above, but the ground rose toward the middle and had several dips and divots. Fortunately, the ProPanels have adjustable legs, which allowed us to even out most of the walls, but even with these legs, some spots needed a bit more help, and this is where plastic shims came in handy. We could get the walls level and stable enough to be functional with some work.
Because the hooks were already installed for hanging, we knew that installing the art would go quickly. Having determined this, we decided not to hang the art until Friday morning, the first day of the event. Even though the venue would have security, and we were reasonably confident about our canopy, it seemed like waiting to install the art would reduce the risk of theft or water damage.
This plan would have been great if I hadn’t misunderstood the start time for the event, which I remembered to be 10 a.m. When Friday morning arrived, we ran to the gallery and loaded up the art for the show, and headed to the venue, where we arrived at 8:30 a.m., which should have given us, I thought, plenty of time to set up.
Indeed, the art went up on the walls very quickly, but at 9 a.m., people started walking through the front gate of the show. This caught me by surprise, and I quickly discovered that the event ran from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday.
We kicked into high gear and put the rest of the art into place. By 9:15, we were ready to greet our first customers. All-in-all, things seemed to have gone pretty smoothly during the setup. Our total setup time between the two days was about three and a half hours, greatly facilitated by the time we had spent preparing for the event.
A massive factor for us was that the event venue was just half a block away from our gallery. We quickly made multiple trips to the venue during setup. Had we traveled a distance to the event, I would have needed a box van or a trailer, as I saw many other vendors had.
Looking back, I can see that there are several things we did right and some things I would change if we were to do it again.
We planned the setup carefully ahead
Every minute spent in pre-planning helped make the setup a breeze and helped put my mind at ease about what we would face.
I had help
As mentioned above, I might have been able to set up and run the event on my own, but having my son help me during the setup made things much more manageable.
We completed the setup over two days
Setting up the booth on Thursday and installing the art on Friday made the process much more manageable.
I would study the event information more carefully
While it wasn’t catastrophic, it was a little embarrassing not to be ready to go at the 9 a.m. start time. Even though I had read the event instructions carefully as we were registering for the event, if we do another event like this, I will revisit the instructions again right before the show.
I would get better containers for hauling small stuff
Watching other vendors, I could see that they all had great systems for hauling stuff from their vehicles to their booths. Many had big plastic bins carefully organized with both products and supplies. They rolled these bins in on carts or hand trucks. We hauled all of our stuff in small cardboard boxes. These worked, but they weren’t easy to move, and they got cluttered as we set up for the event.
Do you participate in outdoor art festivals? What tips and tricks can you share to help make the setup process easier? What advice would you give an artist getting ready to set up for their first outdoor art show? If you are considering offering your art at a festival, what questions about setup 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 selling at the show, the surprises, the results, and the tear-down.