Recouping costs at (art/artist) fairs
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This week, my favourite artist fair, The Other Art Fair, comes to London, and better yet, it's debuting in New York City in early June. (This is in addition to established annual editions in Melbourne and Sydney, Australia, as well as Bristol, England.) The show is an opportunity for artists to present their art to the world. What are the results? Ranging from selling pieces to getting gallery representation, and from growing a mailing list to getting press, I've known many artists experience great success, with results often improving the more times they participate.
The primary concern about participating in a fair is quite rightly the upfront financial costs, as there's no guarantee of return*. This is because a fair is speculative in nature, and thus it's only advisable to partake in these events if you can afford to lose every penny invested. That said, there ways to mitigate costs.
If you can't afford the risk of a fair but are determined to participate in one nonetheless, options include, but are not limited to:
> Crowdfunding in advance to cover costs;
> Splitting costs between exhibitors (noting that some galleries have artists pay for part of the booth);
> Getting a grant to help pay for it;
> Receiving government support (this is primarily for fairs outside of your home country); and
> Attaining private sponsorship.
As for selling at the fair to recoup costs? The first item to tackle is your aims, and what you can afford to lose in the short-term, yet gain in the long-term. Participants who have a single focus of selling pieces on-site do well to present works that are pleasant on the eye, ready (for a client) to hang, don't present concerns about fragility, and give pricing options that suit varying budgets. This option is also more likely to see a high quantity of pieces exhibited, boosted by having pieces available in print racks and offering merchandise (art greeting cards, books, etc). Whereas if your goal is to attain serious gallery representation? You're more likely to present the stand in a minimalist fashion and/or have strong curation, possibly with a showstopper piece** to grab the attention of and impress art dealers.
When it comes to measuring the success of a fair, I encourage taking a long-term view. Many veteran exhibitors anticipate a reasonable portion of event income and overall results to take place well after the event has finished, whether it's the result of collectors buying directly from your online shop after the event (noting that this one of the best times to sell from your own site) or your active follow-up of sales and business partnership leads. Since the closing of sales can take time, one American gallerist I know has talked about the fair sales cycle being an entire year.
Whether you need to recoup costs upfront or take a calculated risk on the event, invest the time to make a plan that works for your own goals and finances.
Further reading by Susan on art fairs:
* Discover the 3 golden rules to art fairs in this blog post: 'Art fairs: All the rage?'
**Learn about presenting showstopper pieces: ‘The choices in hanging shows, from showstopper pieces to triple hangs’
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