There are many types of art fairs out there, I have experience with both Artist-led fairs and Gallery-led fairs. An example of an Artist-led fair is the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition, where artists present a booth of their own artwork, and act as the salesperson. Gallery-led fairs such as Art Basel instead have galleries setting up in an exhibition space, presenting sometimes multiple artists in one booth, and staffing the booth with gallery professionals.

In this post I will share some pros and cons of doing an Artist-led fair.

Note: If you have gallery representation, you should discuss doing artist-led fairs with your gallery first, as they will have important insight, and it may also go against your agreement.

PROS

  • You can present your work to a wider audience.
  •  As you will be in the booth selling your work, you will get to hear direct feedback from potential clients.
  • This feedback can help inform the future direction of your work (if you choose to take it).
  • Good opportunity to engage with other artists that you're working alongside.
  • Artist networking is a great way to meet peers and hear about other selling and gallery opportunities.
  • Showing at a fair can attract galleries to your work, as they may not have seen your work otherwise.
  • Chance to make some direct sales.

 

CONS

  • Fees for art fairs can be extremely high. If you're doing the fair to make profit, you need to consider the hard costs that come off the top.
  • Don't forget the opportunity cost of being tied to an art fair booth over the weekend when you could be creating more artwork or making money another way.
  • Also consider the cost of transporting your work, installing and potential damage that can be caused.
  • If you do not create an attractive booth presentation, you may do damage to your brand.
  • Basic people skills, and skills at selling are a MUST. If you do not have either of these, you may not be suited to being the spokesperson for your artwork.
  • You will need a point-of-sale system with the ability to take credit cards (Such as Square). These services have a cost attached.

 

I personally love visiting The Artist Project in Toronto each year

I personally love visiting The Artist Project in Toronto each year

If you've decided to do a fair, here are some tips:

  • Plan accordingly - applications happen very early for fairs!
  • Mock up your booth on paper and be sure that the size of artwork that you make for your booth will fit, and make a cohesive showing.
  • Next, built the booth entirely before as a 'dry-run'. This will help show you what tools you'll need on set up day.
  • Have a trusted friend look at your set-up and provide feedback. Even better, invite someone who hasn't seen your work. That person can help point out where you may need to add more information about the work.
  • Imagine the role of a new viewer. After they see the work, are they easily able to spot wall labels with information? Where do they go to get more information?
  • Ensure your name/logo is bright, simple, and visible. 
  • Present social media follow info and website details.
  • Create cards to hand out to visitors (most large fairs require 300-500)
  • Have pricing visible.
  • Engage viewers in meaningful conversation about the artwork. 
  • Plan ahead for a way to collect emails from visitors, and be sure to follow up.
  • Sell yourself!

I would love to hear if you plan to do any art fairs this year! There are some details that I can help with from afar including booth planning/design and curation. Contact me at alissalsexton@gmail.com if you'd like some assistance with your upcoming fair.