Artists' Fairs - all you need to know

An episode dedicated to artists fairs - why sell at an artists fair, how to choose the right one for you, what to do once you are accepted for the fair, and how to use the event to grow your sales and collector base.

In this episode I go into a deep dive of how an artists fair can be a great stepping stone in an artists career, give them invaluable experience and how to use the event to attract new collectors as well as the attention of galleries for representation.

First let me clarify art fairs are talked about a lot and these are usually where all the booths are taken by galleries who rep the artists. Examples include the Affordable Art Fair or Art Basel

Artists fairs – these are where artist buys wall space and is self representing.

I’ve also seen fairs advertised as exhibitions or pop ups.

In summary

  • The artist has to be there

  • They have paid for wall space

  • Self representing

Why they’re becoming essential -  

  • They let an artist exhibit without taking on a gallery rental. And a way of having an exhibition to invite your collectors to.
    And also galleries you want to might want to show your work to.

  • You get a whole of experience – you get to learn how the set up works.

  • Learn from the artists who are showing alongside you.

  • They are a really good entry point for artists into the commercial world.

  • I encourage them because you get the experience first hand and are a good stepping stone before working with galleries

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A lot of fairs have networking events, and educational events. You can meet the other artists and also attend talks. I have done talks for these events.  

They will have good PR – a good way for the emerging artist to piggy back off some of the PR.

We know from various stats that many galleries make more money at fairs then they physical galleries.

Fairs are everywhere and some are international and some can be hyperlocal. There are whole load in between too of course.

Given there are so many fairs around the world and in every region, it is normal for visitors to see multiple artists under one roof.  

If a Fair  is the next step for you then let’s get to how to choose one.

They happen everywhere

The fair season is March to June. Then Sept to Nov. Maybe use the coming season to visit as many as you can.

  • See if you work is a good fit for the ones you are visiting.

  • Most fairs have a selection process so they can present a cohesive collection of artists.

  • Think about – how you heard about the Fair – good PR would mean you would be seeing it over social media, press and print, broadcast 

  • Look at the price range available at the fair – and you want to be in the middle somewhere in that range.

  • You don’t want to be highest or lowest price vendor at a fair. 

  • And the visitor demographic – is that your typical collector or could they be?

Before you apply you can always get more info from the artists who previously took part – find them on social media and engage there.

The application for most fairs is now online including sending images with an online from.

Once selected you usually have a couple months lead time before the event.

This is a great time to be using for your marketing – this is where you really need to use this time for promoting your show.

Important time to getting your email marketing, social media in order.

You want to have a plan

  • You don’t have to be talking all about the fair but you can mention it regularly.

  • Talk about what is going on in the studio, preparation for the fair all the good stuff that

  • You are warming them up to come and see you for when the fair doors open.

  • Then you can talk more about the fair the closer you get to the event in your social media and emails.

  • And about a month before you can send a ‘Save the Date’ message

Get to know the automation features for social media and email so you don’t have to think about it on the fair days.

Part of this marketing is the print material you want at the stand

Business cards, Catalogues, Postcards or price lists

Anything else you want printed – get it done well in advance in case printer deadlines are out of your control.

Send personal invites to the people you really want to see there.

They can be email or printed.

This can include galleries you want to invite to come and see you.

Marketing is a massively important, too many artists neglect or leave it til the end.

A fair booth is an investment and you need to do the other work to make it pay and make it profitable for you. it is niave to expect the organisers to do everything as they have 50 other artists to promote so they are promoting the whole event, and they want to get people through the door and you need to get people to your stand.

Fairs are a great way to show your work outside the studio but you do need to take ownership of the marketing for your stand. 

If your fair is not for another couple of months then right now is all about the marketing.

What to take with you -

  • Something to put your printed things on – a table, maybe something to sit on, if it is not provided.

  • A way to collect emails  - an ipad, a clipboard, anything will do.

  • The print material itself.

And something that you cant pack – can you get a helper for the fair days? – it can be exhausting so a familiar face for a few hours each day can take the pressure off.

Eating on the stand is a big no no, but you need to stay energized so you might want to get some assistance.

Keeping your energy high for the fair days is super important, stay hydrated, eat well, Don’t get drunk on opening night, that it impacts the rest of your exhibiting days. Opening night can be a lot of excitement and adrenalin fuelled so be careful how much alcohol you consume, you need to stay high energy all weekend.

Speak to everyone – especially people you don’t know. One of the things I see often is when artists only speak to the people they know and ignore the people they don’t. Even if you are an introvert – this is a time to work through it. It can make the difference and remember – you paid for the booth to meet you people who could be new buyers and collectors of your work

Engage with as many people as you can.

Don’t over fill the booth or your wall space, give the work space to breathe and you can always have a browser or even other props like an easel or tabletop easel or plinth for example.  Plan this all out before the event to make install day painless.

You should be leaving with less than you arrived with. After packing up and assessing how the fair went, you need to get your follow up emails out quickly –within a couple of days. These are to the new contacts, you can tell them the work they were interested in is still available or sold but you have something similar if they would like to see it.
Also send thank you emails to your mailing list for showing up.

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