Ahlara Arts Fair, what can I say? It was definitely an experience and the first outdoor arts festival for both my sister and I.
My sister arrived from New York on Friday and after we picked up the rental car, we hit the ground running going to various stores picking up art supplies. I now shudder at the thought of reconciling all the receipts on what we spent, which I can tell you was definitely a boatload.
We got back to the house and worked like mad little elves putting price stickers on art, making signs, and even doing a practice run setting up and taking down one of the pop-up tents in the back. I really don’t have any furniture downstairs save for a kitchen table and chairs, so we had ample space to work. It’s hard to believe that I had cleaned that place before my sister’s arrival because in a short time it looked like a hobby store had been blown to bits. Shortly after midnight we loaded the SUV with all of our stuff.
On Saturday morning, we arrived at the art fair after 7:30 AM. Logistically getting in to register and to unload was fairly easy. There were some volunteers on site and we had one who helped us with both of our pop-up tents.
This was Ahlara’s second art fair with about 80 artists participating in the event, an increase from last year. Weather-wise the outdoor temp was perfect but unfortunately, there really weren’t a lot of people that attended. I would argue that at times it seemed that the artists and participants outnumbered the audience itself.
In addition to that, we didn’t sell anything which was pretty frustrating considering the money and time my sister and I spent in preparation for all of this. Other artists had the same experience with dismal sales. People hovered inside our booths and thumbed through our art but they never bought anything. My sister noted that she didn’t see a lot of people carrying any items except for maybe bags for jewelry.
So here are my lessons learned from my art fair experience:
1) Don’t expect to go to these festivals/fairs thinking that you will make a mint. I had heard this comment from another artist friend of mine so I wasn’t exactly coming in with high expectations. I was, however, hoping to do a little better than at the All Arts Market in NODA earlier this year. No joke, my sister and I both lost our butts shelling out money for start-up costs such as tents, car rental, tables, plane fare, signage, printing, etc. Even though a friend of mine bought one piece from each of us, we still didn’t make enough to cover our entry fees. I spoke to a photographer at the fair who said he did really well last year but not nearly as well this year which leads to Lesson Number 2.
2) A successful turnout at a fair last year doesn’t mean that the following year will yield the same. To the credit of the organizers, the fair itself went pretty smoothly and seemed to be well publicized with plenty of sponsors. This was, after all, their second annual fair, so it’s hard to gauge what the turnout will be in years to come. Still, the crowds were a lot smaller than I had expected. Was it the economy or were there were a million other events that were taking place elsewhere that day?
3) Use the fair as an opportunity to network with other artists. One of the fun parts about talking with artists is that you learn about other shows that are going on in the area. I was able to collect information about fairs and events for the rest of this year.
4) Know your market. I think this can be trial and error here. Neither one of us knew what to expect when we came. Still the better you understand the market, the easier it is to adapt or heck, bail out altogether if it’s just not suitable. My opinion about North Carolina as a whole is that it’s more about arts AND crafts so it would be expected to see more jewelry or pottery purchases and not necessarily paintings.
5) Location, location location! Yep, this fair was in Mooresville which is about about 40 minutes outside of Charlotte so this could have been the problem for me right here. Most of my friends are in Charlotte so this was out of the way. Also, most fairs like this are held in a public park or even downtown, not in a business park. The fair technically was designed to liven up a struggling business park, in addition to supporting the artist community, but they may need to rethink location next year.
6) No matter how nice the weather, make sure your tent is windproof. I wanted to punch the wind in the face if that were humanly possible. My sister’s pieces were taking endless nose dives from her table thanks to the unpredictable gusts. It also knocked one of my framed pieces to the ground and where it met its demise on the concrete floor. Fortunately THAT was my only casualty but you could hear the crashing sounds of artwork from other booths. The wily veterans that were there had panels that went along the sides of their tents for wind protection. We did take the coordinator’s recommendations of tying gallon jugs to the legs of our tents to prevent them from going up like hang-gliders.
7) For you Hobby Lobby fans out there, if you show your coupon on your smart phone it will be accepted. I’m sorry this was so cool, I had to share. We found this out when we were at the store picking up extra art supplies. My sister left her coupon at the house and the cashier said that a coupon would be accepted if you could pull it up on your smartphone. Hey it was 40% off! Wasn’t going to pass THAT up!
Would I do the Ahlara Arts Fair again or any other outdoor art fair for that matter? Yeah probably. Again it was a learning experience and an opportunity to network if nothing else. Who knows what will happen next year as far as turnout? At least I don’t have to buy another friggin’ tent next year!