Lessons Learned @ The Other Art Fair, BKLYN
I recently was honored to be accepted to The Other Art Fair in Brooklyn, NY. I was one of a 120 artists chosen from 700 applicants by a select group of respected art curators. And while the show required a significant financial investment to participate, I decided it was totally worth it as I wanted to show my work to the Brooklyn arts community and potentially connect with curators and collectors from a new market. I worked for months on a new body of work that I felt was one of my most innovative collections yet. I thought a lot about how I would hang the show and what I wanted the work to express. I was SO excited. I told EVERYONE. I marketed my little butt off. I felt proud. I got a HOT new black jumper for the opening. I felt so ready. I was riding high, nervous and excited right up until about an hour into opening night, when I realized a couple of disappointing “facts” that sent me plummeting into a negative space...Here’s what I learned.
Know The Flow Plan
As the doors opened, I heard from another artist over 2000 people rsvp’d for opening night and I could see people lined up at the door and the bar getting very busy. But as the first hour passed, and we were well into the evening, I noticed that the aisle to my booth was basically a dead end, meaning one end of the aisle was open for traffic to flow through but the other end literally had a giant column in the middle of it leaving only about 2’ on each side of it for people to pass through AND then the bar was just beyond that column. Both of the elements were literally blocking the natural flow of traffic down the aisle where my booth and three other artists’ booths were placed. It was like an energetic block, I watched the whole night (slightly obsessed, slightly furious, slightly trying not to believe it was an actual problem) but NO ONE would walk from the bar, past the column, down our aisle...ok maybe like 10 people the whole night. SO this basically cut the natural flow of traffic off from our booths by at least half. It killed me. I half wanted to complain to the show managers (but didn’t want to be that artist) and half wanted to just cry. So mostly I just cried, three times, secretly in the bathroom. While I had seen the floor plan and my booth placement prior to the opening, I did not fully grasp the impact a column & the bar would have on the amount of people that would view my booth and not sure I would have had that foresight, so I chalked this up to expensive lesson #1, but ouch and oh it gets worse :) keep reading...LOL.
Expectations Must Match Your Inventory
When I was accepted to the show, I was flying so high, it was my first show in Brooklyn and in connection with this prominent art fair and the curators that chose me, the whole thing must have gone to my head, because I didn’t realize that the body of work I was creating in no way matched my actual expectations for the show. In other words, I had two different expectations for myself and didn’t realize it until it was WAY too late. In deciding which works I would include in the show, I went with my largest scaled and most expensive pieces. I did this because they were my favorites, I wanted to show off my abilities and I was truly treating this more like a solo show than an art fair. I have done fairs before, and I KNOW the drill and WORSE, I know that I like to SELL ART, it’s fun and gratifying. So I also had an expectation to sell a lot of work and utterly forgot the cardinal rule of art fairs which is show a range of work in sizes & prices and have plenty of small affordable work available IF you want to sell a lot of work. Feel free to gamble on selling that one huge piece, but if you want a sure thing, go small & affordable. As they say, you can’t have your cake and eat it too, but I certainly went into this wanting BOTH unbeknownst to me until about halfway into day 1 of the show.
Yeah, that was another super fun moment!
Know Your Demographics :o
Ok, so then... next day, WAY more people showed up, I was still having traffic flow issues, but I decided to ignore it and just persevere, and believe that the perfect buyer would find me today and buy this huge 5’ by 5’ piece for their...tiny little apartment in brooklyn with their five kids and a dog...oy. Mistake #342. As I watched all the attendees walk by, the vast majority of them were either young families with kids or young hip single brooklynites, and I realized I had not considered my demographic for this show. Which just kills me, because I am literally a marketing specialist, like years of experience in the marketing field, and utterly just went dumb when it came to my own art biz. Someone shoot me. OK! So note to self, KNOW YOUR DEMOGRAPHIC!
In hindsight I realized I should have:
1) Done some research on the demographics of the area we were in.
2) Asked the fair organizers for their demographic research and any data they had on RSVPs.
3) Asked the fair organizers for past sales data to find out the average price point of past sales.
They did not offer me this information, and I did not ask for it, so I have no idea if they would have given it to me, if they even had it. But it feels like a very fair demand to make when you are investing anywhere from $1,500-$3,000+ on booth fees, shipping, travel, marketing and more. I for one, will be demanding this info moving forward. Had I had this demographic & sales data, I could have been a bit more strategic about the size & price point of my pieces and better set myself up for a win.
Practice Talking :/
Ok, so, day three, pretty sure I will never sell a piece of work at this fair, so I decided I would just use each opportunity to talk about my work and just share and connect with people. Right … (insert the sound of crickets) ...This collection was so new, I hadn’t really even thought about what I wanted to say about it, let alone practiced saying OUT LOUD. Oy vey. Yeah, so I fumbled a lot and struggled with putting it all into words, cause ya know, people want to know that, and no, “cause I thought it was cool” is not an acceptable artist statement! Jeeze Linda, get it together! It was pretty awkward and I did actually go cry again for a minute and then got over myself and went back out there. I can laugh about it now, but in the moment it was excruciating. So lesson #434, not only know what a body of work means to you, but practice speaking out loud what you want people to know about! Check!
Have a Backup Plan : )
So needless to say, by this point I was pretty much just a sad mess. My head noise was so loud -- beating me up, self-doubting me, barking at me with regret and just plain defeat -- I needed something to shut my inner-self up and keep me relatively happy and positive for the rest of the show. So I went to a nearby bookstore and got myself a sketchbook and a bunch of gel pens...and viola! I sketched and doodled the entire last day of the show which completely shifted my space emotionally and energetically. And low and behold I sold a painting!! Fair goers were super interested in my sketching, and would stop to watch me and ask me questions, and it totally caused me to have fun and relax. Lesson number #567, have a backup plan in case a show is just not going well, keep yourself productive and distracted from your inner negative dialogue with a sketchbook or anything creative so you not only feel productive but people walking by are intrigued by your process and want to connect with you.
All in all, I am proud of the work I produced for the show and happy I participated, and might even do it again next year now that I know what I know. I hope my lessons help you in your planning and preparing for art fairs and the like. I love hearing from you, feel free to DM me on Instagram @Lnmop or email me firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts and feedback.
Thanks for reading and supporting my artwork.