What Is An Art Fair?
by Ashley Garner
Studio Assistant, Tribeca Printworks
What is an art fair? An art fair is a booth-style convention show that hosts various galleries, collectives, curators, and independent artists to show artwork to local and international collectors for purchase. They typically last for 4-6 days and are held in major cities around the world. Art fairs are application based and run by different companies that have a team of curators who determine whether the application is a good fit for their specific fair. If you are participating in an upcoming art fair, read more about our fine art print and custom framing options.
You’re an artist and you’re ready to get your work out there to a new audience, or at least beyond the walls of your studio. Maybe you’ve heard about art fairs through a friend or read about them online, but don’t understand exactly what they are. I have worked for several art fairs over the years and am here to give you the skinny on exactly what an art fair is and isn’t.
Which art fair is right for me? Today there are a wide variety of art fairs that cater to all different styles of art artists. There are fairs for illustrators, paper-based art, performance art, digital art, comic art, photography, installations, sculptures, “outsider” art, secondary market and primary market. There are art fairs for professional galleries exclusively and in more recent years, art fairs dedicated to the independent and self-represented artist.
If you are an independent artist ready to take that next step with your career, participating in an art fair can be a great opportunity to showcase your work to a wide new audience. These fairs give you the chance to connect with people you may never meet otherwise including art advisors, gallerists, curators, and press. Plus, you get to spend a few days with other like minded individuals who can share their own experiences, tips and tricks. However, there are few things that you should be aware of before diving into the world of art fairs.
Does it cost money to participate in an art fair? At the end of the day an art fair is a company renting out wall space for you to show your work to collectors and networking contacts. Some fairs are more expensive than others and you should always do your research to see which fair is the best fit for your style of work. Engage with artists who have participated in the particular fair(s) you’re interested in if possible. Another important thing to note is that independent art fairs will often take a commission of all sales made at the fair. Be sure to look into that before applying as you will want to work that into your pricing structure.
Should I have prints available for sale? While creating a beautiful layout of your original artwork is the primary goal when participating in an art fair, you also want to sell artwork! However, not every collector that comes to an art fair is ready to invest in a $3000 original painting from an artist they just met. Sometimes they need time to think about that sort of investment and you as an artist need to be prepared with other options of your work at different price scales. The best way to get your work into as many hands as possible (and make your money back from paying for that booth) is by having prints of your most popular work(s) available at lower, accessible prices. Prints can either be open editioned or limited edition. This will inform the price point and is up to you as an artist to decide. Both open and limited editions are widely accepted in the art market, especially for emerging artists.
How can I promote myself at an art fair? Be ready to network. An art fair is an opportunity for you to talk to people face-to-face about your art so you want to be ready to TALK. Have a short bio and description of your work ready to tell people as they are wandering the halls of these conventions. Oftentimes guests coming to these shows are going to many other shows that day (art fairs tend to all happen on consecutive weekends to attract a larger audience) so you want to be able to express who you are and what your art is about in a quick sentence or two. Anything longer can get lost in translation. If engaging potential collectors isn’t in your wheelhouse, hiring an assistant or asking a friend that is familiar with your work is a great way to get around this hurdle!
Should I have a business card? As mentioned, not everyone is ready to buy art the moment they see it. You want to make sure potential collectors have a way to remember you so they may later inquire about purchasing that piece they were eyeing. Having a physical business card to hand people can be more successful than just telling people your social media handle. You don’t need to hire a graphic designer or over-complicate it. Keep it simple with your name, email, website/social media handle, and an imagery of your art. Websites like Moo, Vistaprint, or even your local Staples or Kinkos are great to get business cards quick and easy.
Don’t forget to compile potential collector contact info. There is a statistic that for every 100 business cards passed out, only 1 will be used. It’s important to get contact information from anyone that shows interest in your work so that YOU can be the one following up. Having a notebook to take down names and emails, or a laptop/ipad is extremely encouraged. For example, once I told a gallery I was interested in a certain print but I wasn’t ready to buy it then and there. Five minutes after leaving their booth they sent me an email with a link to buy the piece, and guess what, a week later I did! Following up in a timely fashion is crucial to making a sale and will absolutely make a difference in your professional impact.
Don’t stress and have fun. Doing an art show on any level can be stressful for an artist but it’s important to remember to have fun! The happier you look in your booth the more likely people will want to approach you and learn more. This is a chance for you to expand your network and introduce people to your work that may have never found it otherwise. If you expect to make thousands of dollars over the course of the show you will most likely be disappointed. But, if you go into an art fair with the hopes of meeting someone that wants to learn more about who you are, then you’re more likely to have a great time. Making sales is just an added bonus!
Should I participate in an art fair? Doing an art fair is a long-term investment in your career and overtime you will get better at it and learn what works best for you and your work. I have participated in fairs as an independent artist and I have worked for fairs for top tier and emerging galleries. What I’ve learned is that there is no one rule for what will and will not work.
Every artist is different and every show is different. Some artists sell out, while the booth next door doesn’t make a single sale. Some artists will walk away with offers for solo shows and corporate collections while others will have engaged few new followers or feel like it was a waste of time. It is important to go in with a good attitude and to follow up on everyone that did show interest in your work, whether they seemed like a shoe-in for buying something or just had a good conversation with you. Long term positive relationships are what lead to sales and more opportunities down the line.
Here are a few art fairs to look into as an independent artist that happen in cities like New York, LA, London, Chicago, Miami, Jersey City, and Dallas:
If you have decided to participate in an art fair, Tribeca Printworks is here to help! We have all the printing and framing solutions for a successful booth and art fair experience. You can drop into our SOHO Studio anytime to view samples or setup a consultation to determine what direction is best for your work. Checkout how some of our other clients have displayed their work at art fairs.
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