This post was originally saved as a draft in June, 2018.
I made a few updates in January 2019, and additional notes in August 2019.
Today I am going to talk about a somewhat thorny topic. It's one shrouded in a bit of mystery and not often discussed. And that is: the cost of doing business. Specifically, the costs associated with art & craft markets, in this case. (Full discolsure: at the point I’d originally written this I’d only ever done five markets since I started pursuing Art As Enterprise back in 2016, and this year I’m at ten for the year so far - but I consider my experience to still be from a relative novice's perspective.)
First, let me explain that for the purposes of this discussion, my use of the term "markets" can apply to anything from really informal pop-up single-day events coordinated by a sole individual to fully-juried multiple-day festivals managed by actual event management companies.
Over the last couple of years, I've gotten a little bit of experience with what can potentially be the rather significant cost of tabling at markets, although I've been lucky enough to be able to keep those costs to myself relatively low up to this point. I make my own displays, buy linens second-hand, only consider daytime or indoor events, and have not yet invested in a canopy - although there may come a point where I would need a tent, eventually. (Reader, that time came, and I plopped down too much money for a cumbersome “easy up” tent that is a pain in the ass to set up and isn’t as water resistant as I thought…) I also don't apply to events that come with what I consider to be excessive space reservation fees. Yes, that's right. Not only do you sometimes pay to apply to a market, you might also be expected to pay for real estate. And depending on the event, that real estate is at a premium and rent can be steep.
Personally, I consider anything up to $100 to be an acceptable reservation charge, but I'm going to balk at anything over that price point at this stage in my progression as an artist vending at markets. It's likely I won't make that back in sales, so the entire experience becomes a business expense at a net loss from the outset. Add in any supplies needed for the event - new table cloths, reprints, packing supplies, for example - and then figure you'll probably need to eat, maybe grab a beer (a lot of these markets are held a breweries). That all adds up. If you're starting from scratch for your first market, there are basic supplies such as a portable table and folding chairs you'll need, since a lot of events don't provide those to vendors, so you have to bring your own set up.
This brings me to the issue of what I consider to be unacceptably high fees. I was just looking at some events closer to the area where I'm currently living, and a couple looked promising. Nothing out of the ordinary as far as specifications for applying (photos of previous events showing the display, photos of examples of work that will be similar to what will be offered, etc), the application fees were $25 per show, which is on the high end for me, but again, I'm still new to a lot of this...and then I was reading the details. One show had a booth fee of $475. The other was $350. For a 10' x 10' patch of ground. "Gallery" style displays only - no tables allowed. Wire or cloth panel walls. And handwritten signage is forbidden. Only one medium per submission. (...that last one, like...I'm multidisciplinary, that is some nonsense!!)
I *just* finalized the payment for a market in Tampa in October where the tables will be provided, all vendors will be given shirts, refreshments will be available, and there's a networking event being coordinated. And I paid $75, which was the more expensive of the two options because I elected to get an indoor space. I've paid between $20 and $50 for the four markets I've applied to previously. I suppose those more expensive events are for well established vendors who do this for a living, so they can write off these costs as true business expenses. But people on this side of hobbyist, like myself, aren't really in a position to plonk down that kind of cash to stake a claim on some pavement, and I am increasingly struck by how pervasive economic roadblocks like entry fees are. It's been quite a realization to acknowledge how lucky I have been to have the flexibility to participate in the events I am a part of. Because I have a day job. Which is a double-edged sword, in and of itself.
Art is meant to be accessible. But when you look at access, historically, ownership of fine art has been elevated so that it's available to the more affluent, and entire gate-keeping structures have been developed to enforce that cultural strata. It's not surprising, then, that in the descriptions for these events I was reviewing there are keywords like "tropical paradise" and "affluent." Ah yes. Sarasota.
Since originally drafting this over a year ago, I’ve participated in (or will be participating in) 25 group art shows of different kinds, and 15 markets. I’ve learned quite a bit - mostly what works for me, and what I really find absolutely no joy in. Most markets are a complete bust. I get a lot of browsers, and few buyers. It’s likely my choice of event is part of the problem, as well as what I bring to sell. I’d like to focus more on commissions, and actual art shows, so moving into the second half of 2019 and planning for 2020, those will be where I put more of my energy. I’ve also ended my use of Patreon, and suspended my newsletter (at least temporarily).