The Art of the Festival (Introduction: How to Thrive, Not Just Survive, the Art Festival Scene)
Lugging everything to the location for hours of setup: your tent, your display gear, the work. Here in Chicago, this typically happens in hot and humid weather, with the chaos of everyone else setting up at the same time, plus the noise of the city, so you’re a sticky, sweaty ball of confusion and exhaustion.
If you’re lucky, you get to set up the night before, go home, catch some shuteye and start fresh in the morning. (if you weren’t there until 1 am…) If not, you’re up at 4 am, hoping to get as early a start as possible so that the tent is all set up in time.
Setup may be done but you aren’t. You spend a full day in a very stuffy tent, hoping that your lack of sleep doesn’t catch up with you because it’s not just the tent that has to be on point. Even if it’s pouring, or it’s 98 degrees outside, or you’re completely exhausted, you have to be sharp and focused and greet each and every person as if none of that matters.
Wrap it up that night, come back the next day and repeat. (Don’t even get me started on breaking down the setup at the very end.)
I’m talking about art festivals and, as horrific as all of that may have sounded, I love every minute of them (okay, not the break down at the end, I was serious about not wanting to get started on that). I have been participating in festivals for about eight years now and have been privileged to be a part of some of the top shows in the Chicago area.
Thinking back to my very first outdoor festival setup, at the Bucktown Arts Fest (shown above and below), I have no idea how I sold anything, let alone felt compelled to come back the next year. I had the least expensive EZ Up tent, homemade walls and not a single clue what I was doing. Fast forward eight years and I am proud to say I have come a long way so I felt compelled to put together a series of posts which will hopefully help others who are just getting their feet wet.
I won’t lie to you, art festivals, especially outdoors, where you lack control over a number of key things, like weather, are not easy. That said, there are a number of things you do have control over that will help you be as prepared as you can be to have a successful show.
“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.” … “Life itself is simple…it’s just not easy.” – Theodore Roosevelt
I am going to break this up in to a series of posts covering:
- The Basics and Beyond: Festival Prep: I’m a list maker and I make one before every festival. I will cover everything, from the basics and beyond, of what you need to have with you to make your festival run more smoothly.
- The Work: If selling at an art festival were as simple as setting up a tent and throwing some work out there, more people would be doing it. I’ll run through what I do, and what I have changed, to ensure I am setting myself up for the most successful show I can possibly have.
- The Display: OK, so you saw my very first set up. It was bad. I mean really, truly, embarrassingly bad. I have, however learned a great deal over eight years and my tent has evolved a great deal over the last eight years. I will share some of the changes I have made and how I go about planning out a tent before I even get to the location.
Here’s a little peek at last year’s tent setup as well as my new booth setup at the One of a Kind Show & Sale. Still not exactly where I want it to be but I have already made adjustments for this year. Side note…when your set up evolves, not only do you get to show your work in a different light, regular buyers don’t get tired of seeing the same old same old and they’re more likely to keep coming back.
While art festival season is officially in full swing, it is never too late to make changes to make your experience a good one so I hope you will join me over the next several days of posts.
If you are new to art festivals and have particular questions, please don’t hesitate to ask me, either here or by sending me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. It may be something I’m already planning on covering and, if not, I will try to incorporate it! (no matter what, I will try to help answer your questions) If you’re an old pro at art festivals, and want to share some of your tips, please feel free to comment.
If you’re in the Chicagoland area and want to check out my set up and chat, find a list of my upcoming festivals Tracey Capone on my website.
See you in the next post! Enjoy!
This is so serendipitous! I am freaking out planning for my first festival in August and this popped up in my feed. I am so happy you will be sharing your experience and tips! I LOVE your work and have seen it in person at a few festivals and your set up is awesome! I am going to send you a few questions to your email, if that’s okay! Thank you Tracy!
I am happy to help Kelly! I will be on the lookout for your questions. Thank you for the lovely compliment!
Do you do a lot of promotion before an event or do you leave it up to the promotors? I am not big on social media. Thank you for your information.
Hi Scott! I don’t do a ton but I always try to do my own posts about festivals, including times, dates, and my booth number. While all of the promoters I do shows do a great deal of advertising, I feel it’s also my responsibility to get people to come out. So I typically post an event on Facebook, post a few times leading up to the show, on both Facebook and Instagram, then do live (video) posts on both as well as photo snapshots throughout the festival. I totally understand not being big on social media, I have been shying away from it personally, but I do feel that if everyone participating takes a role in getting the word out somehow, the show can be a great success for everyone! Good luck with your festivals!