Last Thursday, June 21, 2018, I participated in my very first art festival—the Lemonade Concert and Art Fair in Saint Cloud, Minnesota. It was a fascinating experience and I would like to share some thoughts about it.
Attending a festival is a lot of work, but worth the effort if you prepare correctly and manage expectations. I arrived on campus to begin unloading my booth materials at 7AM. Fortunately, my space was not far from the unloading area. Even so, vendors were not permitted to drive on campus, which meant a cart was necessary. I constructed one with a few 1 x 12 boards and large caster wheels. A few days before the festival, I decided how I would pack my "buggy"—as it was called—so that I could fit everything on. Simplicity was key and I elected to have an easy display. All of my pots/business materials fit into four totes, which stacked on top very well. My booth space was 10 x 10 feet, which is standard at most all festivals. Beware: 10 x 10 is not a ton of space, but it works well for simple, small displays.
I was quite proud with how prepared I was for this festival. All of my pieces were priced beforehand and I knew how I wanted to display my work. I think that prepping as much as you can before the event is key to survival because the event day is exhausting. You'll have a much better time if you've got the small stuff done.
Setup was easy and quick, which gave me time to meet my neighbor vendors. I was struck by the sense of community and how welcoming everyone was. They were all very encouraging and supportive for a first-timer, offering me advice and tips they've learned over the years.
Another important element to consider are your expectations. Fortunately, I was told by other potters not to expect great sales at the Lemonade. I tried to focus my energy on marketing, exposure, and meeting new people. In that regard, the festival was a complete success. I had many people drop by my booth and offer glowing compliments on my work—it was quite motivating and encouraging.
Sales were indeed poor. I think most people who attend this festival are looking for lower cost craft items and most—if not all—vendors appeared to be hobbyists rather than serious artists. As I mentioned before, this was something I was told to anticipate, which made that reality easier to bear. This also made the sales I did make all the more exciting. My sales paid for my booth fee plus a little profit.
I also found the social dynamics between vendor and audience to be intriguing as well. There seems to be a game played between them that I'm not at all interested in. Many vendors are hard sellers, which often results in awkward interactions when buyers aren't interested. I could tell that some people were hesitant to look at my work or even enter the booth for fear that that would obligate or pressure them to buy. I hate this. I want people to feel comfortable and only buy my work if they really want/appreciate it. Perhaps this makes me a terrible salesperson, but it's how I would want to be treated if I were a potential buyer. I made a point to give my visitors an easy "out" so-to-speak. During the typical "small talk", you can start to tell when someone wants to leave, which can be awkward for them if they don't wish to purchase anything. I picked up on these ques and would find a way to end the conversation quickly so they could be on their way. I also made a point to tell people how much I appreciated them looking at my work. I would offer them a business card and allow them to continue without any pressure. Perhaps if I become desperate enough I'll evolve into a snake-oil salesman one day.
All told, the festival was a great experience and a chance to get my name out there for the first time. My next show will be at the Buffalo Art Fair in Buffalo, Minnesota, on August 18, 2018, followed by the Carlos Creek Grape Stomp in September! Check my "Events" page for more details and stay tuned!