Monday, May 10, 2010

10 questions for artists to ask event organisers

You've been invited to participate in an event - exhibition or fair - which aims to have artists with stands dis playing their work.  What are the questions you need to ask yourself before making a financial and contractual commitment to take a stand?

Here's my suggested checklist.  My comments are based on
  • lengthy experience of what's involved with organising major events and how long it takes / how much it involves and what it takes to make events a success
  • real life examples of shows which friends of mine and I have experienced.  Some might call them 'horror stories'!
1.  Does the event have a history?A long standing event has a committed following of people who will turn out every year. 
A brand new event has to build all that from scratch - so needs to have:
  • a very persuasive pitch in the first year to get off the ground with exhibitors
  • lots of contacts with people who can generate visitors
Be suspicious if an event lacks detail and/or fails to persuade effectively
2.  Who's organising the event?An event which is organised by people who know how to do it properly can be a real pleasure to attend.  By way of contrast, events organised by amateurs can be a total nightmare for all concerned
An event which is being organised by people with no track record always triggers alarm bells for me.  Organising major events is something some people spend their whole lives doing.  They have very complicated logistics and there are all sorts of rules and regulations which they need to comply with.  Large events do not tend to be something which amateurs do well.  Check out the name of the organisation and their background details.  Check out whether they are who they say they are

3.  Does it have any sponsors?Major names sponsoring an event always brings a degree of comfort to portential exhibitors
The absence of sponsors for brand new events can mean that it could have organisers who don't understand how to organise events - and very probably don't have the bank balance either
4.  What names are being quoted as having signed up to have a stand?Experienced organisers will always indicate who has signed up in advance.  That's partly because they're signing up people for stands in the following year while this year's event is on the ground.  That means they start to pitch to new people having banked a 'list' of regulars exhibitors who have already nabbed all the prime sites!
New organisers often have nobody signed up when they start to pitch
Beware the event which indicates that a list of exihibitors will be published later/nearer the date of the event.  That means there are no or very few pre-sales prior to pitching to new exhibitors
5. How is the event being marketed?What does it say about the target audience - and are they likely to be people who will be interested in your art or particular genre? 
Does the organisation have a trade pack/information which indicates how the event will be marketed to its target audience - in the long, medium and short term?
Professionals know they must attract the right people for the event to be a success and to get repeat business the next year.  They also know that you need to build awareness and then convert interest into actual attendance - and they also know how to do this
Amateurs don't have clue about who to market to, how to reach them and how to persuade people that this is an event which will bring benefits.  If they can't provide any details they probably haven't even given it a thought as yet!
6.  Check the share price of the organisation organising the event.Share prices are very good indicators of how robust an organisation is.  Even long-running events can run into financial trouble - and if investors get any whiff of this you can be certain it'll get reflected in the share price
  • Be very wary of giving money to an organisation which does not appear to be in the best of financial health. 
  • Never give an organisation money you can't afford to lose
7.  What sort of stand is on offer?Is the event indoor or outdoor? Are the stands a flexible size?  Do you have the kit to make the most of the stands of offer?  Do you have to rent the stand kit from the event organiser or can you bring your own?
8.  What rates are being offered?It's always good to know how rates for stands compare between different events.
Always check to see if there is a discount for booking in advance.  Don't forget the opportunity cost of capital if you pay a long time in advance
9.  What's the total cost of the package?Professionals provide you with a form which enables you to itemise all the expenses you'll be incurring
Amateurs keep informing you about costs as you go - it can get quite shocking when you realise you're going to lose a lot of money to pull out and spend a lot of money to carry on
Don't forget you'll always be incurring costs which are nothing to with the event organiser and these also need to be factored in
10.  Is there a detailed timetable of what happens when - between now and the date of the event?People who plan events for a living can tell you exactly what happens when - because they've had it all planned out for the last two years!
Amateurs very often don't have a clue and very often don't schedule requirements for an event in the right order - or at all.

There's obviously a lot more questions which you can ask.

Do you have any extra questions you ask yourself which you think should be included in a checklist?


  1. How many visitors are expected? The difference between 4000 and 40,000 visitors would surely impact sales?

    Great list - I've been considering exhibiting at fairs for the first time this year; I was surprised at how much it would cost when I added everything in.

    Do you have any advice on how to prepare for an event?

  2. I've done many fairs, so here's my 2 cents:

    Is the event juried? If it isn't you'll be attempting to sell original art amongst very inexpensive items that are imported or made from kits. Furthermore the kind of clientele who buy original art probably won't show up.

    What priority is the art in their promotions? Is it secondary to other attractions, such as music?

    What season is best for art fairs where you live? Where I am it's spring and fall. Also, remember that Christmas time, people are going to be buying gifts, not necessarily adding to their own art collections.

    Best thing to do is go to a fair and check it out, talk to the artists there and see if you want to do it the following year. Then you will be jurying the event yourself; you can see the quality of the art and how everything is set up. You can also learn a lot about how organized a fair is by attending their event.

    When you go to an event, how many people to do see walking around carrying purchases?

    If I were doing fairs again (I consider myself retired from them) I would start with one of the smaller ones, in a small town. Yes, it's very expensive, there is a big overhead. Indoor events are nice because you don't have to have a pop-up.

  3. Ditto what HJ and Theresa posted. I'd also ask what types of work are allowed, particularly if reproductions are allowed, and if there is an expected price range to work. Those are more personal questions - I generally prefer shows that are juried, don't allow reproduction prints, and have a mid to higher expected price range. But the answers would be relevent to people looking for the opposite answers. You'd hate to show up at a fair with your browser of giclees and then be told you can't have them out!

    Advertising/marketing is often my main question. The fairs that don't work are usually the ones that answer that they are advertising in all the art magazines with no mention of other press or local collaborations. There are few collector-aimed art magazines, so this implies artist-aimed magazines. Make sure the marketing plan is to potential *buyers*, not potential stallholders and artists.

    As a side note, a lot of these questions and points are relevent to choosing art websites to exhibit or sell on too!


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