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One bad show

It only takes one bad show.

A couple of weeks ago I started a blog post (and, sorry, it’s been a while since I last wrote) that talked about my ups and downs in the art fair biz.  A year ago things were bad enough that I was almost ready to quit.  The summer of 2012 continued a trend of dismal shows where I sold a bunch of fridge magnets and maybe one photo each day. I was barely earning enough to order a pizza after a long show, let alone cover the booth fee. It was discouraging.

Weather didn’t seem to matter. Hot days, cool days, sunny days, and rainy days  — but mostly days with few customers.  Luckily those long days gave me plenty of time to think, to observe my art fair neighbors, chat with customers and would-be customers, and generally to figure things out.  And I did.

Photo of neon sign at Reginal Pizza

This photo of Regina’s Pizza in Boston’s North End has been an unexpected best seller.

I returned to old favorite subject — neon signs — and this time found a winning combination.  My prints on metal were a hit from the get-go, and my season turned around that fall.  The holiday shows went well, and the spring and summer of 2013 even better.  I was on a roll.

Until recently.  Unexpectedly I had a bad show. For the first time in almost a year, I didn’t sell enough to cover the booth fee.  And suddenly all those bad feelings were back.

It’s one thing to have a bad show when you’re doing twenty or thirty shows a year. Then it’s just a blip.  But I participate in maybe a dozen shows in any given year, so every weekend counts.

This was a show that I’ve done for five or six years now, and I’ve always been happy to return. Set-up can be a little tricky and parking is a challenge and I was never quite sure I was connecting with the customers.  But it’s a lovely low-key show in a beautiful park with talented artists and crafters and the early September weather can be beautiful.   (I won’t name the show out of fairness to the organizers. They do a great job and my  experience has nothing to do with the event itself or the people who run it.)

I’ve written before that it’s not always about the money.  And I still believe that.  So I’m trying really hard to set aside the doubts and think about what I can take away from this experience.  And there are a few things.  First, I had some engaging conversations about my project to save memories of the Circle Cinema and to find a new home for its fabulous retro sign. Second, it’s a good thing I listened to the voice inside my head that told me to made some prints of this photo of Regina’s Pizza the night before; reactions to this photo were among the bright spots at the show.

But, finally, I realized than this show just isn’t right for me.  Maybe it’s the setting or the geography or a dynamic harder to define. And plenty of my fellow vendors had very successful days. But something isn’t working for me and there’s no point in hanging onto a show just because I’ve done it before.  Time to reassess and move on.  Better days await.

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