Musings from the Moonroom

Thoughts on Art, Inspiration, Creativity and Spirit

Show Economics


Prior to doing a show, we receive lots of well-wishes for a good show, a successful show, a profitable show. After the show, we’re asked how it went, how was attendance, were people buying. In response to these questions, it is important to keep in mind that what may be a fair, good, or great show to one person, may be a bad, poor, or crappy show to another person.

As they say, your mileage may vary.

What makes a good show? For me it is more than just the revenue. That’s not to say that the revenue isn’t important. I’m grateful for every purchase made by a customer and for every name added to my mailing list. Yet, I also like to think about what I learned from a show; about my booth, my sales technique, the conversations I had, the comments that were made, and so on.

Was the Paradise City show a good show? Yes; or as a friend put it “reasonable.” Did I cover my expenses? No, not all of them. Did I make a profit? No; but sales were much better than when I did this same show over Memorial Day weekend, 2007.

Here is how the expenses of this show broke down:

Booth fee: $820.00 for a 10 x 10 space.

Electric: $70.00 for 500 watts

Pipe and drape rental: $92.93 which includes a fourth pipe across the front of the booth for stability.

Lodging for three nights: $333.96 which includes taxes and a hot/cold continental breakfast each day.

Food during the weekend: $44.23

Gas: $36.28

Tolls: $3.00

Grand total: $1,400.40

This does not include the money I spent prior to the show on risers which also double as storage for inventory, the Dynamic Display pedestal, the acrylic frames which hold descriptions of various pieces (and are sometimes sold with the piece of art), or the booth lights.

So if I didn’t make a profit and didn’t cover all my expenses, how can I say that this was a good show?

Because of the people I met and the connections I made.

I met people who giggled when they saw my work. Who “ooh’d” and “ahh’d” when they opened a vessel or held a sculpture or read the story about a piece of work.

I met art teachers and art therapists with whom I shared tips and techniques about polymer clay.

I met an older gentleman who asked me probing and thoughtful questions about my work; its origin, the spiritual basis, the chosen shapes, and the inspiration.

I met other polymer clay artists and enthusiasts.

I met people who bought a piece of my art for a friend battling cancer, for a friend graduating, for a daughter pursuing a degree, for the new house, and for themselves.

I made new customers/collectors and recognized several others who stopped by my booth to say hi. Some brought their friends and would describe to them my work; how boxes opened with quotes inside them.

And I met other wonderful artists who were also selling at this show.

I know it is hard to stay positive when doing a show. You have 150 or 300 artists all competing for the same audience. You see people visiting other artist’s booths and your booth is empty. People may comment that they are “only looking” because they can’t spend the money (really, you don’t need to explain yourself to me; I’m just glad you came.) I had my down moments and would have to psych myself up again.

But one of the reasons I enjoy doing this show is for those connections. When we make and sell our art, we are giving a little piece of ourselves to the buying public. When we make a connection with a customer/collector, we are giving a piece of ourselves to them.

Forgive me if I sound all “pollyannish” but I do believe the attitude we take into a show will be reflected when we’re doing the show. I’ve observed artists who leave their booths for extended periods of time and miss potential sales. I’ve had artists come into my booth (or have been in another artist’s booth) and listened to their complaints. And it can be hard not to join in the complaining.

The Paradise City Arts Festival is not an inexpensive show for an artist and I completely understand each artist’s desire to do his or her best, to meet their expenses, and to make a profit. We all have similar goals. Yet it is important when doing a show to keep in mind not only the monetary economics but the intangible economics as well; the people you meet, the overall environment, and the connections you make.

10 thoughts on “Show Economics

  1. Pingback: Show economics at Polymer Clay Daily

  2. Amy,

    This post should be on the reading list for anyone considering doing shows. You’ve given us a readable, concise and balanced view of what an artist is likely to take home from the experience. Thanks for this!

    at Rings & Things

  3. Hi Amy,
    I enjoyed reading your very honest and heartfelt post. I agree with you in so many ways.

  4. Excellent post, Amy !! I enjoyed reading your very thorough account of the economic and non-economic sides of doing shows….The breakdown of show expenses was a real eye-opener for me. My first reaction was, ” forget shows, this is way beyond what I can afford !!!” On the other hand, I also realize that to make $$$, one must spend $$$, and that business investments always involve risk-taking….As someone who earned a regular, predictable paycheck for 28 years and who now receives a predictable retirement allowance, my experience and ‘comfort level’ in financial risk-taking is virtually nil ! As for the non-monetary aspects, I can appreciate the value of making connections and meeting others who are passionate about making and viewing art. That contact not only feels good, but I believe it is a necessity for keeping the creative fires burning…

  5. Thank you for the thoughtful post. Life, especially for an artist is a journey. The ROI (return of investment) is very important but sometimes the ROI is slightly more intangible than the numbers would suggest.

    Sometimes a show will bring your a contact that gets you a book deal, a gallery showing, or a newspaper spot. Sometimes you learn how other artists are managing to be successful where other’s are not.

    And other times like you said it keeps the creative fires burning!

  6. Thanks for the post. My sister wants to do a local craft show. I worry about covering our expenses. (Which will be considerably less than yours.) You have given us some insights. I dropped by from Polymer Clay Daily by the way.

  7. Your thinking is really sharp here. Not all shows are about money, although as artists, we have to make sure we make enough of that in a season, too. But often shows are about learning, contacts, sharing, helping, and seeing what other people are doing.

    Paradise City (at least for me) was hugely variable, and one of the things I learned there was to not allow anyone who was negative to stay in the booth. Not artists who came to complain, not friends who wanted to whine, and not clients who wanted to criticize.

    They were all nudged out of the booth, so the space where my art was would remain a sacred space, a positive space, and a space of light. If nothing else, when the show closed, I felt positive myself.

  8. Well said! You captured my own thoughts into such eloquent words.

  9. Amy…Like Rebecca, I think your post was very eloquent, and I really appreciated what you had to say. While I haven’t done many shows with my PC, I have done many over the years in other fields, and your words ring so true with me. Thanks for sharing…

  10. Hi Everyone,

    This post has generated quite a bit of interest and I thank all of you for sharing your comments.


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