Year in Review: A Look at Attendance, Sales, Lessons
November 2021, by By Angie Landsverk
As promoters and organizers throughout the country brought their in-person art festivals back in 2021, they often found themselves creating new layouts and adding extra space between booths due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In many cases, this resulted in a decrease in the number of exhibitors when compared to previous years. “We changed the field format to allow for social distancing and thereby decreased the number of artists by about 12%,” said Anne Curran of Armonk Outdoor Art Show.
When the Greater Augusta Arts Council held ArtsCity in September, it increased the spacing between booths and only lined the center of the street rather than both sides to increase pedestrian opportunities for distancing while walking.
“We only invited artists who would have been in our 2020 show, had it not been canceled,” said Pax Bobrow. “Of those 140 artists, about 80 were able to come, and that worked out perfectly for the distancing plan.”
Sometimes, there were other reasons why not as many artists exhibited at art shows this year.
“The COVID-19 issue is still with us. We attract vendors from 25 states and traveling can be tough,” said Debora Boelz of Little Falls Arts & Crafts Fair in Minnesota. “A few mentioned not being able to obtain materials as we are a handcrafted event.”
Sarah Moore said attendance was up at this year’s 4 Bridges Art Festival. The Association for Visual Arts held the event last April, in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Boelz said attendance was also higher at Little Falls Arts & Craft Fair, which was held in September.
Events Management Group scheduled three shows this year and was able to hold all of them. Denise Wynn said they had to postpone the spring show to the end of June.
While that meant it was no longer a “spring” show, she said the timing could not have been better. Virginia’s governor relaxed capacity limits at venues one week prior to the show.
Wynn said that helped get their customer numbers up. “Additionally, we had a great response from the tourism traffic in Virginia Beach that we had not advertised to before, so all in all, it was a very nice turn of events for us,” she said.
Pat Parnow said attendance was up at this year’s Loring Park Art Festival, in Minneapolis, and that the “show was busy from opening on Saturday to closing on Sunday.” She described the buyers as enthusiastic and said artists reported record sales.
Other organizers said attendance was down this year compared to 2019.
Judi Combs of Thunderbird Artists & Arizona Fine Art EXPO was one of them. She said five of the six shows they scheduled for 2021 were held, but there was a decrease in the number of exhibitors and attendance was down.
Hot Works, LLC Fine Art & Fine Craft Shows held 11 of the 12 shows it scheduled this year, and attendance was down at most of them. Patty Narozny said Boca Raton was the only show canceled. That was the end of January. They booked a new location in Sarasota, Florida.
“We added shows and planned them in seven days to seven weeks to create jobs for the artists and give them shows to do as major events canceled across the country. Now more than ever we know the importance of art shows and patron relationships that build at shows — something virtual cannot replace,” she said.
Combs said that while traffic for the Thunderbird Artists Fine Art & Wine Festivals was down, sales were great. “For our 10-week show, Arizona Fine Art EXPO, in Scottsdale, the traffic was down, but we had the absolute best year of sales since we opened 17 years ago,” she said.
Boelz said, “Our shoppers came to spend money and spend they did. Out of the 506 vendors, I would guess that 95% had exceeded their sales with many selling out.”
The 4 Bridges Art Festival took place last spring after the initial wave of excitement about vaccines, Moore said. “People were ready to be out and with each other, doing something together, and spending money! Many of our artists reported outstanding sales or even their best show sales ever. I saw so many pieces walk out the doors of our pavilion with happy customers,” she said.
Show goers were there to buy, said one promoter. “Literally, only four to five artists told me they'd done anything less than spectacular sales. A few returning artists had their best sales ever with us,” Bobrow said.
Wynn said there was not an increase over 2019 but buying was strong, with artists happy when they packed up. “There was great enthusiasm in our normal customer base, and many thanked us for producing the show,” she said.
Lessons of the Past Year
“Communication was everything! Staying in close touch with our artists as we rode the COVID-19 roller coaster for a year meant that my relationships with them strengthened, and they knew just what we were working on and where our heads were, and there weren't any (well, not many!) unpleasant surprises,” Moore said.
Bobrow said, “Fewer booths and giving the downtown businesses space on the sidewalk across from our artists to sell, too, made for a really happy feeling everywhere. Absence made our attendees' and downtown businesses' hearts fonder. Everyone was joyful to have you back.”
Parnow said they distanced the booths to be 10 feet apart in most cases and changed Loring Park Art Festival’s layout to do so. “We plan to keep and refine that layout, as it gave more exhibit space and a much easier set up and take down,” she said.