Show Review of the Month Old Florida Celebration of the Arts
April 1-2, 2023; Old Florida Celebration of the Arts, Cedar Key, FL. Contact: Bev Ringenberg, Arts Center Committee, P.O. Box 298, Cedar Key, FL 32625; Phone: 352-543-5400; Email: CedarKeyArtsFestival@gmail.com; Website: CedarKeyArtsFestival.com; Application fee: $25; Space fees: $200 to $400; Space sizes: 10x10 to 10x20; Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday; 100% outdoors; Exhibitors: 80+; Attendance estimate: 16,000; Admission: free.
Cedar Key is a great little town, with lots of old Florida charm. Now in its 59th year, this is a top-notch small-town festival.
There were several campgrounds for RVs. Artist parking was in low-price pay lots or, which was a bonus this year, a new lot that opened up and was free for artists, as well as another a few blocks down. You could also rent a marina spot on 2nd Street, just a block off the festival area, for $50 per night (no slide outs allowed, and spaces were narrow).
Residents of Cedar Key understand how important this festival is to their overall economy and cultural growth and are more than accommodating and friendly. This festival helps fund the Center for the Arts, which is a vital element of the community. There are lots of great locally sourced seafood restaurants, and for vegans, there are lots of options for such a small town. It is a laid-back area (think: island time), so bring a good attitude.
Communication from the Old Florida Celebration of the Arts Committee, which sponsors the show, was above and beyond and handled through email. Completely volunteer-run, they worked tirelessly to keep everything in order during setup, breakdown, and in between.
The emails specifying the load-in times were detailed. You could register beginning at 4-4:30 p.m. but could not unload until 5 p.m. to the curb, and then you were to move your vehicle.
You could set up your tent and display starting at 6 p.m., when all vehicles (belonging to both locals and artists) were off the streets. When set up, life was good. But follow the rules.
Opening time was 10 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. With no admission fee for the festival, attendees were at booths as early as 8 a.m.
There were plenty of breakfast cafes open at 7 a.m., and of course, there was a hospitality area at the Center for the Arts with traditional breakfast goodies and coffee (both days). The Awards Dinner was from 5-6:30 p.m. Saturday, where artists could mix and mingle. With more than $15,000 in prize money, it was exciting to see the winners of the categories.
A youth group sold water for $1 per bottle (artists received tickets for four bottles in their booth packet), and there was a free continental breakfast on Saturday and Sunday. Foot traffic was consistently busy until about 3 p.m. but not enough to jam-pack the streets and make it uncomfortable.
It was perfect Florida festival weather, with highs in the 70s to 80s and lows in the 60s. It was sunny both days, with a slight breeze and just a smidge of overcast skies here and there.
The big issue last year was the change from an against-the-curb layout to a center-of-the-street layout. It was changed back to the curb layout this year, which proved to be much more navigable. You could use awnings, except in the back of the tent due to restrictions enforced by the Cedar Key Fire Department.
Internet access on Cedar Key has always been an issue, especially since the emergence of artists and businesses using Square and other internet-based, point-of-sale devices on an almost exclusive basis. The hotspot I have did not work because it takes two devices to ping off each other to activate (you would have thought I had realized that).
I gave up using an iPad for sales because it was easier to use the phone. Therefore, I did not have an additional device with me.
I am now investing in the Square terminal. It has the capability to use the hotspot as well, and I always have my phone with me.
The show coordinators enhanced the island’s Wi-Fi boosters, which worked perfectly until the volume of internet activity knocked the boosters offline. I’m no IT guru, so my immediate reaction was panic. However, they were fixed after about a half hour of frenzied activity trying to get everything to work, and the rest of the show was incident-free.
Initially, the buyers attending the show seemed slow. Many people walked the whole show first before making decisions on what to buy.
I made record sales on Saturday, from about 11 a.m. until 2:30 p.m., surpassing my entire show earnings from last year in those three-plus hours. My Sunday sales were considerably less but still good enough to put me over $1,000 from last year or the year before.
I spoke with a few artists who were returning exhibitors, and all were pleased, although big-ticket items were not selling as well. One artist I spoke with, who has been returning to the show for a few years, said, “I need to get more lower price point items in stock, because I would have sold all of them.” He said he still did “well enough” to return to the show in 2024.
A jewelry artist who was the recipient of an award was thrilled with her sales. “I’ve done really well at this show. It’s almost like people are deciding that unique jewelry is art and art matters!” she said.
A painter who had several large framed giclees said his prints (unframed) sold very well in all sizes, and he sold “two large originals.”
The buzz on the street was about three artists who packed up Saturday night after making little or no sales on Saturday whatsoever. The rest of us stuck it out, and it proved to be the right decision.
Load-out was the standard “break down your tent, including canopy, and then, when everyone on your block has broken down, you will be allowed to bring your vehicles in.”
It was good on paper. Everyone who could find a spot that did not impede traffic or business parking came in about 3:30 p.m. on Sunday. Many artists rented or brought golf carts to make loading out right at 4 p.m. a little easier — on both traffic and parking — or at least to take personal items or additional inventory (panels, etc.) to their vehicles early.
Personally, I absolutely loved this venue. The volunteers were exceptional in every way.
The sales have been consistently good, and most artists said this year’s sales were surprisingly better than in previous years. It is a gem of a show, for sure.