The Other Art Fair impression



I’ve had a lot of people ask me about my experience a The Other Art Fair in Brooklyn, NY last month and i figured I’d go ahead and put up a blog post about it.

What most artists seem to be most curious about is if I think it was worth the expense. In a word, yes. But let’s break down what those expenses were.

This was a four day art fair in New York City, and I am an artist living and with a studio in Lowell, MA, so I had to get myself and my work to and from the city. I also had to put a roof over my head at night while I was there. I’m lucky on both counts. I bought a compact cargo van recently which I used to transport myself and 20 medium to large scale paintings to and from the city. I also know a lot of people in NYC these days and some very generous folks let me stay in their apartment while they were on vacation. So with those costs basically out of the way, the remaining expenditures were mostly:

  • Fair participation fee: $2155.73 (including tax) for 20 linear feet of booth space. There was the option to get 16 linear feet for about $1500, but I figured if I was going to devote the time and energy into doing this thing right the extra money would be well worth the larger presence at the fair and I think this was the correct move.
  • A professional assistant: $400; $20 an hour for 20 hours. I had never done a fair like this before and I wanted some help. My assistant was another artist who lives in NY and who has experience working at some big name art fairs. She was instrumental in teaching me about how to approach potential buyers and having her there meant that I could also take off during the fair and hit the galleries.
  • Event insurance: about $197.30. This was required by the fair.
  • Extra fee to have an electrical drop in my booth: $75. I didn’t end up even using it.
  • Parking: $64. I found a spot near the Expo center using Spot Hero. This was great, except that I wasn’t able to access the van once I parked it until I picked it up, so I couldn’t use it as storage for extra paintings.
  • Gas: about $50. The van gets about 25 mpg. It’s about 440 miles to NYC and back. Gas was about $2.50 / gallon.
  • A cheap hotel in Stamford, CT the night before and night after: about $150. Because I wanted to get to the fair at 9am the day we were installing and didn’t want to have to start driving at 4am, and because I knew loading up at the end would probably go late and didn’t want to have to be driving home until the wee hours.
  • Transportation in NYC: about $50. I took the subway a lot, and I took an Uber once.
  • So my total expense was about $3150.
    I took in $3961.00 I had $4660 in sales and the fair took 15%. Yes, even though they charge you to participate, they do still take a commision.

    So that’s about $800 profit. Not what you might call a living wage, but much better than other fairs I’ve done around Boston where there is someone selling jewellery in the $10 – $50 price range two booth down and where I have historically had no success selling large paintings for thousands of dollars.

    There are additional benefits as well. I always like to go to New York, and it was my first time showing my work in that very important city. I took the opportunity to check out the Whitney, where they had a very interesting exhibition of work by Laura Owens, whom I had not previously known of but whose work I liked very much. I also went to several galleries in Chelsea. Being in the fair gave me a great reason to strike up conversations with gallerists I would otherwise probably be too shy to talk to. It was great to be able to say to them, “Have you been to The Other Art Fair this weekend yet?” as a conversation opener. I got to meet a lot of world class artists whom I hope to meet again, perhaps at future fairs, and I had a lot of good conversations with potential future collectors and collaborators.

    I also learned a few things about what to do and what not to do and I think that I will be better positioned to do even better at my next fair. A few lessons learned include:

  • Don’t overhang. The number one comment I received from people during the fair was that my space seemed overcrowded and my work really wanted more space to breath. Next time I would spend more time curating a smaller collection of work to show, and figure out a way to have access to a stock of replenishments (patrons get to walk away with your work once they have paid).
  • Don’t bring a big table. I brought an 8′ long folding table which I had a collection of books of small work, my business cards, a mailing list signup, and my CV on. This acted as a barrier to a lot of viewers, who felt shy about going behind the table to get a closer look at the work hanging on the wall. It was also too much stuff. I’m currently in the process of picking work out of those books (curate, curate, curate) and mounting them on archival foam core so they can be displayed in a rack. A small table or stand is good, but just bring something that is big enough to hold your business cards and a mailing list signup, and maybe a CV.
  • Don’t bring chairs. You won’t use them.
  • Be sure to eat! Don’t expect there to be food at the venue, and don’t assume that just because you aren’t hungry when the fair starts at 10am that you won’t be starving by the time it ends at 6pm. You won’t be having great interactions with potential collector if all you can think about is where to get a slice of pizza.
  • Probably the most important thing I learned is that it is very very important to seem professional. The DIY look isn’t cute. Hand-written signage takes the potential collector out of the realm of luxury where it makes sense to drop a few thousand dollars on a piece by an artist with zero history on the secondary market. Everything needs to be polished.

    Overall, I’d count this fair as a success. So much so that I’ve already applied to participate in The Other Art Fair Los Angeles edition in March. Transportation and accommodation will be more of an issue, but I feel up to the challenge.

    That’s about it. If you have any other questions feel free to drop a comment below.

    2 thoughts on “The Other Art Fair impression

    1. Thanks for sharing you experience!
      Did you have to negotiate your prices at all with customers?
      I’m hoping to show at the TOAF in Los Angeles at the end of the year.

      1. For the most part people did not try to negotiate for lower prices, but it does happen. I don’t mind this if it comes from a place of love for the artwork and making an economic stretch to be able to afford it. I’m hoping to be at the fair in LA later this year as well! I hope we both get in and hope to meet you there!

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