A Case for Indoor Art Shows (Rant Warning)

20150523_133720Hail piling up next to my booth at the Downtown Denver Arts Festival

20150523_133551One of the few brave (foolish?) souls who came out to the show

A picture is worth a thousand words, but in case these two photos don’t get the point across, let me add a few actual words.

These photos were taken early on in rainy Denver this last weekend, before water started collecting in three or four inch deep pools among the booths, before the mud got so sloppy I got splatters up past my knees just walking to my booth. We set up in the rain, took down in the rain, and dealt with rain more often than not in the time in between. It felt like Woodstock without the rock and roll and LSD to make it all seem just part of the fun–not to mention there probably wasn’t even one percent of the half-million folks who showed up at Woodstock.

Sales were of course as dismal as the weather. This is why I’d prefer to do indoor art shows, if there were any. My sales for the weekend were about 10% of what I can expect at a good summer show, and many artists around me did not sell anything at all all weekend. Being smarter than the artists, the buying crowds were just not there.

Ten percent of most artist’s sales a any given show is not enough to cover the booth fee, much less travel, hotel, and food costs. I’m told indoor art shows would typically come with higher booth fees but paying a certain amount more with a better guarantee of a crowd would seem to make sense in the long run. The loses an artist sustains at even one show due to really bad weather would offset higher booth fees at shows for a whole season.

When I bring up the idea of indoor art shows rather than outdoor ones during the summer, promoters and even other artists always mention the same point–there’s just a special ambiance and excitement about an outdoor art show that is  missing in indoor shows. But what kind of desirable ambiance includes mud, rain, hail, thunder and lightning? The ambiance was certainly lacking this weekend when I found myself wondering, not particularly theoretically, if an artist was standing in the middle of their metal-framed booth in rubber soled shoes not touching anything, would lightning hitting their booth travel down the metal frame to the ground leaving them safe inside? The answer, I’m certain is no, and hell-no if you happen to be standing an inch or two of water on soggy ground.

Think about the advisability of an oil-painter, sculptor, photographer or other artist laboring long hours in the studio deciding to set up an outdoor booth in Tornado Alley where on a bad weekend they stand a decent chance of losing all their work? Yet there are many art shows in Tornado Alley every spring. I used to participate in some myself until I gained a modicum of wisdom and decided to stay out west.

This weekend in Denver made me realize it’s probably better to be a farmer than an artist at an outdoor art show. Farmers are also very much at the mercy of the weather, but at least they can get crop insurance to cover potential loses.

End of rant. I feel better already. 🙂

9 thoughts on “A Case for Indoor Art Shows (Rant Warning)”

  1. I’m sorry to hear things worked out this way for you Larry. I totally see your point. So much time, work and money all for nothing. The Colorado weather does not make me feel very good about my upcoming vacation. Trail Ridge Road is still closed and my friends are telling me to bring a raft. I leave in two weeks and things don’t look good. Hope things work out better for you in upcoming shows.

  2. I share your sentiment regarding outdoor art shows. I have only set up at a handful of regional events, but that was enough for me.

  3. Oh, my! Sorry the weather was so terrible. Sounds like it was even worse than the early May four inch snow in Kansas City a couple of years ago. Denver held such promise for being a prime show. Oddly, as we were being drenched in rain here, I imagined you were having a wonderful weekend. There must have been several artists envious of your 10%. Let’s hear it for indoor art shows!

  4. My sympathies…both for the weather & loss of sales, not to mention all the people who did not get to enjoy your great work in person. Wishing a dry, sunny, calm weekend for your next show this season!

    1. Thanks everyone for your condolences. I did brush over the fact that I had a good time chatting with my fellow artists all weekend and visiting with my cousin who I was staying with, so it was not a totally wasted weekend. But heck, I could have done that without going to all the trouble of setting up a booth and sitting in the rain. Bruce, I hope the weather clears before your vacation, but a raft might not be a bad idea! And be ready for detours. On my way home across Wyoming yesterday a landslide on the highway forced me to take a three hour, two hundred mile detour! Oh and to top it all off, I backed into one of the other artist’s vans Sunday morning–banged up his bumper. My head is sore from beating it against the wall for that dumb maneuver!

  5. Sorry Larry, I was watching the weather from Ireland. We had 5 partly sunny (10-60%) days with no rain in the 14 I was there. I was expecting that and the most I was out in nasty conditions was like an hour. Michele said that she only had like 3 days during that time when it didn’t rain including your time in Denver. It’s been mostly sunny since you left and I saw the big mountains today. They had more snow than they’ve had all year. California, Phoenix and Las Vegas can say thanks. Given the number of outdoor festivals we have, you’d think that large pavilions such as riding arenas over at the National Western complex would be utilized. They run shuttles from just off the Lodo/Coors field area which gives folks a nice walking venue if they want to before or after going to an event. The same sort of deal could be set up in the interior space at Bronco stadium and nearby Pepsi center with it’s close access to the S. Platte river trails system.

    1. Steve, as I was driving home I was wondering if the Emerald Isle of Ireland could possibly be any greener than Northern Colorado and Wyoming. It was greener than I ever remember seeing it and there was water everywhere–kind of odd to see big areas of sagebrush standing in a couple inches of water. The weather wasn’t done with me on the way home as a water-soaked landslide in Wind River Canyon blocked the road, forcing me to take a three hour 200+ mile detour back east through Casper to get home.

      I like your ideas for art show venues. If you ever become a promoter I’ll sign up for your show!

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