Art Festivals and Artists: Developing Policies to Enhance the Industry

January 22, 1999
Museum of Contemporary Art
Chicago, Illinois

The first NAIA Board/ Art Festivals Conference convened at 9:30 am on January 22, 1999 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. The theme for the conference was Art Festivals and Artists: Developing Policies to Enhance the Industry. To present a more useful record of the conference, this summary has been organized by topic rather than by the actual sequence of the discussion. Consequently, comments do not always appear in the same order that they were presented. They are cited to identify whether the point was presented by a Director, Artist or both.


NAIA President Larry Oliverson and NAIA Board Chair Bob Briscoe served as co-moderators for the conference. Larry opened the conference with a welcome to everyone: For those of you that are less familiar with the NAIA, one of our primary objectives is to foster excellence in the visual arts. We try to accomplish this by using only positive and constructive means. The fact that you are here today indicates that you share this common goal. It also indicates to us that you are taking a pro-active leadership role and for that we thank you. Id like to clarify from the beginning that we have no intent or desire to homogenize the industry. Actually, we appreciate the diversity that exists from show to show. What we have noticed, however, is that there are characteristics common to successful shows, and there are problems common to many shows. We will address some of these issues today, and, by sharing our ideas and experiences, hope to provide the information necessary to result in improved policies. The format for the conference will be a somewhat informal discussion. We want as much interaction as possible. For us, it is equally important that show directors interact with each other as well as interacting with us. Larrys opening remarks were followed by the introduction of everyone attending te conference.


Larry opened this discussion: NAIA Survey results have indicated that both artists and show directors feel that misrepresentation is a big problem. We have identified three forms of misrepresentation: 1) proxy exhibitors, 2) misrepresentation of the art process, or the originality of the work, and 3) deceptive slides. A lengthy discussion on misrepresentation followed and is summarized below.

Proxy Exhibitors

  • Require a drivers license or photo I-D at artists check-in. (Director)
  • Match the artists signature on the signed prospectus to the artists signature at check-in. (Director)

Create an Atmosphere of Enforcement

  • Create an atmosphere where artists understand that the show officials will enforce their rules. (Director)
  • Be fair to all artists and consistent in interpreting the rules. (Artist)
  • Create a specific committee or staff person to be available to the artists, who aids the show director in handling misrepresentation issues. (Both)


  • If violators are identified, it is more effective for show directors to manage issues of misrepresentation during the show dates when the artists and their artwork are present and available.(Director)
  • When an artist is asked to leave a show due to a rule infraction, it should be done at the conclusion of the show day in order to minimize disruption during show hours. (Director)
  • The penalty for rule violation at one show is ejection and a three-year exclusion from the show. (Director)

Complaints Against Rule-Violators

  • Artists were encouraged to be as specific as possible when reporting violators to show officials. (Director)
  • It is extremely difficult for show directors to investigate vague complaints where specific artists are not named. (Director)
  • Concerns were expressed about anonymous accusations. (Both)
  • Artists are sometimes reluctant to submit signed complaints about their colleagues for fear of being labeled as an informer by show directors or colleagues. One suggestion was to have a complaint box, which would enable artists to report rule violators while maintaining their anonymity. (Artist) Preliminary results of the NAIA artists survey indicate that the majority of artists would be willing to report a violation of show rules to a staff or committee member. (Artist)
  • There should be no retribution for artists who report rule violators. (Both)

Improving Ways to Identify Rule Violators

  • One procedure was suggested to enable officials to deal with artists suspected of operating factories with numerous employees. Officials can follow-up a specific complaint with a telephone call to the American Business Data Service (or similar agency in every state). These services have access to business records, which include the number of employees. (Director)
  • One show utilizes a Viewing Committee of seasoned, experienced people who sit in on the slide jurying, then visit every artists booth on each show day to see if the exhibited work is consistent with the slides. This committee reports any inconsistencies to the show director. (Director)
  • Ensuring that the slide jury is also part of the street jury helps to provide continuity and to identify cases where the exhibited work varies significantly from the jury slides. (Director)
  • The critical importance of having show directors (and their staffs) informed and educated concerning all forms of reproductions (both 2-D and 3-D) was discussed. Reference was made to Dale Rayburns article, Reproductions and Original Prints, Whats the Difference? in the fall, 1998 issue of the NAIA newsletter. (Directors)
  • One show director retained the slides of accepted artists permanently as a visual on-site record of the show each year, and for future reference. (Director)
  • In instances where a show rule must be interpreted, the director should try to evaluate the artists intent. Determine whether the process in question is a means of creative expression or primarily a way to circumvent a show rule. An example: An artist who uses the term hand-embellished reproduction to indicate original art. (Artist)
  • A question was raised: should shows maintain records from year to year regarding previous flagrant rule violators from among their shows past participants? (Artist)
  • It was noted that legal problems exist for show directors to exchange information regarding known, flagrant rule violators. (Both)

The Value of Trained Personnel (Artists) in Identifying Instances of Misrepresentation

  • One important aspect of a peer jury system is that peer jurors can walk the show and utilize their expertise to determine if artists are violating show rules. (Both)
  • An advantage of having artists on the jury panel is to have a knowing eye to spot misrepresentation. (Artist)
  • Local artists can be consulted when questions arise. (Director)


Larry opened this discussion. The prospectus is one fundamental way to establish policies that are simple, reasonable and enforceable while still being fair and respectful. Criteria for the prospectus include:

  • A clear explanation of the jury system and disclosure of all criteria and policies used for acceptance.
  • Carefully worded requirements: display slide; artist information statement; NAIA slide format
  • Specify: Artist present for duration of event; guidelines required for display slide; work must be produced by the exhibiting artist; consequences/ramifications of non-compliance with rules, etc.
  • Refer to the NAIA ideal show prospectus on webpage.

Summary of the Comments from the Discussion regarding the Prospectus

  • Viewing the prospectuses from other shows may help to develop clearer wording of the specific rules. (Both)
  • There is a critical need for show directors to stay current on the terminology to provide greater clarity concerning reproductions, giclees and other digital prints. (Both)
  • A definition was cited for clarification of the term reproduction: If an original exists in another form then that copy is a reproduction. If the work is originated in the computer, and no other original exists, then it belongs in the computer category.(Artist)
  • Shows need to clearly state the ramifications of violating show rules: whether the artist will be asked to leave the show, if the artist can apply to this show in the future, etc. (Both)
  • If a booth slide is required, please state the specifics. (Examples: if indoor booth display is acceptable; if entire booth must be shown), and explain how the booth slide will be evaluated. (Artist)
  • On the prospectus, address the issue of burden of proof. State whether the burden of proof is on the artist in instances of suspected misrepresentation of exhibited work. Also, state whether the show director has the final authority in interpreting a show rule. (Both)


The NAIA Board asked for feedback from show directors concerning the booth slide requirement by asking the following questions:

  • Why does your show reqire a booth slide?
  • Is a booth slide a helpful rule enforcement tool?
  • How do you evaluate the booth slide during the jurying?
  • If you do not require a booth slide for your show, why not?

Summary of director responses to Why does your show require a booth slide?

  • To verify the type and quality of the work shown in the submitted slides.
  • To determine the aesthetic quality of the overall presentation.
  • To show the proportional relationship of works being exhibited (i.e. number of folios for small work; proportion of large and small works to be exhibited)
  • To be used for reference as a visual contract.
  • To help show directors have a better idea of the visual look of their show
  • To help show directors with the show layout.

Summary of director responses to For shows who do not require a booth slide, why not?

  • Booth space was not a standard 10 x 10 configuration.
  • Work submitted in slides must be in direct proportion to the work to be exhibited (example: if a furniture artist also plans to display breadboards, they must be included in the same proportion in the slides). Consequently, these shows may require more than the customary three or four slides so that an accurate representation can be given.

Summary of other comments regarding booth slides:

  • Explain the criteria for evaluating the booth slide to the slide jurors. (Both)
  • Recognize that the quality of the booth structure itself may put beginning artists at a disadvantage. (Artist) Recognize that booth slides can be an additional expense to the artists. Shows arranging for a photographer to be available to take booth slides (optional and at the artists expense) could be helpful. (Both) Stress that artists need to update their booth slides and show current work (Director)
  • Two questions were raised: can indoor booth slides be submitted to outdoor shows? If yes, does this give an unfair advantage to artists who exhibit at indoor shows? (Artist)


Larry opened this discussion. The objectives of the Artist Information Statement are to identify, inform and educate. It should describe succinctly and clearly information about the artists work that might be important to consumers, judges, students, show committees, or other artists. As an educational tool and conversation starter, it should ensure that the viewer understands what is being seen, who made it, and how it was produced. He encouraged shows that want to be known as the leaders in this industry to step to the forefront concerning the Artist Information Statement.

Summary of the discussion regarding the advantages of the Artist Information Statement:

  • The intent of the Artist Information Statement is positive and educational rather than negative or defensive. In the words of one show director, This is a philosophical tenet that we all should embrace as an opportunity to educate. (Director)
  • This statement provides a brief, concise description of each artists work that can be distributed to the media and used for publication. From one show director, We are challenged to interest the media before the show. This statement gives us information to use to develop publicity. (Director)
  • This statement reaffirms to buyers exactly what they are purchasing. (Director)
  • This statement provides a starting point for conversation with the viewing public. (Both)
  • Patrons are assured that they are buying original art. (Director)
  • The statement helps to curb misrepresentation when this information is stated in writing for the public and peers to read. (Both)

Summary of Additional Comments Regarding the Artist Information Statement

  • One benefit expressed to the use of a standardized format for the Artist Information Statement was the consistency and ease in finding specific information from booth to booth. (Director)
  • Standardized format may present certain limitations on an artists personal style. (Artist)
  • Format needs to be clearly defined and consistent among shows. (Artist)
  • For clarity and uniformity, do not include additional biographical information (education, exhibition record, awards etc.) as a part of this statement, but allow such information to be displayed elsewhere in the booth. (Artist)


Dale Rayburn (NAIA board, National Category Advisory Panel) introduced this session. The NAIA is in the process of establishing a National Category Advisory Panel. This panel will be comprised of artists that are experts in their category, are respected by their peers, and have the ability to give fair and impartial advice to shows. These artists will be listed in the NAIA newsletter along with their category and phone number so that art show directors can contact them for advice on any problem that they encounter in connection with that particular category. These national advisors will have back-up delegates, which will also be listed, in case they cannot be reached. Dale noted that shows might also want to develop their own panel of regional category advisors to address their specific concerns.


Several show directors expressed the desire to have an Internet forum so that they could communicate with one another. Michael Hamilton (NAIA board, webmaster) addressed this suggestion and discussed the establishment of a Directors Forum through the NAIA webserver.


Gordon Bruno (NAIA board, professional relations) briefly discussed the possibility of holding town meetings, to be hosted by the NAIA and held on-site at various show locations. This would provide the opportunity for artists to discuss ideas and communicate with an NAIA representative. Several show directors expressed interest in this possibility.


Banister Pope (NAIA board, newsletter editor and former NAIA president) summarized the importance of including artists on the jury panel. The results of the 1998 Artists Survey indicated that 87% of artists want to be evaluated by their peers. He noted that including an artist on the slide jury could be a real asset to help show directors address the issue of fairness and impartiality of their jury selection process. A detailed handout on selecting jurors was available.

The Jurying Process

Several show directors shared their unique slide jurying process. Each show had its own jurying model. A handout compiled by Shary Brown (Executive Director, Ann Arbor Street Art Fair) and David Pinson (Executive Director, Cherry Creek Arts Festival) was distributed. The handout listed the jurying models of seven art festivals from around the country.


Summary of Comments regarding the Jurying Process

  • Each jury panel develops its own dynamic, and the selection process becomes totally objective. (Director)
  • Providing jury scores to unaccepted artists can be valuable. It was noted, however, that many shows do not use a traditional, numerical scoring system. Therefore, a number score might not be meaningful when taken out of context. (Director)
  • Rejections are rejections. nowing a jury score would personally not be helpful. (Artist)
  • When developing a wait-list, establish a clear criteria for the order in which the alternates will be invited. (Artist)
  • If the show director has the final authority on accepted artists, state this in the prospectus. (Artist)


Larry opened this discussion. Our NAIA survey results have shown that 97% of artists want booth fees to be due after notification of acceptance. NAIA artists also support a reasonable refund policy for artists who must cancel a show. He asked for feedback.

Summary of the responses regarding Booth Fees

  • Shows that receive booth fees at a later date may experience cash-flow problems that make it difficult to meet early publication deadlines. (Director)
  • If shows are having a cash-flow problem and cannot wait for booth fees to be mailed after acceptance, they should take out a loan. (Director)
  • Checks could be post-dated to the jurying date. (Director)
  • Even if booth fees are due with the application, shows could wait ten days after notification of acceptance before the checks of the artists are cashed. (Director)

Larry asked the directors to address their refund policy for those artists who must apply to more than one show for the same weekend. Several directors expressed the managerial problems and additional costs involved to contact replacement artists. The time lost in duplicating their procedures was hard to recover. One show director asked how to deal with the actual problem of many artists canceling after the jurying has concluded.

The NAIA board responded with the following suggestions:

  1. Develop a strong wait list
  2. Develop a policy to reinvite a certain percentage of artists from the previous years show
  3. Establish specific dates by which artists must cancel to receive refunds.

Larry added that the NAIA has requested a reasonable refund policy.

Discussion followed concerning a definition of a reasonable deadline for refunds:

  • Six weeks before the show date. (Director)
  • One director restated that cancellations, particularly late cancellations have a real, managerial cost.
  • Another director stated that the shows policy regarding late cancellations was a policy intended to be punitive to the artist. The director expressed a strong obligation to the public to present the artists listed in the program, and felt the artists should adhere to their commitment (exceptions may be granted for emergency situations).

Other comments regarding cancellations

  • For shows with a wait-list, the telephone answering machine system (as used by Coconut Grove) is effective and economical. (Artist)
  • One show discussed a sabbatical system whereby a re-invited artist could defer their re-invitation for one year. (Director) Despite careful planning, there still may be instances when artists cancel a show at the last minute because they truly do not have enough work to offer. Due to the nature of this business, they may have to do this with little advance notice. (Artists)


Banister Pope introduced the session with a challenge to show directors to find creative ways to effectively utilize corporate networking to generate enthusiasm and increase sales.

One way to address the challenge of getting more young professionals interested in, and out to visit and support arts festivals is to fall back on a solid and proven fund-raising principle. The successful response depends on WHO does the asking.

My suggestion for getting those young professionals out of the offices and down to the show is to go directly to their employers. Get out to see the CEO and get their help. It should be remembered though that will you help? is too scary a thing to ask. Most folks in those positions ARE willing to help, especially with a civic event or benefit, but are so careful with their time that an open-ended plea for help puts them off. So the way to go about it is to tell that person what a positive economic and educational impact your event has on the community and how important it is that the professional ranks show their support through their participation and attendance. Ask that he (or she) designate a popular someone in management to help you get the proper crowd out and make a phone call to that person. (Bob, Id like you to assist Ms. Artfair with a project) Youre asking something worthwhile, specific and easy to do, and youll get results.

Whoever it is that is asked or directed by the CEO to help you is likely to be intent on doing a good job. You should meet with that person, discuss objectives and not be afraid to ask how they intend to motivate their workforce. Of course having a few suggestions of your own to offer is pretty important. After youve made comparable contacts among the major employers in town, pick a date and invite all the designated Bobs and Sues to lunch where you treat and they brainstorm and you all agree on what date theyll each let you know what their projected attendance is. Its all pleasant and it works nicely too. Afterwards you of course remember to include those folks in your volunteer appreciation event.

The discussion centered on finding effective methods to attract young professionals to the shows and engage them as art buyers. Several shows offered suggestions and shared examples of their unique marketing strategies:

  • To attract a new level of young professionals, one show is exploring the idea of having an individual professional host an artists booth. By committing a given dollar amount toward the purchase of an art piece, this person would have special access to the artist. (Director)
  • One show uses Art Bucks where the patron pays 90% of the price and a sponsor underwrites the remaining 10%. (Artist)
  • Asking the artists to discount their prices to benefit young professionals may send the undesired message that artists prices are always negotiable and that discounts are always available. If a discount is desired, one option is to select a charity and have 10% of the artists price given to the charity as an artists donation. (Artists)
  • A direct mailing for a champagne evening or a patrons breakfast helps attract patrons. (Both)
  • One shows example: Patrons donate money, and then the juror selects purchase award pieces. The festival retains the rights to the artwork. These works are then displayed in community spaces and public buildings, with proper acknowledgement of the patrons. (Director) Another shows example: An educational program can be designed to develop informed art buyers. A workshop titled Art Collecting 101 is directed by the chief museum curator. A slide of every exhibiting artist is shown, introducing the artwork as well as the materials and processes used in making the actual artwork. (Director)
  • Another example: Specific pieces are selected by the jurors for award consideration. These works are taken into the museum and displayed. Awards are presented, and jurors explain their choices to a group of special patrons. These patrons then have the first opportunity to purchase the award-winning works.

Other comments concerning promotion/publicity

  • Michael Hamilton encouraged show directors to consider using their web site for publicity which could include posing the work of all exhibiting artists. (This may require that exhibiting artists sign a release.)
  • Show directors encouraged artists to submit publicity information and indicate their availability to do interviews with the media.
  • Publicity materials should emphasize the art and the opportunity for the public to buy art.(Artist)


There was a brief discussion concerning the unique problems that can exist with collaborations. Collaborations are intended to be true artistic collaborations rather than business collaborations. The specific nature of the collaboration (the creative contribution of each artist in the collaborative team) should be carefully detailed. Discussion also centered on whether both artists in collaboration must be present during the show. The question was also raised if collaborations can involve more than two artists. It was suggested that a newsletter article about artistic collaborations might be very helpful and pertinent.


Larry briefly mentioned a new mentoring program that pairs college art students with artists for a day during the Winter Park Show. Community education programs, demonstrations for children and adults, were briefly discussed.

Larry Oliverson concluded the conference at 5:00 p.m. and again expressed his appreciation to everyone for attending.

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