This Is the Life

Imagine it’s 3 a.m. The sun won’t be up for a few hours, but your day has already started and will last well past when the sun goes down again. You start setting up, using the street lights to guide you. You can hear the sounds of the others around you, but it’s not until the sun breaks the horizon that you can see them: two neat rows of tents line the street as artists like yourself display their unique wares just right for the crowds that will later fill the vacuum between the tents. You are one of the thousands of people who make a living by traveling to art festivals around the country. You are an artist, a business owner and a sales person as the situation requires—and, as you head off for a quick bite before the early birds start arriving, you can just tell that today is going to be a good day.

How It All Began

Art festivals in their current form are a rather modern idea. While festivals themselves have been around for thousands of years, they often focused on music, sports or celebrations—where items to buy were part of the fun but not the main attraction. It took the combination of many factors over multiple years to create the environment that was needed for an art festival to be successful—for example, the creation of a craft industry in the 1940s made art supplies available on a larger scale; the evolution of the individual—any individual—as being able to determine what makes art “art” sparked variety and made it acceptable to look for art outside the confines of a collector or gallery; modern transportation made it feasible for artists to travel to festivals country-wide to garner a larger customer base; and an increase in the average person’s discretionary income produced an unparalleled audience for unique art.

Most festivals started on a local scale and many still are local-centric; but as art festivals became more popular, national associations were formed with the mission of organizing and orchestrating art festivals nationwide. Today, hundreds of cities around the country host art festivals and give people the opportunity to be immersed in a variety of art and culture that rivals the largest museums in the world—usually with the added bonus of some pretty amazing food.

Know the Lingo

As the festival industry has grown, it has also evolved, sometimes to the confusion of festival goers. There are now art festivals, art fairs, arts and crafts festivals, craft fairs and more—and each has a slightly different focus.

Art Festivals: Art festivals are generally free to the public, take place outdoors and require artists to pay a fee to participate, often in the form of “rent” for the space in which they’ll showcase their items. Art festivals are also characterized by the extras—food stands, music and performances are a few of the added allures.

Art Fairs: As opposed to most art festivals, art fairs generally require paid admission. They also take place indoors, showing are in succession, not separated according to, or accompanied by, the artists. Often the art has been pre-selected by a committee.

Craft Fairs: Unlike art fairs and festivals, which focus on art such as paintings, drawings, sculptures and the like, craft fairs focus on handmade items such as clothing, jewelry, lawn and house décor, furniture and more. Although they are called fairs, craft fairs have an environment much more similar to art festivals than to art fairs. They usually occur outdoors or in open-market arenas, artists pay a fee to include their pieces, and there are often food and entertainment.

Arts and Crafts Festivals: As its name suggests, an arts and crafts festival is a combination of an arts festival and a craft fair; these are often an “anything-goes” type affair where if you made it, you can try to sell it. Depending on the size of the festival, organizers often require interested sellers to send in pictures or samples of their work to ensure that a certain standard of quality is adhered to for the benefit of festival goers.

What really makes these terms complicated is that they are not always used correctly or consistently—for example, lots of art festivals will also include jewelry, but will not include any other types of crafts. However, these guideline definitions should be able to tip you off as to what you can most likely expect at any given affair.

Florida Art Fests

For those of us who live in Florida, there are plenty of opportunities to participate in art festivals—as exhibitors or consumers. Florida is host to some of the best art festivals in the country and can boast being one of the states with the most. Practically every weekend from September through June contains a festival and many weekends have two or three. From the top-ten-best-in-the-country Coconut Grove Arts Festival to the ArtsQuest Fine Arts Festival in Seaside, Florida’s festivals bring together the perfect combination of uniquely local and stellar national exhibitors to offer visitors paintings, drawings, sculptures, glass works and more that are nothing less than best in class.

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