This past weekend I participated in the Ocean City Boardwalk Art Show for the first time. I don't usually travel that far for shows but I had heard from another fine artist that it was a good one, and I also had a gallery show last year at the Ocean City Arts Center that was pretty successful. I like to try at least one new show a year, because you never know, it might end up being something amazing. And it's always good to expose your work to new people. Sometimes I do the same shows over and over and I see the same people repeatedly. It's great to hear from people that they bought something from me last year and they still love it, but they are unlikely to buy something new! Unfortunately art isn't something that needs to be bought repeatedly like shampoo or something.
Ocean City is about 1.5 to 2 hours from where I live, depending on traffic. Too far to drive back and forth every day. I was surprised by how expensive hotels are there during the summer, so I ended up finding a really nice Airbnb cottage in nearby Somers Point.
The location was great- right on the boardwalk, with plenty of space on either side, so I could hang work on the outer walls. I love when that happens! We got so lucky with the weather too- it wasn't too hot and it didn't rain at all. I'm not a huge beach person- the idea of just sitting there in a huge crowd for hours and hours is not at all appealing (not to mention that I don't tan, I burn, and there is a lot of skin cancer in my family). But I did enjoy walking along the beach and looking for seashells to make into jewelry.
The really unfortunate thing is that my sales were bad. Like really, really bad. We were there on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Friday and Sunday were merely mediocre sales days, but on Saturday I sold nothing but two decoupaged porcelain boxes that I had marked down to $5 each because I just wanted to get rid of them. I did manage to at least cover the table fee and the cottage, but it was close. Ideally, the point is not to merely cover expenses, but to actually make money. At some point I decided to call it a mini-vacation with maybe selling a little art.
In these situations I never blame the show or the organizers, unless there is something obviously amiss with how the show is set up, run, or promoted. That was definitely not the case here. Everything was organized and promoted perfectly, and it's a well-established show. I think it was just that people who are at the beach aren't really there to buy or even look at art. I figured this might be a factor, but was also hoping it wouldn't be that bad. I've found that shows where the main focus is anything other than art (food, beer, music) tend to be less successful. It's ok if shows include things like food, beer, and music, but I'm most successful if people are primarily there to actually look at/buy art.
It can get a bit annoying to watch thousands of people walk by and not even bother to look in your tent, but it's also important not to take it too personally. I made a little Venn diagram that basically sums up the situation, which obviously has nothing to do with whether my art is good or whatever:
I think there's also something about the type of work and the location. My work is definitely not "beachy," which I was hoping would work in my favor as it would be something different to look at. But I assumed that a lot of people would even look at all- probably because I personally would be thrilled to have something novel to look at if I was at the beach for any length of time. That'll teach me to project my personal preferences onto others. I'd guess that artists who have a more traditional beach style may have done better- like if you make watercolors of the boardwalk, people are more likely to buy that as a souvenir that some random weird collage thing.
As always, I really appreciated the people who did stop and look and talk to me and even buy something. Several people told me that they liked my art the best of everything there, which was cool to hear. Whenever I have an unsuccessful show, it's all to easy to get discouraged and stuck in a negative thought spiral of "why do I even bother? etc. etc." It's been a rough time this year. I haven't had any shows that were really great. Most have been merely ok. I've talked to other artists, and it's not just me. A lot of people haven't had a very good show season. There are always ups and downs, but this year seems to be fairly consistently a down year. I'm tempted to blame general political uncertainty- who wants to spend money on art when you're not sure what is going to happen to your health insurance?
It can be hard to tell if a show is not worth doing again, or if it's just the general situation. I was really hoping the Ocean City one would be amazingly lucrative, because in the end I did enjoy being there for the weekend. But I guess it's just not my scene.