ArtExpo New York, Art Expo Toronto, West Coast Art Frame Show Tradeshow Outlook

ArtExpo New York always has success stories, even from its 2010 experience. Exhibiting at tradeshows is a gamble for emerging artists… Nevertheless, there are always those artists who … get the career boost they were hoping to find there.

If you think things are rough in your business, you should be happy you are not in the fine art tradeshow business.

Perhaps you noticed earlier this year the ArtExpo Chicago show changed venues to become the ArtExpo Los Angeles show. Unfortunately for the show organizers, the LA show was canceled. The news came on the heels of the announcement that the Decor Expo Atlanta show had also been canceled.

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While the Decor Expo Atlanta show cancellation was a not wholly unexpected outcome, it remains a travesty that a show with a stellar 30-year history cannot sustain itself. As I said in my post titled Decor Expo 2010 Canceled, it primarily was due to a lack  of exhibitor support. These days, everyone is looking for a sure thing to protect their investment.

Art tradeshow exhibitors are keeping their power dry

No one should blame exhibitors for their lack of support. Although the saying about the powder comes from our pioneer days, it applies here just as well. That is, don’t use your scarce resources when you can wait for a better opportunity. The cost to mount a successful and properly displayed exhibitor experience is usually the single highest marketing budget item for art marketers. Buyers and exhibitors ultimately vote with their wallets when they are asked to cast a ballot about the future of a show.

Exhibitors are not the bad guys here. They are making tough business decisions under very trying circumstances. I believe virtually all who had a hand in helping the Atlanta Decor Expo show grow into the tremendous it became would be eager to exhibit there under better circumstances.

Another fearless tradeshow prognostication comes true

In that same post on the Decor Expo Atlanta cancellation, I stated that the history of unsuccessful shows in Southern California gave a strong impression the the ArtExpo Los Angeles show was probably going to be a dud if it came together at all. As we know now, that was an accurate prediction as the show never got off the ground.

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I do not take any pleasure from pointing out the negative probabilities on tradeshows. I’ve been a cheerleader for ArtExpo New York, the Atlanta Decor Expo and even the ill-fated Las Vegas ArtExpo. I backed those shows because I love it when tradeshows succeed, and those shows had or have history and potential. Fine art tradeshows are the harbinger for the health of the entire industry. When tradeshows flourish, so does the whole industry.

The failure of these shows to sustain speaks volumes about the business model so many have reliably used for decades to get their work to market. Basically, the model is a broken shell of what once was a magnificent success to marvel at. Unfortunately, just as with Humpty Dumpty in the ageless children’s rhyme, we are not likely to put the tradeshow back together again. One only need to look around and you will find artists and publishers eagerly scrambling to find new and different opportunities to replace the fading marketing stalwarts.

Exhibitors are the lifeblood of any show. It is their commitments and advance payments that allow shows to succeed. More than any other factor, what makes a show successful over time is the word-of-mouth promotion that comes from happy results from both exhibitors and buyers.

2011 Fine Art Tradeshow Schedule

The potential exhibitors at both these shows have shown they are not willing to gamble on them for now. I take that to be the foreseeable future as well. This leaves few tradeshow choices for artists seeking to find new sources of trade buyers to pick up their work. The best prospects for most artists are these shows:

The Tradeshow Outlook

There is nothing new here for anyone paying attention. The trend for some time has been art tradeshows carry less importance in the overall marketing mix than in any time in decades. I don’t see anything on the horizon that would re-energize these shows and start them back on the path to the heights of their glory years.

ArtExpo New York – Once upon a time, there were many in the industry who believed ArtExpo New York was sort of like General Motors, i.e., it was too big and too important to fail. While this proved true for GM when the government bailed it out only to see it emerge profitably enough from bankruptcy to repay taxpayers for the bail out. The same is not true of Art Expo New York.

ArtExpo may not be the sure thing it once was, but it still produces winners

The show suffered years of investment company ownership with decisions that put the show on a slippery slope towards decline. Meanwhile the entire industry was under siege by a barrage of game changing factor beyond its control. Such things as changing consumer buying habits, big box retailing, a flood of cheap Chinese oil paintings and the incredible rise of e-commerce and quick adoption of it by wholesale and consumer buyers to make the Internet their primary vehicle for finding information led to a never-seen-before drastic decline in the reliance on trade magazines and tradeshows.

It shares it downgraded Pier 94 home with very good company

What was once a show so big it was unfathomable it would ever fail now measures its survival rate on a year-to-year basis. Sadly, ArtExpo New York had to move its location from the Jacob Javits Center showcase to Pier 94 on the Hudson, a definitive downgrade in ambiance. Still, it’s in good company there having followed the Architectural Digest show there this year. That AD used the facility provided insights into how the entire art and home furnishings industries have fared recently.

I remain cautiously positive and hopeful for ArtExpo New York’s long term outlook. For should it stumble, it will put a further hurt on an art market that has not been completely healthy for some years. However, it’s not all gloom. You can still find examples of artists in the fine art print market who are growing and sustaining their businesses. When you do, you will find they have found ways to reinvent what they are doing and have learned not to rely on ArtExpo to put them over the hump each year.

A Print-on-demand (POD) Gambit Comes to ArtExpo

This year, for the first time artists are being offered a chance to send up to three originals to the show in advance. Each piece will have a curatorial quality high-resolution scan to make a digital file for it. The artist or publisher will receive a free giclee print of each piece and be able to sell additional pices print-on-demand at the show.

This value added service for artists at the show will be quite interesting to see how it plays out. Will buyers embrace POD and place orders? Will the printer be able to work remotely and under pressure and deliver the work to the satisfaction of the artists and buyers? I love the idea as I think it advances the whole concept of how POD has the potential to create more sales than ever for artists and publishers who fully embrace what it offers.

I have said for a long time that it is a shame the industry does not take more advantage of POD to satisfy a buyer’s wishes. Give them whatever ever size they want and whatever substrate they want. As consumers in the 21st Century, we have come to expect that merchants fully use technology to make us happy. Giving me a 16″ x 20″ instead of forcing a 30″ x 40″ is going to entice me to buy more. Let’s hope this is the start of something big.

The WCAF Show Las Vegas -This show is primarily supported and successful due to its picture framing component. Indeed, it is more a tradeshow and conference for picture framing retailers than art retailers. But, due to the dearth of other options and an exhibitor friendly management style, it garners a decent share of art publishing companies. You won’t find many self-published artists there.

The outlook for it looks good for the future, even if somewhat diminished by extenuating circumstances. It maintains a solid core of art publishers who come back year-after-year. As evidenced by the troubles of the the Atlanta show, it is easy to surmise there is perceived value from the exhibitors. Even for a chance to come to Vegas, they are not going to put their money down on a show with no prospects.

Toronto Art Expo – this show has been around for some time. But, it’s been in the shadows of ArtExpo and other shows. Admittedly, I know the least about this show. I have never attended and did not even know it existed until a couple of years ago.

What’s interesting about the show is that Art Business News magazine is the official publication of the show. Some of the folks formerly involved with ArtExpo and still connected to the magazine are repping the show. These affiliations can only help this show grow in awareness and exhibitor and buyer interest.

The show’s size is a drawback for bringing in international buyers

The show’s website mentions it has 200 exhibitors. This makes it pretty small by comparison to ArtExpo in its heyday. It could be the way fine art tradeshows go these days. Lean and mean. I mention this show as a tradeshow, but it is accurate to describe it as a consumer show with a tradeshow component.

To some degree, that description would also describe ArtExpo New York. The big difference to my eye is that ArtExpo puts more importance on its tradeshow component. And, for many years, there were exhibitors who worked the show even though they did not sell retail out of respect to their wholesale buyers. While you still find some of that these days, it is far less prevalent than in the past. For most exhibitors, it is not financially prudent to pass on retail sales, which can greatly help alleviate the cost of doing the show.

The other drawback for the Toronto Art Expo is the location

Pictures of the venue look spectacular, like a smaller version of the magnificent Javits Center. And Toronto is one of my favorite cities anywhere. It has a unique cosmopolitan feel not found in any city in the U.S. I would personally travel there anytime to enjoy the city. Even with all that, will all due respect, Toronto is not New York.

A big part of the allure of ArtExpo New York is due to being located in Manhattan. Anyone who underestimates the value of that location is mistaken. Besides being in the U.S., which means travel is easier for the biggest portion of the North America buyer population, New York is a destination like no other.

With a relatively small number of exhibitors, international travel requirements for many buyers, the show faces tough marketing challenges. Those challenges are not helped by show dates in April. There is no history of any big shows sustaining themselves with April dates.

For the right artist or publisher, Toronto Art Expo could be fabulous

As I said above, Art Expo New York has success stories from its 2010 experience. Exhibiting at tradeshows has always been a bit of a gamble, especially for emerging artists without a following and a big list they can market to. Nevertheless, there are always those artists who show up with just the right look and kismet occurs. That is, they get the career boost they were hoping for.

Undoubtedly, there will be such stories coming out of the 2011 Toronto Art Expo show. If you can get in and you exhibit there, you might be one of them. My standard advice for first-time exhibitors is to ratchet down their eagerness and make plans to attend and walk a show the first time.

While this advice is hard to follow when the jet burners are fired on getting the career launched. However, in today’s economic climate, it remains the conservative approach. If what you are doing is any good, in 5 or 10 years it will not matter whether you got started in 2011 or 2012. The same is true of the show. If it is worthy of your exhibiting dollars in 2011, it will be in 2012, too.

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Barney Davey

I help artists and photographers find buyers, sell more art and operate profitably.

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