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March 20-22, Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival, Winter Park, FL

March 20-22, Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival, Winter Park. Contact: Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival, PO Box 597, Winter Park, FL 32790. Phone: 407-672-6390. E-mail: wpsaf@yahoo.com. Web site: www.wpsaf.org. Application fee: $30 (through Zapplication). Space fee: $475. Space size: 10x12. 100% outdoors. Exhibitors: 226.

By Cameron Meier
SA Editor

Many exhibitors and patrons regard this show as the mostly highly attended, best-quality and best-selling art show in this part of the state, and in its fiftieth year, the festival did nothing to change that reputation. Five-digit sales were possible, if not plentiful, at this year's event, while some artists, especially a few non-functional or avant-garde ones, left disappointed, which has been the case at many shows this year.

Most exhibitors I spoke to were impressed with the good organization, the $67,500 in award money and the huge attendance, which can easily surpass 100,000. A sculptor said the show was OK for him and he made back his expenses "and then some," but he sold mostly small pieces. A popular clay artist was too busy to even talk to me on Sunday, and many of his pieces were conspicuously absent - already snatched up by buyers.

"This show has been really good for me," said a photographer who called the festival his best Florida show of the year and said he sold more here than at Jupiter's Art Fest by the Sea, St. Stephen's Art & Craft Show in Coconut Grove and the Las Olas Art Fair, Part II, in Fort Lauderdale. He said his sales didn't fall into the "huge numbers" that some exhibitors have claimed here in the past, but he was still OK with his total.

On the other end of the scale was a surreal sculptor who has recently started offering a cheaper ($300) line of work to cope with the bad economy. But even after adding the less expensive line of work, the artist said, "I haven't sold anything yet. It's been pretty bad." He said his whole year had been down.

The warm, dry weather was great for attendance, but it created a bit of a dust problem. The show lays out mulch in certain areas of Central Park, and it works pretty well in wet weather. But when it's dry and windy, artists should keep a rag handy to wipe down their work. That's true mostly for exhibitors on the paths that connect the street exhibitors with those on the north-south path near the railroad tracks. Unfortunately, exhibitors on those east-west connecting paths also had to contend with fewer exhibitors, as traffic was much heavier in other areas. But that is often the case here, considering the park's meandering layout. It's not a huge problem, especially since the show now features fewer exhibitors than in the past, but it's definitely something to consider when requesting a booth location.

SA's Donna Wilson exhibited at this year's show and complimented sales and the artist dinner. "The director of the show came around personally and shook your hand, introduced herself and stated she was glad to have us," Wilson said. On the downside, she said, "It started to drizzle exactly at 5:01 p.m. [on Sunday] and proceeded to rain until about 6:30. If you chose to break down, you got wet."

The only organizational criticism I heard was that, because so many of the details of the show are handled by Zapplication (even the space assignments), it can be tough to reach a committee member by telephone. You can send them an e-mail, but if you call, you often get a message.

The show featured 14 mediums, and all artists were listed in a lovely, free 96-page brochure that contained a detailed map of the show site. Artists were divided relatively fairly between clay, digital, drawings & graphics, fiber, glass, jewelry, leather, metal, mixed media, painting, photography, sculpture, watercolor, wood and four "emerging artists."

Despite the aforementioned sales complaints of some exhibitors, most seemed to agree with Wilson, who summed up her experience in the following way: "We were honored to be surrounded by such great work and would return in a heartbeat."