The Highs and Lows of Art Fairs

Storm Example- MN

The summer season has begun.

Every year it’s an unknown fate. As the art show acceptances roll in, and my schedule becomes clear, I wonder how each show will be, months in advance. A myriad of questions start to fill my brain.

The biggest unknown – will I have to endure less than perfect weather?

Since I currently only exhibit in festivals in the Chicago area due to time constraints, having a family I prefer not to cart around the country, and frankly space in my small-but-amazing-storage-space car, I have to deal with…dreaded Chicago weather. If you haven’t visited the Chicago area, you may not know that the weather is fickle and not really tied to seasonal expectations!

I have had the honor of setting up at two shows so far this summer, with the next one coming up this weekend (see my upcoming shows). The first, in Elmhurst, had decent weather – cool, some clouds, but no rain or wind. At least, until the stroke of closing the show on Sunday. Then, the skies opened up. I packed up in pouring rain, and definitely looked as if I had been dunked in Lake Michigan by the time I was driving away, soaking wet canopy dripping in the back of my car.

The second…well…

I had a last minute acceptance for the Deerfield Festival of Fine Arts, May 30-31. After getting the offer, I checked the weather forecast. Unclear – some chances of rain, maybe lower temperatures. A toss up. After consulting with some friends and family, I decided to try it – a well respected, well juried art fair with a promoter I would like to work with…I didn’t want to pass on a new experience.  I accepted the spot, and crossed my fingers.

I should have crossed fingers on both hands. And toes. And anything else I could cross.

Setting up on Friday night gave me hope. Temperatures were pleasant. Rain was forecast but did not appear. We set up in record time and were able to return home for a decent night’s sleep.

I awoke to rain. I actually was not worried about rain, as I recently upgraded my canopy tent to a solid steel framed one that stays dry as a bone. So, I packed some lunch and a thermos of tea, and headed out.

Things started well enough. We arrived early, and began setting up my work. And then…

10am. Opening of the show. Clouds roll in. Temperature drops 20-30 degrees in five minutes. In moments, I’m adding layers and clutching my hot tea in my hands. I was relieved that I packed some light gloves. In near June.

The wind picks up. Shoppers are there, but not many. People stopping to chat, then getting cold.

The wind picks up.

I notice another artist’s booth across the way is packing up, sealing off their tent, and leaving. It doesn’t have enough weights to keep it down. It starts hopping around in the wind gusts. Another artist and I call a volunteer’s attention to it; a crew comes and drops the legs so the tent, although still constructed, is only 3-4 feet high. It continues to shift.

Other booths are shifting and shaking in the wind.

1:30. The promoter stops by, going booth to booth. “We are leaving it up to the artists, but if you would like to close up for today, there are some 40mph wind gusts coming with the rain.”

We decide to pack up for the day. As we start, we notice MY booth start to shudder in the wind coming in the entrance, blowing my display around a bit. I drop all four walls, zip it shut, lower the tent to its lowest setting I can,  take a deep breath, and depart. As I look back, I see yet another tent near me jump in the wind. But I am hopeful and head home.

The wind picks up.

5:30. I am home. I am trying to relax about the weather, but monitoring it from a distance. An artist friend calls me. Her booth was not far from mine, and she decided to pack up entirely based on the overnight forecast. She tells me that a booth has flipped completely, crashing into my back corner and knocking my entire booth forward. The promoter is there to help artists with their tents and to contact people whose booths are not faring well. My friend sends me some pictures of the damage:

Flipped Tent

The flipped tent leaning on mine, launched from booth 307.

I head out to Deerfield on my own. When I arrive, the wind is buffeting my car, but I’m luckily able to pull right up to my tent. The collision moved my tent about 4 feet and it is tilted at an alarming angle.

Front Tent Damage

This tent is not going to stay up.

I duck inside. Luckily, my display is mostly intact, so after viewing the structural damage, I start to pack up alongside a few other artists who have also decided to clear out before the weather deteriorates further.

Deerfield Inside Damage

Some of the damage inside.

Other tents are shaking and trembling in the wind – some severely, some less so. Quite a few are damaged. Some have already been removed. Each time I enter the tent to remove more items, the wind gusts cause an inadvertent yelp from me – the tent seems to want to take me down with it. As quickly as I can, I remove everything to pack up, outside, exposed to the rain. Then, I tackle taking the tent down, with difficulty. But I finish.

The car is soaked, as am I. I struggle against the wind to close the back hatch. As I do, I start hearing the dreaded crash of breaking glass and ceramics, and know that other artists are losing their work. It’s a heartbreaking sound.

I drive away in the storm, with the heat on. I don’t deal with the car until the next day.

My takeaway from this long tale – I enjoy art shows. I love being able to show my work. I am so happy when a piece finds its wearer, and a patron is thrilled to find something new. But no one can control the weather.

This weekend? Rain predicted. It can always change though.

Hopefully not to high winds.

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