The Perfect Fair

Brian J. Sullivan

Eight hours previously I had drifted off to sleep. I awoke in the early morning hours to the sound of birds chirping and smell of dew covered grass. A mischievous grin made its way across my face. I had been dreaming again.

Yesterday around mid-morning, I had arrived at another art fair. I followed the detailed arrival instructions sent out in my artist pack to locate the artist check-in area (which was clearly marked with brightly colored flags and banners). I was greeted by a friendly fair volunteer, who warmly greeted me and welcomed me to her city. I felt so special. She directed me to the correct registration table where I again was welcomed and given my artist check-in packet. Check-in went smoothly and was well organized. I was told about the artist only bathrooms, air conditioned break room, and the special artist food line.

I was guided to my booth space and pulled up directly behind it. Each booth space was clearly marked with ample storage behind it. My neighbors on each side of me introduced themselves and asked if I needed any help in setting up. I declined their offer, being used to years of unassisted setups.

It was a beautiful summer day with a slight cooling breeze blowing off the lake. Large white clouds drifted gently across the deep blue sky. "Hello, my name is Mandy," said a person wearing some sort of official badge."I am the section chairperson for this area of the fair. Welcome to our fair." I shook Mandy's extended hand and asked her about any suggestions for parking once I was finished unloading. She smiled, leaned close to me and whispered into my ear, "You're new, I meaning you were never here before right?" I blushed and confessed my ignorance. "We provide secure, artist only parking in the lot across the street," she said. I must have looked like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming truck. It took a few moments to register. "You mean you are providing parking in a major downtown metropolis? How much is this going to cost me?" I asked. "No, it's free to the artists, and you can come and go as many times as you like. If there is anything else during the fair I can help you with, please ask. We are here to make your experience as enjoyable and stress free as possible."  Mandy said she would check in on me periodically throughout the day. She also mentioned that the volunteers would be around throughout the day with cold water and snacks.

Each booth space was on level ground with ample space around each tent to give an uncluttered feeling. A wide center isle separated one row of tents from another. I finished my usual setup and sat down for a moment. I felt good; no, I felt wonderful! In over 25 years of doing art fairs I could not recall a more pleasant and well organized fair. It was almost invigorating.

I drove to my hotel which the fair committee had arranged (deep discount for the artist) and went to the restaurant to have dinner. I should have asked Mandy if she would have liked to join me, but I had not, so I dined alone.

The next day was a fury of activity as fellow artisans unzipped their tents and revealed their wares. At 11:08 am I met the first of three show judges—Paul Morgan. He introduced himself and asked me questions about my work and technique. He took time to study several pieces. He thanked me for participating in the show and wished me well in my future endeavors. As the day proceeded I met each of the other judges and was impressed with their  professionalism and the respect they had shown to me.

The crowds had started out heavy and continued throughout the day. As promised, the water/refreshment volunteers had come around several times throughout the day. It was a welcome relief. At my chosen 2:15pm time slot, a volunteer booth sitter showed up. She asked about my work and how the fair was going. I told her I felt bad about taking a lunch break since the public was in such a good buying mood. She assured me that she could handle any sales if that was what I wanted. I said that was OK with me and left for lunch.

As I walked to the artist only break area, I observed some of the other artists' booths. This was one high caliber show, and I felt honored to be chosen to exhibit. I also felt a deep sense of responsibility and duty to my fellow artists to exemplify the level of quality.

The clean bathrooms and air-conditioned area away from the public commotion was a welcome relief and very refreshing. When I arrived back at my booth, I observed my booth sitter actively engaged with several interested parties. She was wrapping, then bagging one of my pieces (maybe she was Mandy's sister).

The fair closed for the day, and I went out to dinner with several fellow artists (Mandy had previous commitments or else she said she would have joined us).

The next day was the awards breakfast and open forum meeting. While I did not win any of the awards, I still felt the judges were fair and impartial and that they had taken the time to honestly look at each booth. The breakfast was excellent with hot entrées served buffet style. At the breakfast meeting, the fair director again thanked all the artists for participating and for the level of excellence each had portrayed; she announced the awards and then opened the meeting up for comments and criticism. She stated that her goal was to improve upon each year's fair. A few comments were made and the meeting closed with a standing ovation for the fair director and all her hard working staff. I had tears in my eyes.

By now the sounds of the city coming to life were drowning out the songs of the birds. I awoke from my dream, thinking what it could be like. The mischievous grin had left my face. Mandy would not be over for dinner.

Send your comments or fair experiences to Brian J. Sullivan, 1514 Grandview Dr. #9, Champaign, IL 61820, or email him at