Art Show - Budget Estimate

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This is a joint effort between you and the convention's treasurer (or CFO or budget planner, etc.) You both need to plan how much money you'll have available and when you'll have/need it.

Most cons don’t charge the cost of function space (or other operating expenses) back to the art show. If they do, you can budget the show to break even or make a profit. When they don’t, you have to guess how much profit the art show needs to make to cover those costs. The treasurer and hotel liaison should jointly be able to make a reasonable estimate of what those costs are.

You won't see payments to artists in the following analysis, nor payments from buyers. If the art show sells $10,000 of art and pays $9,000 of it back to the artists, that's just treated here as $1,000 of income from commission. That's not how the treasurer will report it, but for budgeting it's easier to treat it that way. It’s not your money – you’re just forwarding it. It won't affect your net income.


Art show income consists of panel/table fees and commission, plus per piece fees, mail-in fees, and memberships if applicable (here, per piece hanging fees will be lumped in with panel fees. They're similar, except that per piece fees vary more). For a continuing show at an annual fixed convention, you should have a fair idea of how many panels you’ll sell, and how much commission you’ll make. A show selling 100 panels (not counting comped panels) at $10 per panel, charging 10% commission, and selling $10,000 of art will take in $2,000. You'll seldom hear a con suggest that they wanted less income, so I'll ignore that part of budgeting except to say that it may be forced on you by outside factors such as changing hotels.

You have three ways to adjust this figure:

  • You can increase the size of the show - sell more (or fewer) panels
  • You can sell more (or less) art
  • You can increase (or decrease) your fees.

For continuing shows, you should know about how many panels you can sell, and how much art. For new shows, it’s better to estimate low. Too much money is easier to deal with than too little.

The easiest and most predictable way to increase art show revenue is to increase the size of the show. To do this, you should:

  • have good sales per panel and sell-through
  • have enough space (or be able to increase it with no proportionate increase in cost)
  • currently be selling out
  • have enough staff to run the larger show
  • not exceed the size of show the con can support

As side effects you may get some decrease in per-panel sales and sell-through plus increased total sales. Adding 10% more panels probably won't decrease per-panel sales or sell-through more than a percent or two. It will increase sales and gross revenue nearly 10% (depending which artists you pick up). Adding 50% more panels might decrease per-panel sales and sell-through by 15% while adding 30% to sales and about 40% to gross revenue (30% extra sales plus 50% more in fees - assuming you're making about the same amount from each. See Art Show - Rough Size Estimate and Art Show - Refine Budget and Set Fees ).

You can still try to increase sales even if you can't increase the size of the show This is less certain, but there are many things that might help. Longer hours (especially opening before or closing after the Dealer's Room) often helps and usually costs no money. Changing the type of art allowed in the show might help (e.g., if you're an "orginals only" show with no Print Shop, adding one or allowing prints might boost sales). Changing your sales methods (e.g., adding Quick Sale if you don't use it, or changing your auction) might help. Perhaps the most effective method is to select which artists you give space to. Saying "Nobody who sells less than $80 per panel can return next year" will probably increase your sales. It will also upset rejected artists, get you called "mercenary", deprive your show of art you might want (many attendees enjoy seeing pieces they can't afford), make it harder to acquire new artists and yield a more homogenous and commercial show. That's a lot of negatives and sales is seldom the sole purpose of the show - but it probably will increase sales.

You can increase your fees or commission rate. While always possible, it usually has many side effects and may not be a good idea. See Art Show - Refine Budget and Set Fees ). Done badly it can decrease your revenue rather than increase it, especially in succeeding years. A rough guideline is that your combined fees and commission shouldn't exceed 25% of sales (add the fee per panel to the commission on your average sales per panel. That's the show's take per panel. Divide by sales per panel to get the percentage).


In addition to raising revenue, you can decrease expenses. This can be hard because the major expense - the function space - usually isn't very flexible, while the second largest - convention overheead - may be beyond your control.

Common expenses for an art show are (costs are per hundred panels):

Likely expenses per 100 panels and tables:

Expense likely $ amount description
Function space 300 - 3,000 Cost of function space for the art show. May include cost of phone line or power feeds.
Con overhead 100 - 1,000 Art Show's share of cost for advertising, badges, Con Suite, credit card slider and account,etc.
Truck rental 0 - 150 Art Show's share of rented truck(s)
Credit card fees 0 - 150 Art Show's share of Credit Card Fees
Bad checks / Verisign 0 - 200 Bad Check collection Costs (Some cons get Insurance Policies for this)
Printing 10 - 100 Forms, signs, letters, bid sheets, panel labels (duplicating costs more)
Mailing 10 - 50 Sending forms, invitations, bid sheets or bar codes, checks
Supplies 20 - 100 package tape, office supplies, hanging hardware, bags, packing material
Ribbons / awards 0 - 100 Award ribbons (or other awards) and artist Badge Ribbons
lighting and panel replacement 30 - 200 Replacing damaged parts, burned out bulbs, etc.
artist reception 20 - 600 Expensive if hotel food.

(amounts as of 2005)

If the convention does not carry liability insurance, you should consider buying insurance and counting it as an art show expense. (see Insurance , Art Show - Policies )

There's a lot of variation in all these amounts. Some, such as hotel costs, are largely fixed. Others, such as ribbons and awards, can easily be cut if you decide you want to.

Some of these expenses, such as printing and mailing, occur before any art show revenue comes in. Panel fees should start arriving before most other expenditures. Then you'll have high income and expenses at the end of the con. If the art show has a separate account, you need to be aware of the timing so your account doesn't run short. If this is the con treasurer's responsibility, you will still need to inform her of when these cash flows occur.

As opposed to sales commission, which arrives at the end of the show, panel fees have the advantages of arriving before the convention and being predictable (see Art Show - Refine Budget and Set Fees ). Your treasurer will probably like that.