Art Show - Rough Size Estimate

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Even before you know how big your space is, you can place an upper limit on the size of show you want. This can help determine what space the art show gets.

A larger show offers viewers and buyers a better selection, is a better audience draw, and is just more impressive. But you should never run a show too large for your space, audience, or time and staff. A large badly run show is still impressive, but it’s a negative impression. Better a good small show than a bad big one.

For any given staff, a larger show takes longer to set up and tear down, takes longer to check the artists in and out, and takes longer for people to pick up art. Limit the number of panels/tables to the number you have enough time and staff to handle.

At most shows, artists are concerned about their sales per artist. Having a show too large for your buying audience will convince artists not to return. Sell $5,000 of art at a 10 artist show and the artists will come back next year; sell $5,000 of art at a 100 artist show and they won't [1]. You’d rather start small and grow than start large and have artists write the show off.

For a new show, you can estimate how many panels it can support from the number of people attending (and that's distinct people, not number of gate admissions - and estimate conservatively). It takes more people per panel for larger cons. A rough formula for maximum number of panels/tables is: N * 2.4 / sqrt(N) / ln(N), where N is the number of attendees, or roughly:

People 300 600 1,000 2,000 5,000 10,000 30,000
panels/tables 40 65 90 140 250 380 740

Prestige shows run to larger pieces – if you average fewer pieces per panel you might be able to support 25% more panels. Prestige shows with a good audience of art directors and potential commissions may allow you to add another 25%. This formula gives a rough and fairly conservative estimate. It's a good starting point. If the show does well, perhaps it can grow next year.

For continuing shows, I like sales per panel (4’x4’) to be over $100. For shows that are heavy on prints, I like to sell at least 40% of the pieces in the show. If sales fall much below those numbers, consider a smaller show next year. Shows with lots of originals may sell a lower percentage of pieces - that’s fine if per panel sales are good. Warning - the 40% and $100 are completely arbitrary. Few shows publicize these statistics, so I have no basis for comparison. They’ve worked for me; your mileage may vary.

All the estimates above are for maximum size. There's nothing to keep you from having a smaller show.

Now that you have an estimate for how many panels/tables you want, you need to translate it into room size. The most efficient art show layout I've done fit 104 panels and 13 tables in about 2,300 sq. ft., or 20 sq. ft. per panel/table. Most rooms don't work so neatly. It's more likely to take 25 sq. ft. per panel/table, and awkward rooms could need 30 sq. ft. per panel/table. Multiplying by the number of panels gets you a rough room size. If you want an Artists' Alley in the same room, add about 100 sq. ft. per table. For a Print Shop, add the number of tables/panels it will use (if you don't know, 7% of the art show size is a reasonable guess - less for small shows, more if your show is originals only).

If you put the art show in a smaller room, you'll have to reduce its size. If you have a room larger than your estimate, it's easy to absorb up to 50% extra space without making the show look empty.

This number can help you make decisions about what rooms might work for the Art Show. Once you actually have a room, you'll refine the show size.

  1. * It’s not that simple - sales don't distribute themselves evenly across artists. But having too many artists for the size of your audience will still lose you most of your artists.