February 1, 2011
By: Emma Gerard
Drawing on my experience in art shows over the past few years, I have compiled the following guide to compare the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition (TOAE), and the One of a Kind Show (OOAK) in Toronto.
When you first start participating in art shows, there is a lot of stress of the unknown. Things like booth design, what to expect on setup day, and even the application process, can be overwhelming. My hope is that this guide will serve as a reference for emerging artists as they familiarize themselves with the professional art world.
TOAE: Applications open mid December and close March 1. The date you apply has no bearing on the success of your application, but it will dictate your preference when selecting a booth location. TOAE does not have a waiting list and they do not accept late applications.
Notification of acceptance arrives end of April/early May, which leaves roughly two months to prepare for the show. This lack of preparation time, I would say, is the most frustrating part of the show.
OOAK: The deadline for the Christmas show is around the end of March (this year it’s March 25 for the first round of jurying). However, unlike TOAE, they continue to accept applications past the deadline.
OOAK gives exhibitors a re-sign form at the show, which allows you to sign another contract to come back again the next year, without needing to submit an application year after year. This guarantees your size of booth as well. Tip: five foot depths are highly coveted, as are corner booths.
Notification for OOAK depends on which deadline you apply for (they have many; check their website for more details, but they generally give you a lot of time to prepare for the show. When I applied for the Christmas show (March deadline) I was notified at the beginning of June, which gave me five months of preparation time.
Again, unlike TOAE, OOAK has a priority waiting list, which means that even if you are not accepted, there is still a chance to participate.
Something to consider: the exclusivity clause. This clause in the contract means that for 30 days before and 30 days after the show, you cannot exhibit your work in any other show within a 50 km radius. A few exceptions apply (ie. one day shows with fewer than 40 vendors), but they are pretty strict about it.
TOAE: The best word to describe setup at TOAE is: chaos. There are 400 artists converging on Nathan Phillips Square at the same time. You are given 4.5 hours to setup, regardless of weather conditions. Since you may not be able to park to unload your display near your booth location, bring a dolly and someone to help you. Keep in mind that cube vans are not allowed in the underground parking garage, so plan accordingly. If you plan to park underground during setup, don’t rely on the elevators working; you may end up taking the stairs.
OOAK: Even though there are 800 vendors participating in the show, there is enough space and enough time that it is never chaotic. There are two days for setup rather than a only few hours, and there are several options when it comes to bringing your work into the Direct Energy Centre.
TOAE: The most important thing about your display for TOAE is that it needs to be easy to transport and set up since you have to do it quickly – and sometimes in the pouring rain. Almost all of the booth spaces are 10’ x 10’ and most people just buy or rent a 10’ x 10’ tent. My advice: if you plan on doing more than two outdoor shows, invest in your own tent. For the cost of renting a tent two or three times you could have your own.
OOAK: Lighting is the most important part of your booth at One of a Kind. You want your booth to be bright to draw visitors in. Signage is also important; you want people to know who you are — especially so they can find you again in the sea of 800 vendors.
It’s important that your booth look full, but not cluttered. This is why storage is also important to consider when designing a booth.
Theft is the sad reality of any art show, especially if you have small work. Make sure you can see what is happening in your booth at all times.
Both shows have security, but in different capacities. Since TOAE is outside, they have security guards who monitor the grounds. It is strongly recommended — and in your best interest — to take your work with you each night.
At OOAK, they lock up the hall and have security monitoring it. Some jewellery makers still bring all of their work home with them, but security in the hall is quite good. However, you should stick around for a few minutes after closing to allow any customers to depart who may still be in the hall.
TOAE: Even though the cost of participating has gone up by $50 this year, it still pales in comparison to OOAK. All things considered, it is still a fantastic price — especially when you factor in the price-to-attendance ratio at many other outdoor shows. The show is well-attended and well-advertised and worth every penny. Go to the TOAE website for pricing details.
OOAK: There are many different pricing options for booths at this show. Most people have a full booth for the full (11 days) duration of the show. I found the full booth to be really beneficial. It was great to have the added space that I didn’t have in Rising Stars section. More area to display work means more exposure, which ultimately leads to more sales. You can also choose to participate in half of the duration of the show, which does save you a bit of money. A new initiative this Christmas is the Share a Booth program where two artists can share a 10 x 10 space.
Rising Stars is an open-concept, emerging-artist section that allows you to rent space by the square foot. You can only be a Rising Star once at Christmas, and once at Spring, then you must commit to a full booth and it is highly competitive to get into, but a great way to test the market.
A new option for this year’s Spring show is the Craft Community of Canada Section, where art organizations sponsor the booth of an emerging artist, The Glass Art Association of Canada is one of the sponsoring organizations. Applications are closed for this year, but next Spring’s application information should be available over the summer.
Some of the additional costs, above and beyond just the booth price, include: electricity, phone line, internet, carpet rental, lighting rental, and parking passes.
OOAK has a New Artisan Scholarship Fund, as well as a New Artisan Travel fund to help offset the costs.
For residents of Ontario, the Ontario Arts Council has a fantastic Exhibition Assistance program that has helped me a lot for the OOAK show.
At the Show
TOAE: No admission charge means lots of visitors to TOAE. People who visit, generally have a great appreciation for art and all things handmade and are very enthusiastic. Gallery owners visit TOAE to find new work and to network with artists they represent.
Tip: bring a notebook for a mailing list and bring lots of business cards! It’s easy to go through 1,000 cards at this show.
Conversely, no admission price also means that you can meet quite the cast of characters at the show. The likelihood that you will run into the woman predicting the apocalypse or the man in the petticoat is pretty high.
OOAK: They charge admission to come to the show, but there are still thousands of visitors each year. The crowds at the show can be overwhelming, especially on the weekends.
Eleven days is a long time, especially when those days are eleven hours long. The day opens at 10 am, which means fighting rush hour traffic in the mornings.
It’s critical to have people help work your both during the show, to prevent burnout. You will be there for lunch and dinner, so plan your meals ahead of time to make sure you are eating well during the show. Make a pot of chilli, or soup beforehand and bring it with you. There are fridges and microwaves in the exhibitor’s lounge. Bringing food comes with the added bonus of saving some money, as food options at the show are rather expensive especially for the portions you receive.
TOAE: Optional, but not necessary depending on your price-point. Most visitors bring cash to outdoor shows and there are ATMs closeby; but, there is the potential to miss out on a few sales if you don’t have a credit card machine. Patrons are more forgiving with students, but once you are a full time artist people expect you will accept credit cards.
OOAK: You will lose a lot of sales if you don’t accept credit cards at this show. Fortunately, one of the services offered by the Direct Energy Centre is the rental of a debit machine, where you can sign up to use it for the length of the show or opt for a longer term vendor’s agreement
TOAE: Weather seems to make or break this show, but the weather can affect more than just attendance. Wind is your biggest enemy on the Square. You must make sure you have weights for your tent, since you are not allowed to use spikes on city property. Ideas for weights include: sandbags, concrete blocks, PVC piping or old paint cans filled with cement, or large water jugs. If you are concerned about your artwork moving in the wind, use museum gel or a similar product to keep your work firmly in place.
Sun and extreme heat can also be a problem; make sure you stay hydrated. Bring a cooler filled with cold drinking water. Wear a hat and sunscreen and try and stay in the shade as much as possible.
OOAK: Weather affects this indoor show more than you might think. At the past Christmas show, we had surprisingly low attendance on the first day because the weather was rainy and miserable. Likewise, the weather on the weekend of the Spring show was beautiful, and people spent that time outside in the sunshine rather than at the show.
TOAE: Teardown for TOAE is as chaotic as setup. Furthermore, this is when exhibitors seem to stop being considerate to one another. They park on the street before teardown even begins, often leaving others around them miffed. There is not much you can do except relax, take your time, and know this process will take longer than expected.
OOAK: You can use a loading dock, or drive into the adjacent hall, but first you need to have your entire booth packed up and someone from the show must verify this and give you a pass to what they call the Marshalling Yard. Getting to the Yard can take a very long time. Once you get there, you will be given another pass, allowing you to use to the loading docks or to drive into the building. This system may seem chaotic, but it provides a great system that avoids people from pulling their vehicle forward before they are ready to load (unlike the TOAE).
Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition:
In the fall of 2010, a number of GAAC members who exhibited at TOAE sent us their tips. Read the article Outdoor Art Shows: Advice from Artists.
Phone (416) 408 – 2754
One of a Kind:
Manager of Exhibitor Relations & Recruitment
Telephone: 416 960 4511
Manager-Bilingual Exhibitor Relations & Recruitment
Telephone: 416 960 4514