A few more First Friday thoughts, this time with numbers

So, since I have to make a decision by Friday about whether I want to show at the April 2nd Phoestival (If not paid at least a week prior to First Friday, the price per space doubles from $50 to $100), I took some time out yesterday and ran some numbers. Looked at my bookkeeping software, manually added up some numbers, just roughly. Here are a few of them:

I’ve participated (as a vendor) during the First Fridays Art Walk Roosevelt Row Street Closure (now known as Phoestival in Roosevelt Row) 21 times. Six in 2008, all 12 months in 2009, and all three so far this year. In 2008 I paid $35/month for a space. In 2009 I paid $385 for the full year (~$32/mo). For 2010 the price of a single space increased to $50 per month, with no ability to (or price break from) paying for multiple months in advance. I have had other expenses, including things like building my two portable gallery walls, putting gas in my (borrowed from dad) generator until I bought a battery-based power solution, buying & replacing lights… buying replacement parts for the couple of times my walls were broken in strong winds… paying for an account & equipment to be able to take credit cards at the event… et cetera. Since I started participating in May 2008, my total expenses (including the $745 for 1 space per month) have been about $1759. That’s about $84/month, overall.

Then there’s income. For convenience, on three occasions I had made sales online (usually via Twitter) and the art actually changed hands at the art walk, but I am not including those three transactions in the figures below, as they would certainly have occurred without my participation in the art walk. I have included sales which were a direct result of the art walk (ie: a followup email/call about something seen at the art walk, which resulted in a sale), even if they were completed elsewhere.

In the first three months I participated, May ’08 through July ’08, I earned $19. Total. So I took a couple months off. Sales were better when I returned in Oct ’08, and were generally good through about May ’09. For that 8-month period I averaged about $131 in sales per month. My highest sales month was March ’09, in which I made $297 between art walk sales and art walk followups. Then sales went into a slump.

In the last ten months, from June ’09 through March ’10, I averaged about $35 in sales per month. I only made $50 or more in 3 of those 10 months. In an equal number of them I earned $15 or less ($0 in January). Compared to the new minimum cost of $50/month, this is not sustainable.

Buoyed by the 4 or 5 good months between Oct ’08 & May ’09, my net income from the art walks is generally positive. Net, I lost less than $19 for 2008, then earned roughly $147 in 2009 & $11 so far in 2010. That’s $140 total, less than $7/month. But it’s also positive… generally. So it’s not (yet) an actual money-losing proposition to participate, which is better than I’d expected before sitting down to look up the numbers. Plus, big expenses like building the portable walls are already paid for, so (theoretically) the ongoing expenses will be closer to the $50/month now charged for the space.

So what I have to decide is why I’m doing the art walk. If it’s to make money, that’s clearly a failure. I barely break even. If it’s merely to show off my art, I suppose that’s working out okay – tens of thousands of people walk by my art every month, and will do so for as long as I participate. If the purpose is primarily to show my art, I need to decide how much I’m willing to pay for that privilege – if it’s as much or more as it would cost (in money and in time) for me to participate in a “proper” gallery, either one where wall space is rented to artists, or a co-op like eye lounge, then I need to consider those alternatives as well. If my participation has something to do with community… a community I don’t live in, don’t work in, and only physically visit twice a month (once for the art walk, once for the vendor committee meeting)… then I’m possibly more nuts and ineffective than I thought. If there’s some other reason… I don’t know.

But doing the math & writing this out helps me consider it.  I think that at one time I thought it was about trying to earn money, but have since given that up – having seen both that I don’t seem to earn money there and that my family isn’t desperate for add’l income from what I create. I do hope that the economy recovers enough that the sort of people who were opening their wallets (and their homes to my art) in the hopeful period right after Obama (Mr. Hope) was elected will do so again someday soon, but I don’t think money or sales are really the point.

I think I’m going to stop doing the art walk for a while. I’ve been thinking of running through the remainder of a correspondence art course I never finished, and I’ve been thinking of spending some time deciding whether I’d like my art and/or writing to be “about” anything, and perhaps in a few months or so I’ll have something new and interesting to show, instead of just bringing random selections from what remains of my last 13 years of work & hoping they catch someone’s eye. Maybe I’ll have a reason, an answer, a new thought… Or at the very least, have a few new books to sell.

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Author, artist, romantic, insomniac, exorcist, creative visionary, lover, and all-around-crazy-person.

One thought on “A few more First Friday thoughts, this time with numbers”

  1. I can definitely understand your dilemma.
    As you're considering putting your art in a “proper gallery”, have you considered displaying your pieces at local restaurants, Scottsdale Airpark, or Sky Harbor Airport? Restaurants and airports will often let you display art for free. It fills a need for them, and if you make plaques with artwork titles, prices, and contact info, it can generate sales for you. Mike's mom has displayed at Scottsdale Airpark and at a restaurant. I don't think the airpark generated any sales, but the restaurant generated 4 sales, I believe. Just a thought!

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