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Mystic Arts Festival – my thoughts

I was at the Mystic Outdoor Arts festival with some of my work last weekend.  I selected this festival based on good reviews from a few years ago.  Festivals can change rapidly and it can be risky to rely on reviews from even 2-3 years ago.  This is a festival that seems to have changed a lot since the reviews – and not in a good way.  If you were at this festival, stopped by, looked and either supported me or one of the other artists with a purchase, a referral or a follow up online visit – THANK YOU.  YOU are the reason I might just do another festival next summer (but not Mystic.  Never again for Mystic).  YOU are the few and far between people who actually support the arts by supporting the people who make art.


If you are reading this and you are an art buyer or collector, this Festival (if it doesn’t get fixed) will probably become a less reliably good place to go browsing.  It’s a pity because there are few enough opportunities during the short New England season.

If you like to go to festivals to see and perhaps buy interesting art with a wider selection and more interaction with artists than you’d typically get at a gallery – there are a lot of artists I spoke to who won’t be coming back to this one next year.  This means that you get to see the same people and work every year.  You can have an effect and help reverse the downward spiral.  Talk to the Chamber of Commerce about what you like to see and buy at Art Festivals.  If you’d prefer a crafts festival or some other event tell them that. Artsis don;t want to be at festivals where people want something else – everyone is happier if everyone knows what to expect.


If you are an artist and you are considering this festival, the rest of this post is for you.


Avoid this festival. If you really must go, be a VERY squeaky wheel so that you can at least get what you paid for booth wise. Weather, other competing events, the demographic, and lackluster organization may still give you a poor show, but at least you’ll have a booth in the festival traffic and near festival services.


Personally I will not go back even if they promise me a free booth in the center and pay me to exhibit. My art generates excitement. I won’t lend that excitement to negligent organizations that defraud artists.

These are some of the pieces I brought (so you can gauge genre).  More details on the Mystic Outdoor Art Festival are below the images.


Why I won’t be exhibiting at the Mystic Outdoor Arts Festival next year:


  1. Negligent organization (possibly criminally so). NO attempt to close the street or even control traffic while artists were setting up and breaking down – many on the main street. Someone was actually hit by a car while setting up, and was hospitalized with serious injuries. We saw a LOT of near misses with cars that had me holding my breath and praying no one would get smashed up.
  2. What you pay for is not necessarily what you get. A number of artists who paid full price for booths at the festival were placed in areas well outside the festival area. (A ten minute walk to the town line) There was No advanced warning that the festival area was full, no notice that they were setting up “satellite areas”, There was no offer of better pricing for the far less trafficked “satellite” fair.
  3. They advertise over 40,000 people per day attend the fair, but even the heavy fair traffic areas saw an estimated 2000 – 5000. (we counted around 800-1200 per day at our location – and we were counting)
  4. Not all of the booths are even serviceable for the required 10 x 10 foot festival tent.
  5. Many of the” festival goers” who did show up were just bus tours stopping in Mystic – not there for the festival and regarded it as an inconvenience.
  6. Wrong demographic. If they can’t fix this festival they would do better with a flea market/ street festival. They might still get a few artists, but vendors would know what to expect and everybody (including the bus tourists) would be happier.


I went to this Festival because I had read and heard that it is a very good festival.   As many of us know, festivals change. Sometimes they get too big, sometimes it’s a new organizer; maybe some just get arrogant from success.

I’ve seen some disorganized show organization and some that were even a bit shady, but the current group organizing this festival is simply unethical. The festival has gotten FAR too large to walk.  Their solution? They have just become very vague about where in Mystic the festival is located. The organizers seem to think that a vague undefined location justifies selling artists tents just anywhere (and charging full price, and not warning the unfortunate “juried” artists that they are being placed outside the Festival). We were in a group of artists that were outside the row of portapotties (and for a two day fair you gotta do better than filthy portapotties for the exhibitors).


The organizers and STAFF also clearly DID NOT consider our booths part of the festival. They placed one portapotty in a hard to find corner of a bank parking lot several blocks from the tents. There were NO circulating volunteers in our location except the ones passing by in gaggles on the way to their cars or basically exiting the festival. NONE of the artists that I spoke to in our location received the secondary packet which included judging tags for prizes. I managed to snag a packet AFTER the judging window by pestering a staff member on the way to his car.


Our group of tents and several other groupings were also well outside the downtown area and placed after and outside the major parking areas for the show. Festival goers thought we were unofficial pirates.


A number of the booths in our area were on the street. On the street booths might acceptably safe inside the festival, where traffic moves at a crawl. But the on-the street booths in our area were right near a traffic circle and intersection where traffic came screaming past those tents – and I saw a number of near misses that left me holding my breath (and an artist not too far away is now in the hospital).


My own “booth space” was not only outside the festival area, it was also between a fence and a large tree. There was less than 10 feet of space to squeeze the required 10 x 10 foot tent. Along the sidewalk, in front of the fence was a bench that extended past the fence and blocked about 1/3 of the entrance to my booth. I was charged FULL PRICE for this. I did not apply late or last minute. And I am an artist working in a clearly art idiom at a festival that clearly bills itself as Art and de-emphasizes crafts in their promotional materials. There was absolutely no reason for placing me and other artists in this location other than pure greed, and a complete lack of professional ethics on the part of the organizers.


I followed the published Festival rules given to artists for booth appearance.  These rules were not enforced in our location, since the staff thought we were outside the festival and did not visit. The festival rules prohibit placing anything on fences, walls, benches or any property belonging to the businesses in town. As a result, the empty bench BLOCKING the entrance to my booth filled up with tour bus ladies the first day, who sat there gathering gaggles of tour bus friends and blocking even more of my booth for three hours (and other groups occupying the bench in front of my space for hours before and after the tour bus gaggle.) As a result – NO sales until I decided to not follow their rules. After all those rules are for the artists actually IN the festival, not the artists who were robbed of booth fees OUTSIDE the festival.


Lastly the demographic. There were some art buyers and some genuinely interested people at the Festival. (Again _THANK YOU people actually interested in ART – mine, the guy next to me, ANYone’s!!!)   I sold a few originals and a few other people sold good giclees or original art as well.  The art-friendly folks were the wonderfully refreshing and rare exception.


We saw a decent sampling of people as they passed by exhausted and spent out on the way to the pirate satellite parking. They were carrying primarily popcorn, but some had bags with framed photographic prints (cheap metal frames mostly) I saw a few prints of paintings, mostly prints on paper in cheap metal frames. The vast majority were souvenirs – photos and pictures of the Mystic area, some with “Mystic” on them. I am not sure these were even purchased at the festival, since there are tourist souvenir shops and photo and postcard galleries inside the festival zone. I saw a small number of people with prints of lobsters and “how to eat a lobster” art, which I am pretty sure were Festival purchases. One person who does brightly colored illustrations of birds and balloons and other subjects sold a few prints that I saw walking by (good for her – charming work. I hope she made her expenses). I also saw a few fanciful sculptures walk by, and one large abstract painting. The person next to me sold one moderately priced smaller giclee and a few coasters and greeting cards.  The couple on the other side sold a few metal-worked lawn flowers, mostly smaller and made their expenses but not much profit.  The most popular art item by far was bags of popcorn.


There were the usual proportion of festival goers who see an opportunity to stop by the booths and regale the captive audience of artists about their sculptural project involving 200 tubes of glitter and a gallon of insulation foam. This was by far the most touchy-touchy festival crowd I have ever experienced. Around half the people passing by seemed to think it was perfectly OK to RUB the surfaces of original paintings that do not belong to them. I found dried mustard and ketchup on the outside of the protective bags I use for my works on paper. (ick! – and thank goodness for Krystal seal bags). An number of parents who seemed incensed that I didn’t want their gangs of sticky marauding toddlers ruining my original art pieces. I would imagine that forbidden buy sell items would do quite well here, but “Art festival” is a bit puzzling.