The air buzzed with excitement in the town hall as people browsed stalls selling everything from prints to perfume. With over 80 creative vendors to choose from, finishing their Christmas shopping with weeks to spare suddenly seemed like a reality. I felt somewhat sentimental – the Artists and Makers Fair had become a highlight of my winter calendar, but I knew this was the last one I would organise.
The Artists and Makers Fair is a Christmas staple in our town. Since its debut in 2003, the fair has been organised annually by the parents of Western Road Community Primary School. Our event is a professional art fair to the public, but behind the scenes there’s a twist. Instead of generating income for ourselves, the profits are donated to our school’s PTA to support the creative curriculum. Our efforts have funded a vast array of projects for the children: we’ve bought art supplies, paid for visits from creative speakers and supported the school’s participation in a local arts parade.
The fair is constantly evolving in scope and ambition, and this year was no exception. As well as the family-friendly days, we decided to run a Friday evening opening event. We reached out to a local brewery who kindly donated a keg of beer and several bottles of wine. Our live DJ filled the town hall with music as visitors milled about, glasses in hand. Without their children in tow, visitors could browse the stalls at leisure. A great many sales were made to the relaxed parents on the Friday night, which assured us that this had been an excellent addition to the fair.
Our fair is well established, and we are never short of vendors. We open stall registration in June and routinely receive over 200 applications. With only 84 places, it is tricky to choose who to accept, so we have a couple of conditions. The first is that if a parent from the school applies, they are guaranteed a spot. The second rule is designed to support emerging artists. Every year we commit 30-50% of our stalls to new talent. Because of this, we have built a good reputation among artists who are just starting out.
Similarly, we keep the cost of stalls low to ensure the fair is accessible. Our profits are predominantly generated from the commission we charge the artists on their sales. Put simply, if you sell more, you pay more. Charging on this basis means it is less risky for new artists to exhibit, providing another incentive for interesting new talent to try a stall. Another source of income is the ever-popular raffle. The artists donate prizes that generate substantial ticket sales every year, thanks to their creativity. We do have operational costs such as hiring the town hall, marketing and purchasing supplies for the café, but we know our model is working well because the latest fair generated £15,600 profit!
As my daughter comes to the end of her time at primary school, so does my time as the Artists and Makers Fair organiser. I will miss the event enormously. The community we have created here is truly special, more akin to a quirky family than colleagues. I have no doubt I will continue to return to the fair as a visitor and have fond memories of my years at the helm.
- Antonia Jewels, fair organiser and parent at Western Road Community Primary School, Lewes, Sussex (210 pupils)