How to: Art festival set-up

Last weekend I participated in Autumn & Art in Wichita, Kansas. I have shown my art many places and at a variety of types of events, but this was the first multi-day event for which I had to provide my own setup. The other multi-day events I have done have either been indoors or have provided the tent and walls. I have done many single-day outdoor events, but when you need to be able to confidently set up for multiple days and a range of weather, and leave your tent overnight, you’re talking about a different type of infrastructure.

CatherineFreshley_AutumnArt

After much deliberation, my husband and I decided to go the “halfway route.” We didn’t buy the professional $1,000-$1,500 tents that most artists on the festival circuit use. Nor did we buy ProPanels, which are in that same price range. I’m not planning to become a full-time festival artist, but I definitely needed an upgrade.

Tent review

We purchased this tent from Sam’s. It is about twice as expensive as the pop-up we had before and significantly sturdier. It also comes with side walls, which was a required upgrade since we were going to leave the tent overnight. Additionally, the walls prevent the sun from coming in and shining through your hanging apparatus.

We found the tent very easy to set up and take down. It fits easily into the bag it comes in. It’s heavy, but has wheels. (I still wouldn’t want to have to drag it very far.) The side walls do not fit into the bag. One of the side walls has a zipper in the middle that allows you to have the wall down, but open, in case of inclement weather (see below). We used additional clips to open the door wider. We had mist and a few short periods of heavy rain. We didn’t have any water come in, but I still think I want to spray waterproofing spray on the seams for future use.

We had a few gusts of wind that pulled Velcro apart in a couple places. This was more of a nuisance than a problem, but I suspect it could be a problem in worse weather. Thank you, Danika Ostrowski, for recommending this tent.

Securing the tent

CatherineFreshley_rain

The tent comes with stakes but not weights. We made weights out of 4” PVC. We bought a 10’ piece of PVC, used a circular saw to cut it in four and then glued test caps to one end of each piece. We drilled two holes in each pipe about a foot apart lengthwise and put eye screws in them. We used glue on the eye screws for extra insurance. We then filled the pipes with sand and put caps on the other ends. We tied 550/parachute cord between the eye screws to create a handle. The handle and eye screws also give you a way to tie the weights to the tent. I noticed that many artists hung their weights from their tents with cargo straps. We put two weights on the ground at the front corners of the tent and tied them to the top of the tent with 550 cord. We had grass behind our tent and staked the tent into the ground with cargo straps. We didn’t have a lot of wind during the weekend, but the tent didn’t budge with the few gusts we had.

Display system

CatherineFreshley_panels

We bought mesh panels from Flourish. They are easy to install and apparently can hold 300 lbs each. I think they look clean and professional. I really wanted a white background for my paintings. You use S hooks to hang wired paintings from the mesh. I am curious to see if the holes in the mesh stretch out after multiple uses and begin to look ratty. The wind blows through and wiggles the paintings around a bit, but I was never concerned about the paintings coming off. Additionally, the poles that these require at the bottom of the tent (you buy these and the hardware from Flourish) add structural integrity to the tent. The panels fold in half lengthwise to five feet and then roll up. They come with a nice, heavy-duty carrying bag.

Lights

CatherineFreshley_lights

We bought these LED lights from Amazon. They were relatively inexpensive and most important, they don’t get hot. I was pleased with the amount and color of light they provided. We used clips and twist ties to secure both the extension cord and the lights to the tent infrastructure.

Old set-up

If you're just getting started, I would still recommend the $220 pop-up over the $100 kind, but you can make a cheap hanging system with plastic lattice and S hooks. I used this get-up multiple times for one-day events that only lasted a few hours.

CatherineFreshley_lattice

I did all this -- including the research -- with my husband. If you are solo, you will need to grab someone for just a few minutes to help you expand and raise the tent. Otherwise, you can probably do it yourself, but it will take a while. Hope you find this useful. And no, unfortunately, these aren’t affiliate links.