Blog > Meet MADE Craft Fair Founder Jon Tutton
Posted By Create
Jon Tutton has been organising art and craft fairs for over 10 years. Currently, he runs MADE London, MADE Brighton and Brighton Art Fair. This week Create catches up with Jon to find out what makes an events organiser tick and discover some top tips for selling your wares at similar events.
How did your events get started and why did you start them?
Brighton Art Fair was our first event, started ten years ago, and it was an attempt to solve a paradox - Brighton was awash with artists but it didn't have many places to view and buy contemporary art. We felt that a big event to put art in Brighton under the spotlight and provide an opportunity to connect buyers with artists was sorely missing, so we organised one and immediately it was a big, popular, annual event. Two years later we started MADE BRIGHTON – to provide a similar fair but for contemporary craft and design. In 2012 we started MADE LONDON – in response to maker and designers requests for a new avenue for selling in the capital.
Have you faced any particular challenges and how did you overcome them?
Our major problem was selection - we have about 100 places but receive 400 applications on average. We have to turn down 3 out of 4 applicants. It sometimes makes us unpopular as decisions have to be made but it does mean that the shows can usually represent a broad cross-section of work throughout all media and styles and we can keep the standard of work brilliantly high!
What sets your events apart from other art and craft markets?
We are artists ourselves and have experience of exhibiting at other organisers' shows so we had a clear idea about what we wanted to achieve and what we wanted to avoid. I think that the atmosphere is one area where our shows are distinctive: everyone seems to be on the same side; artists are supportive of the shows but also of each other. The events become annual get-togethers where artists can make new friends and meet old ones and the visitors, too, can build long-term relationships with their favourite artists.
How do you work out what to charge for stalls?
A very complicated system of floor space versus wall space. We try to keep prices down but have just had to register for VAT. The stall costs in Brighton can be quite a bit but compared to London cheap. Our London prices are still comparitavely very reasonable.
Have you had any particularly special or memorable stall holders or moments at your events?
Lots of memorable stall holders. Our first Brighton Art Fair Private View, which was so popular that people had to queue in the snow to get in, nearly caused a riot when we had to close the bar!
The next memorable event was last year at the first MADE LONDON, which takes place in a stunning 4 storey building. But when we booked it the building wasn't finished, and we had a very tight build as there were pre-booked events either side of ours, and we were aiming to organise the highest quality and best craft fair in the country. Given the high likelihood of something major going wrong it was marvellous seeing visitors flooding in like they did and the exhibition and standard of work being so appreciated. Still, I was having panic attacks for months before and after that show but hopefully things will be calmer and better this year.
Is there a community aspect to your fairs - are many of the artists-makers now friendly with each other or even working together?
There's a big community feel in our fairs, both during the opening hours, when exhibitors help to keep morale up over quite long days, but afterwards, too, when the pubs and restaurants are full of groups of artists socialising. Partnerships develop frequently - many artists curate their own pop-up shows in houses, studios and empty shops. Others start working together, painters collaborate with printmakers, printmakers start working with ceramicists and so on.
What challenges have artists-makers faced over the past five to ten years and how have they dealt with these?
The biggest problem we faced was at MADE BRIGHTON, two months after the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Whilst no-one had lost their job or was any poorer than the previous year there was a feeling in the air that stopped people spending. A busy fair with low sales. Since then things have got a lot better but many makers have taken positive steps to appeal to customers who might be feeling the pinch. Usually these steps include emphasising the top end of their work (which appeals to galleries, is great PR and the rich still have money to buy exceptional work) and working on cheaper directions to appeal to buyers who are being more careful.
What are your recommendations for artists-makers and craft business owners when it comes to growing their business?
Spend money and time on good photography. Spend money and time on presentation, framing etc. If a beautiful piece of work has a cheap-looking frame it may mean sales are lost and will mean the price goes down!
Photo Credits: Shoe by Maiko Dawson / Earrings by John Moore / Lidded Vessel by Ros Perton