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Report from Florida: 2018 Arts Festival Conference

Feb. 15 & 16, 2018 - Deerfield Beach, FL

This year's theme:

Communication, Collaboration and Building a Better Future Together

Why does a person take their time and money to spend several days far from home at a conference? This year I wrestled with the decision to attend or not. It was not convenient. It was more costly than I wanted it to be, but in the end the lure of being with people who are working in the business I've been devoted to since the 1980's won out. I got on that plane and went to work. (Secretly I was hoping to get to get the beach. Didn't happen, the sessions kept me in my seat.)

The wins:

  • meeting new artists and show directors
  • spending extended hours with people who care about our business, artists and show personnel
  • listening to speakers who authoritatively taught me new ways of looking at art, American culture, the importance of the arts in our communities, jury tips, selling art, connecting with audiences, etc.
  • the "aha moment" when you realize how important it is psychologically and emotionally to break from routine (it always happens and catches me by surprise) and make an effort to step out of the everyday. You must know what I'm talking about.

In keeping with the theme of communicating, collaborating and building a future together here is what happened:

Preconference - Wednesday

1. A new show director workshop presented by Cindy Lerick (Sausalito Art Festival) who answered questions from this special audience of new directors. With over 30 years of experience in event management she presented seasoned answers. I was particularly impressed with some of her statistics that put the events in perspective. This was also an opportunity for new people to meet one another in preparation for the upcoming days of work.

Day One

2. Keynote presentation on Communicating the Value of Art by Amir Jackson, founder of the Nurture the Creative Mind Foundation that helps empower youth while developing marketable creative skills. He is a TEDx fellow and sits on multiple arts boards. 

3. Photographer Chris Dahlquist's presentation: Get Your Story Out was a workshop on learning how a show, an artist, can develop and engage their audience delivering a method for communicating the meaning of your artwork and building a following. This was an amazing presentation, nearly stunning, in its insight and depth of knowledge. Learn more about Chris. Do not neglect clicking all the tabs on her website, worth your time. 

4. Jury Workshop - a public portfolio critique. Artists submitted their jury images to a seasoned panel of judges and they discussed the merits of the presentation: what worked, what didn't.  This is always part of the conference and is always an eye-opener for everyone. Moderated by Laura Miller (St. Louis Art Fair), the judges were artist Matthew Cornell, Mary Beth Harris (Boca Raton's Art in Mizner Park) and Jeanne Seehaver (ArtFest Fort Myers). 

5. Mystery Unmasked: An Inside Look at the Jury Process. More about jurying, how juries are selected, how the scoring is done, how important that booth shot is, artist statements. As we all know, no matter how good your art is, if you don't make it past the jury you are not in the art fair business. Moderater, Stephen King (Des Moines Arts Festival), artist Chris Dahlquist, Marguerite Esrock (St. James Court Art Show), Sharon McAllister (ArtFest Fort Myers) and Maureen Riley (Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, the Original). Each of these events has a different type of jurying so you were presented with multiple perspectives.

End of day - time for the cocktail reception and dinner with friends old and new

DAY TWO

6. The Art of Savvy Marketing: A Digital Workshop presented by artist Benjamin Frey. Ben had so much information it had my head spinning. He presented in an hour and a half a full day's worth of information. Hope you know all about If This Then That and Sprout Social ... plus, how to build a website in 20 minutes. I'm going back to school to learn. BUT the gist was about how to do social media effectively and STILL make art. 

7. One of the things I enjoy the most at these conferences is the presenters who do not work in the art festival business, but do work in the arts. This was a fascinating presentation: A Festival Every Day, Programming Arts in an Urban Public Market, presented by David Dickinson, arts program manager at Seattle's historic Pike Place MarketPike Place Market craftspeople continue the tradition of “Meet the Producer" by selling handmade products directly to the consumer. Each morning, after the ringing of the market bell and roll call, the North Arcade bustles with activity as craftspeople set up their displays. The crafts market is one of the largest showcases of locally made crafts in the country.

David Dickinson presenting the intricacies of the artstalls and community of artists who sell their work at Pike Place every day of the year.

7. Concurrently there was a meet and greet with the NAIA for artists, a nonprofit organization of artists and art shows that supports the art fair industry.

8. Organizational Strategies to Avoid Burnout, presented by Brenda Conway.

A helpful, point by point, workshop on helping artists and show organizers recognize burnout, one of the biggest threats to artist businesses and nonprofits. One of my favorite takeaways: When you are doing well and feeling good, pat yourself on the back, and don’t start worrying about what isn’t done. 

9. Artist Driven Data, presented by Robin Markowitz, Art-Linx. Robin presented statistics from recent nationwide surveys about the art fair business, comparing the results of a 2010 survey to a 2015. It covered tips for administrators and artists.

10. Every conference ends with a group discussion, usually moderated by Stephen King, "Connecting the Dots," where artists and administrators discuss trends and the future of the business and genuinely dialogue on topics of interest to each.


What I can't say enough about is the opportunity to meet and spend time with this community of people. Artists and show organizers have been the constant in my life. This is not just a job for most of us, it is a conscious lifestyle choice and we do not do a 40 hour week and then go away. We are interdependent. Meeting together and sharing one another's concerns strengthens each of us. 


I hope to meet some of you at the next conference. It was a pleasure to meet artists Anne Johnson, Bernadette Szajna, Dick Dahlstrom (a serious veteran artist, in and out of fairs, galleries, etc., but still wanting to know more), Kelsey Merkle, Wendy Merkle, Lou Montells, Melanie Rolfes, Michael Zavison, (Melanie and Michael got to have 3 bodies of images critiqued by the panel in the jury workshop), Michael Brown and Ronna Katz.

And not to be forgotten, the women behind all your inquiries at Zapp:

Left to right: Christina Villa, ZAPP Manager (sorry, Christina, about the quality of this photo, it has you glowing), Joann Liu, ZAPP Communications & Support Associate and Kate Kreutz, ZAPP Senior Program Associate. 

Were you there or do you have any questions or comments? 

Views: 482

Comment by Melanie Rolfes on February 20, 2018 at 8:23pm

Nice summary Connie.  We loved it and it’s a bonus since we get a chance to visit with you.  This year was even better then last years.  Just got home from CGAF.  I will have more comments to add.

Comment by Connie Mettler on February 20, 2018 at 9:27pm

I loved having a chance to spend a little time with you and Michael, Melanie. I really thought it was cool that you had put in 3 possible jury sets of images. Did you get the feedback you were looking for? 

I was looking forward to attending the Grove and so disappointed that the timing was off. I needed to get back home and was afraid with all the distances involved if we went to Miami I'd miss my flight. Then saw that Kerry Murphy and Robin Aiken from Artisphere at the airport and they'd been able to make it in time. Pooh. I look forward to a Grove report. I have an Arti Gras report coming too ... which we attended as a replacement.

Comment by Barrie Lynn Bryant on February 20, 2018 at 10:24pm

So, how are juries selected? I'm certain it's different everywhere you go. But how are they selected for the bigger shows? Does Stephen King reach beyond his region?

Comment by Melanie Rolfes on February 20, 2018 at 10:37pm

Connie, actually the feedback from all the artists work and apps was very helpful.  As far as our individual apps...as collaborative/2 artists we disagree on what images to apply with.  Also trying to introduce a new line of work it really helps to see the app projected vs what we see on a monitor.  Getting a chance to see the work projected is key and helps us “agree” on how to move forward.  The feedback didn’t stop after the session.  We so appreciated getting a chance to talk to more people about not just our work but the jury process as a whole.

Glad you had a chance to go to artigras.  

Comment by Barrie Lynn Bryant on February 21, 2018 at 9:18am

A big issue with collaborative artists is that shows don't recognize both artists, especially if those artists have different last names. My wife and I have been collaborators since 1995. I think we joined zapp in 2005 and in the beginning I just listed my wife's name as the artist and didn't list myself as collaborator. Maybe it was in 2010 that I began listing myself as the collaborator in our zapp profile and did so in the very place zapp says to do so on the profile page. It didn't matter, and it hasn't mattered much since, because 80 percent of shows don't acknowledge the collaboration. My wife's name is the only name listed in show material and signage in 8 out of 10 shows. It's not that big a deal, really. But why don't shows acknowledge me, the collaborator? One show even argued that I've obviously entered my name in the wrong profile space. Another show told me they only use the main artist's name. And other shows have said that they use exactly what zapp provides for them, so zapp must not give them my name. So they are passing blame to me and zapp.

I haven't voiced my concern to shows all that much since I prefer to keep a lower profile than that. But being left out happens 80 percent of the time. That's a BIG failure rate in the system.

Last year I read the prospectus for Des Moines Arts Festival and discovered different instructions for listing oneself as a collaborator. So I called Stephen King and we talked about it. He listened to what I said and then suggested I contact zapp about it. I explained that since he represents show directors in our biz, that he might have better luck asking zapp to investigate the problem and work to change the system. He thought that made perfect sense. I don't know whether or not he spoke with zapp about it. But whatever I said during our conversation must have made perfect sense to him, because the instructions for listing oneself as a collaborator were changed and corrected in the Des Moines prospectus not too long after we spoke.

I still get left out of the majority of show info. I'm not bringing this oversight to the attention of shows anymore, either.

Comment by Heike Strobel on February 21, 2018 at 3:36pm

Thanks Connie for all this information and sorry you did not get the chance to go to the beach

Comment by Connie Mettler on February 22, 2018 at 10:45am

To Barrie: I don't know who the Des Moines Arts Festival uses for judges, but do know in the past they have reached beyond their environs to get balanced choices. They do usually have an artist on their jury, a past prizewinner (I think this is true), who, as you'd imagine would have a very broad view about art fairs around the country. I'm sure this information is available to anyone who is interested by contacting them. 

They do have an unusual jury process -- they do not ask for categories. You apply and don't have to state a media. At the conference as this was discussed it seemed most of the artists thought this was a great idea. I agree. Like you and A.B. you are working in multiple media and being limited to one specific category is not in your best interest.

On another note: they polled the people on the panel and each one had a different jurying process, some had only "yes" or "no" for the judges to choose. Some had numerical scores. Some only had 1 round and others had multiple rounds. The St. Louis Art Fair (Laura Miller) said it spends 33 hours jurying and their show is only 21 hours long ... The Ann Arbor Street Art Fair has multiple panels of experts and spends two weeks running those panels and jurying by category.

As to the collaborating issue. All I personally know about this is that when we were doing shows my husband would put both of our names in the application and often we would both be listed. 

Comment by Connie Mettler on February 22, 2018 at 1:07pm

and speaking of juries and application processes a very interesting statistic I heard was that 47% of applications are received by the shows within the last two weeks. Food for thought.

Do you want your application to get first class handling for review from the show personnel to make sure you didn't miss anything or there were no errors. Can't be done when a show receives, e.g., 500 applications in the last two weeks. 

Comment by Barrie Lynn Bryant on February 22, 2018 at 10:08pm

THanks for your follow up news, Connie. Yes, I am aware of the Des Moines application differences. I kept an application open in My Zapplications or a while as I considered whether or not I wanted to do it. I'm just not sure we can handle the heat and hours for that show. I have two dogs that I would have difficulty caring for, and I've never boarded my pets. So we avoid the hotter events. When we did Ann Arbor Original in 2007 and 2008, we bought parking in the underground lot, and the temp in there was 75 degrees at the hottest time. Quite different than the 92 it was outside. When we did 2012 Smoky Hill River Festival in Salina, we had a housesitter keep the dogs, which worked great. But we never ever want to be in that kind of 95 degree hot show sitaution again. That was unrelenting and miserable. No sale or best of show ever makes that kind of experience o.k.

Regarding when I submit an application, I start the application very soon after it becomes available and keep it in My Zapplications in a limbo state while I evaluate this and that and consider things. I usually finish applications earlier than two weeks prior as a rule. But by starting the application early, my number is early in the mix. So I suppose it appears that I've applied earlier

Comment by Melanie Rolfes on February 22, 2018 at 10:44pm

 Barrie the “limbo” (I like that term for this situation), works for some apps but not all.  There are different ways a show can choose app order.   I believe Connie is referring not to the order the jury sees your app, because we as artists don’t always know what they have chosen for the way ZAPP organizes each app but instead she is talking about the amount of time the show has to make sure everything you sent in is correct.  The directors check each app to see if there are any problems with the app and will contact an artist if they see a problem.  If they are getting a ton of apps near the closing they can’t check everything as thoroughly.  This was a question the directors had for artists.  Why do we wait till the end before applying?  I believe its money for most of us, then procrastination (maybe we will get better images but probably not:)

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