I was at the Krasl Art Show in St. Joseph Michigan this July on a hot day. Looking down from the bluffs I could see the children playing in this wonderful water park that is pictured above. Most of the time, little bubbly waterspouts would pop up in many spots around the surface, but about every 15 minutes the water would recede and the children would run to the center in anticipation of what would happen next. I could see them dancing and fidgeting with excitement. All of a sudden the water cannons on the outer perimeter would let loose their spray to the delight of the children. They were addicted to the gushers.
I too am addicted to gushers but of a different kind... art show gushers. As an artist there is nothing more invigorating then participating in a show where folks are excited about the art and buy it. Regrettably, unlike the predictable gushers in children's water park, art show gushers are more random these days.
Does the unpredictability of art shows these days have anything to do with show organization, patron participation, or weather? Some would say it's the economy. All these can be factors, but I don’t think these are the main factors. The main factor is that we are experiencing a glut in the number of artists (part-time and full-time) entering the field and competing for art shows. This wouldn't be all bad if the number of art shows remained constant, but the increase in artists has result is an unrealistic and unsustainable growth in art shows across the country. Any affluent geographic market that demonstrates potential will soon have an abundance of art show options, which in turn dilutes the market. No longer are art shows perceived as special events to a community. If you miss the show this weekend you can catch another in a few weeks. The art show model has changed ... it can no longer sustain the number of artists and art shows that have proliferated over the last 10 years ... there just isn't enough cheese to go around, making art shows all too unpredictable.
To the growing number of show organizers, the large pool of artists is a good thing… let’s create a new show to increase profitability, but to the artist, it becomes a very risky proposition. There are no guarantees that enough eligible buyers will attend a show on a given weekend. It's not that the show is poorly managed, it's that there is a glut in the number of shows being offered, each being filled by a glut of artists wanting to participate. Every promoter is in the process of increasing the number of art shows they sponsor and many show organizers are looking to increase the number of artists they invite, why, because they can. In this forum alone 5,500 members have register. If I could search on number of years in the business, I'm certain that I would find that most artists on this board had entered the profession within the last 6 years (myself included).
The testimonies I have heard from artists this summer have been heartbreaking. Homes and retirement funds have been lost; successful artist of 30 years have seen their annual revenue dry to a trickle and the business model that served them all these years is no longer sustainable. I spoke with an artist who added Florida shows to his schedule this year to try and make ends meet. He spent the month in Florida sleeping in his 5X8 trailer to cut cost. There are so many artists living on the edge of financial ruin. Many are scrambling for an alternative revenue stream. What happened? Who moved the cheese?
You have probably read the book: Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson published more than a decade ago. Recently I decided to reread it. The book tells the parable of four characters who had to deal with change. You can easily find a copy at most libraries or used bookstores. Though simplistic, the book sheds light on the changes that many artists are facing in art show sales … the cheese in station C is gone. Many would like to believe that once the economy turns to positive that the art show model will again be solvent. Surely it will be better, but no one believes it will return to what it was like 10 years ago... too many artists, too many art shows and not enough cheese. Time to find new cheese. What are your thoughts about this?