Here's an interesting topic to discuss... As many of us do art fairs and craft shows, many of us for quite a long time I might add, is there a new "normal" when it comes to doing shows? Sales expectations? The way shows are juried (or should be juried)? The type of art found at events? And if you don't think there is a normal (things are too mixed to say yes or no) how do you see (or would like to see) shows say 2-5 years from now?

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  • In response only to the way I usually hear artists use this phrasing, which is in terms of their income at shows, and the "new good" show being a lower dollar amount than what it used to be ...... the phrase seems poorly conceived at best and somewhat of a disservice to artists that use it.

    By this I mean: We each need a certain level/amount of income to pay our home bills, live off of, pay our show costs and at least sustain if not grow our business. If artists needed the income they made at shows previously in order to be successful in sustaining themselves, then the "new good", if it fails to meet those ends, is in no way good, is it? It is variation of "bad", or "real bad", or really sucky" or ..... at best .... "not-so-good". There is no way to paint that pig pretty if the income doesn't equal or exceed expenses. That's among the reasons why artists are failing. So I think artists should just call it as they see it: good, bad, ugly, really ugly ... whatever .... not some "new good" or "new normal".

    I like the way you and Linda have discussed other aspects of "normal" about shows, how they are run, managed, promoted, the kinds of people that shows draw, the potential of the show to provide artists with a strong venue for selling their work because they do a good job of drawing/attracting art patrons to the event. But it seems if there is to be "new normal" it should be a "better" entity that what it's predecessor was, shouldn't it? So that use of the terminology "new" means "new and improved". Like those show promoters that want to strengthen their event, be it for their own financial stake in the event or a more altruistic "for the art world" reason.

    If I remember correctly, this concept was and still is used to some extent by the Harris List, which reviewed art shows (I believe the presmise Dr. Harris used was he only listed shows he believed were worth recommending to artists) and used a symbol to indicate whether the show was improving, staying the same, or declining. This evaluation was allegedly, if I remember correctly, based on discussions he had with artists he knew that did these shows. Perhaps there would be some merit in we artists and show rankings using something similar, to indicate those shows that are striving to improve themselves, those that are maintaining the status quo, and those that are slipping.
    • I love the idea of including symbols or at least descriptions of how shows are just maintaining, improving (and specifically state the areas of improvements), and if they are declining. I have heard many artists at shows I am trying for the first time say things about how the show used to be and how it is now - with all kinds of good and bad feedback. For me it seems it would have a great deal of weight when thinking about doing a show.

      I also agree with your statements regarding the term new normal. I see the same too, but in some way think that is just the surface (what people see everyday at fairs), but what happens if we just scratch the surface and see what is going on just below that. That's where I think we can find some "meat and potatoes" type of discussion.
  • Shows change over the years. Sometimes the "face" of the town the show is in changes and the people who live there today aren't show goers. Sometimes a major employer closes and that will affect the shows. And here's a simple fact of life. There's a recession on average of every seven years. It makes no difference who's in the Oval Office, recessions are part of our economy.

    When a recession hits, we are the first to feel the effects as there's nothing at a show anybody needs. We get lookers, but fewer buyers. And somehow that's always the promoter's fault.

    Another "norm" I see is the exhibitor who has the same thing they had in 1990. They may have painted it differently, but it's the same thing. I see 2D artists doing the same shows for years. Yeah, when they started, we were all young and buying our first house and needed to decorate it with art. But times have changed and those same people are trying to get rid of their "stuff" now. Again, that's the promoter's falt.

    But what I see much more of today is repitition in booths. You go to a show and see essentially the ame thing in different designs at multiple booths. Younger people today aren't getting into the business unless they're doing jewelry. There are no new woodworkers, or music box makers, or potters, or weavers. They're at the high end shows, but the average customer doesn't attend those shows. That's because young people today don't know how to make things. The idea of manufacturing something is foreign to them.

    But one thing hasn't changed in the 30 years I have been doing shows. The exhibitor with something different will always do well. Without question. When I was making house numbers I was the only one at the show. And I did it for 12 years. Other exhibitors and customers called me "The House Number Guy". So Diane had a hat made with that on it and I just assumed that title. And I made good money in the process. I was outselling the B/S people at the Country Folk Art Shows. And there was a recession in 2001 along with 9/11. One show I did was 20 miles from Ground Zero. And I still did well.

    So there is alway s a "norm" of shows changing. And unless you change with them, you may not do well. But the exhibitor with something nobody else has will alway do well. That "norm" has never changed.
  • Ah, very interesting Linda. I have to say it seems that shows in Maryland (more specifically the ones I have both sold at and attended) seem to be very abnormal but at the same time at a constant. This is what I am mean....

    I have done shows in Maryland for about 7-8 years ago. In that time span I have done small church events all the way through high end juried events, in Maryland mind you. It is a norm to see buy/sell at all events. I haven't seen any push to try and get said culprits out of events. I don't necessarily blame coordinators, but would love to see the heat be put on from both artists and coordinators to tell them (once set up) this is not what you applied for and can tell your work is not handmade due to... And at that point excuse them from the show making them haul their display and stuff to their vehicle. If they can get away with it once they will keep doing it until someone really corrects them (and on a regular basis). I don't wish ill will against some of these people, but to try and get back to what true art and craft shows are about, I kinda find it to be necessary. That is one norm I see.

    I also see a norm when it comes to patrons. There are two types of patrons, a division if you will - ones that just come to shows to pass the time (mostly at events with free admission) and others who are serious buyers. You can tell the non-serious buyers as those who stick close to the middle of the aisle barely looking at booths on both sides, mostly gabbing with another person or go for some other distraction like wine at a wine festival. The serious buyers hug close to the booths and make two passes in one aisle to see every booth and tend to go in every other one wanting to check out things that catch their eyes. I kinda think this is something NOT new, however do see a lot more people wanting to "negotiate"/question prices (and down right haggle). I also fear with the recession and the trends leading up to the recession that many just don't appreciate art as they did 10 or more years ago - after all if something breaks you can just go buy a replacement cheap. Don't get me wrong, there are people who appreciate art, but at the same time think a "country sign that reads '5 o'clock somewhere' is "art" too. Is it that there is a lot of variety now where more people see art and craft and think - that's what I want to do now and "attempt" to go out and "copy" that?

    I also see a "war" between contemporary art and traditional art forms where I am from too. I kinda like it as I truly believe "cutesy country" is out and more people want to move on. I have seen some amazing contemporary pieces - paintings, digital art, jewelry, etc. and then at the same show see a lot of traditional art forms - wooden furniture makers, stoneware, wheat weaving and basket making. I like the variety, but just want to see more of it as jewelry also seems to take center stage at every show too.

    Lastly, the norm I am still seeing too much of, between exhibitors, is high standards and expectations. Several feeling they have a self-inflated view of themselves and their work and they "ALWAYS" make 10 times their booth fee and if they don't it is everyone else's fault. I see them at every show and sometimes wonder why they are drawn to me having to tell me that they are "god's gift" to art and craft fairs. With the economy the way it is - and I could see it coming 2 years before it hit, that change is good and should be accepted or else doing the same thing over and over again yet still yielding the same result should be a sign. Having high expectations that any given show "you" sell at will yield high sales is NOT the norm anymore. I personally have low expectations or at least reasonable ones and if I meet them, get this - I am HAPPY! I am sure there are exceptions to the rule and those folks aren't sharing, but I have seen some who are singing a different tune since this past Spring and it is a horrible wake up call. It makes you question everything - can I still make it as an artist, should I retire early, being forced to do shows closer to home (when better ones are just a state or two over)...

    I guess you can say I see a wide gambit of norms and abnormal things and kinda think Maryland is a hard state to figure out in how it stands in relation to all the other states/regions. What is your normal that "you" have experienced AND do you see an even bigger change a-coming?
    • I think the point is we have to keep our eyes open and be flexible. It is too easy to become rigid and always do the same shows expecting the same results with the same art. We have to become better and allow ourselves to change as needed.

      My core shows have mostly been an increase in sales. My belief is that, with the economical issues, people feel better about purchasing what I call "usable art". Now when things change- I need to be willing to change and adapt to a different market. Normal is not really existant as we all have different regions, art style, and so many other factors.
  • My immediate thoughts Michelle is there is a division in the "Normal".
    "Normal Good" - Well juried and organized with attention to artist comfort, high quality art, good advertising bringing in many purchasing patrons, will most certainly apply next year.
    These tend to consistenly stay at the top.

    "Normal Bad" - Opposite of above - a show you wanted to leave early and most certainly will not return to in the future. If these shows expect to be successful in 2-5 years, they need major re thinking.

    "Normal In Between" - Pretty close to "Normal Good" but one or more of details were missing. The show has potential and you will think about attending in future years depending on your schedule. These shows have a chance of improved success if the organizers seek improvements each year and from what I have experienced..... they do and in 2-5 years will be at the top of their game.

    Seems like I have catagorized shows in those respects for many years. I think with the conferences (like Connie just returned from), the trend seems to be many good organizers are interested in improving. That wasn't as noticable years ago.
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