Call for Artists, Making Money at Juried Art Fairs, Craft Shows and Festivals
A Walk-Through At The Des Moines Summer Art Festival, 2013
Welcome to the Cooper studio, Jefferson, Iowa. Yup, that Jefferson. The one about an hour northwest of Des Moines, close enough so that it was perfectly logical to drive in and spend the day, just to review an art show that I was not exhibiting in.
And so, here we are: a review.
Saturday, 1PM. Husband and I park the car at the nearest parking ramp and head towards the southeast corner of the festival. First impression: food court.
We instantly ask the question: "why do we need this massive a food court in an area of Des Moines replete with excellent cafes and restaurants?" Later we realize there are TWO food courts. Hmmmm....
As we round the corner from Locust onto 15th, there is the green space with the "Interactive Arts Activities". Please insert "sponsor booths" at your convenience. Way more than a few.
Now let's talk art. We stopped and looked at every booth, except for jewelry (sorry y'all) and it did not take us long to notice something.
Packages. All seven of them. We were there four-ish hours, and saw seven packages of note. Yes, again we are ignoring the jewelers - but this time, because as everyone knows, jewelry packages get tucked into a pocket or purse, and just aren't all that visible carrying around. But let's get back to my point: visible packages: seven (7). Yes, I know we were only there for four-ish of the 31 hours of the event. But do the math, and we sincerely hope that the hours we weren't there were a lot more productive. (math at the 7/4 rate equals 54.25 packages for the festival) Artists please utter in unison: ouch.
Okay, enough rant. Let's dissect. If you click on the festival map, there's a legend in the lower left corner to help you find things. I cut out the restrooms/parking/firstaid for you. At your leisure, buzz down the rest of the list, and note the things that will involve visitors time. Also please note that none of the performance stages were included in the legend.
Arts Festival Shop
Beer & Wine
Interactive Arts Activities
Soda & Water
Hy-Vee Recycling Station
West Food Court
Interactive Sculpture Project
DMAF Sculpture Garden
Emerging Iowa Artists Demo
Nurturing a Student’s Vision
East Food Court
Artists, who wants to be the first to ask: are we exhibiting/selling art, or are we entertaining the masses for the weekend?
And I'm not out to get Des Moines, I like Des Moines. But they are a convenient example, an example of art festivals in general, and the now present trend of "how can we entertain them?" Attract the populace? Get that top ten rating? Be an award winning event? Because everybody knows you are not an award winning event if you don't draw a crowd.
- This statement is from the 2013 artist prospectus:
DMAF is a show dedicated to the highest standards and works diligently to maintain a positive environment for artists and their clients.
- And this statement is from the DMAF mission statement:
We strive to educate, inspire and engage our audience toward a heightened appreciation of visual and other forms of art.
I contend that art festival directors all over, not just Des Moines, are telling the artists one thing, and the patrons another. I believe in the back of their minds, the festival directors know that they wouldn't have much of a festival if all the willing artists and their little white tents didn't show up. And they think if they get the crowd, all's well. The crowd I saw was not buying art. I know, I know, I was only there four hours. But, still, they weren't buying art.
Possibly all the great art purchases were made at 5:07 on Friday, and 1:31 on Sunday. And I know we will hear from an artist who made thousands of dollars on the weekend - but I didn't see it. And I witnessed, all the rest were not.
So, what to do, what to do?
1. Personally, individually, artists can stop following the carrot on the stick - I had a lot of empathy for the woman who drove 900 miles from the south to help entertain a crowd that wasn't buying.
2. As groups of artists, we need to share with show directors that the size of the crowd is not nearly as important as the intent of the crowd. A carnival atmosphere discourages serious art buyers. Competing for sidewalk space with slushy sipping toddlers, and taco dribbling cell phone texters is not their gig.
Personal note: Omaha, I crossed you off my jury list this year because of that Nebraska Lottery sponsor roulette wheel that cluttered your event with non art atmosphere for the past several.
Are we entertainment, or are we showing and selling our art? You tell me.
And thanks for reading. :)