Call for Artists, Making Money at Juried Art Fairs, Craft Shows and Festivals
First off, this is a long, grueling show, and a long grueling post. It's four days of beer, tattoos, loud music and sweaty people. It's been this way for a while, and doesn't pretend to be anything but what it is. It is an entertainment venue, with some artists tacked on at the lower end of the show. The organizers do their best to segregate the artists, ease the load-in and load-out, provide some relief from the heat with water and an air-conditioned break area. Free electricity for your fans, your lights, your charge machine. The porta-potties are clean, there are enough of them and they never fill up. The artists breakfast is decent. Lisa K gets up and sings "Oh What a Glorious Morning" for the umpteenth time. She has an okay voice. It's a Kumba-Ya moment. And they have an award for the hardest working artist assistant. More about that later. Communication could be a bit better -- the many volunteers and helpers don't always have the right answer when you need it, but they try their best to be helpful.
Crowds at Arts, Beats & Eats, Sunday afternoon
But the hundreds of thousands of people who come to this event by and large come for entertainment. There are several stages, with well-known headliners, and quite a bit of local talent represented as well. There are a ton of vendors up the street, including the Detroit News photo archive booth, and a local photographer selling wood plaques and coasters of the old train station on Bagley and the "Enjoy Detroit" sign. This year, the quality of the juried show was reportedly not as good as previous years. Since I didn't get to walk the entire show, I didn't see it, but I heard from others that there were buy/sell booths in the juried section. There were rays of sunlight amidst the clouds of cigarette smoke, though. Barry was there, suffering in the sun. Nels and Ellen were there. Nels told me that the organizers helped him get his booth set up (Donna's son, Blake helped with a lot of it), and they let Nels rest in the library on a cot if he felt weak. Bravo, Nels, for coming out for four long days in the heat and putting up with the b/s. I hope it was worth it for you in the end.
This is a show that doesn't pretend to be focused solely on the artists, but is very upfront about the whole experience. If you don't like it, don't sign up. It's very hard to sit (or stand) there while masses of ignorant people shuffle by and occasionally ask the expected questions. It's hard work to stay upbeat, and many artists didn't return after last year's show, including the Sterns, my friend Dave Piper, and others. I don't blame them. If I wasn't local, I would think harder about coming. But since I am local, I do get some synergy between this show, (where it's tough to close a sale when folks have to carry it around with them to see the Guess Who, or Morris Day), and Art & Apples (another show that has many problems). Offering to hold a purchase or to deliver later is helpful when closing a sale.
Parking is tough, but not impossible for patrons. Parking is forbidden in most of the surrounding neighborhoods. There are parking garages, but they fill up quickly. The artists get one pass for street parking at meters (primo spots), regardless of booth size. Some artists stretch this and park their trailer hitched to their truck, causing grief for others with a single vehicle. Others park in the wrong spot. There isn't enough parking around Royal Oak for the hordes, but people come anyway. Many patrons ride the shuttle from Royal Oak High School. It's tough to carry larger work on the bus. Smaller work and jewelers seemed to do ok. Harry Roa and Trisko both seemed to make sales, although it was work for them as well. Our booth neighbors were both jewelers: Kristen Perkins on the one side, with lovely glass leaves in jewel tones on handmade silver findings, and Barbara Sweet on the other with more ornate work. My potter friend Scott from Grand Rapids did well with his functional lines. I saw lots of Alan Teger's small prints walking by, and I sold mostly out of the small print bin myself.
Bottom line -- it is what it is. Unfortunately, they will never get rid of the buy/sell, the food vendors, the music. It's a spectacle, a carnival, a festival for the great unwashed masses to close out the summer. It is what it is. And it's fun for the crowds. At a time where there isn't a lot of fun to be had, this is spectacle at its finest, and doesn't cost much more than $15 to park, and $5 a head to get in the gate. Not counting beer, elephant ears, turkey legs and corndogs.
Arts Beats and Eats draws a crowd from the entire metro Detroit area. People that never ever go to another art show go to ABE. It draws over 250,000 people even if the weather is crappy. Perhaps a crowd that is not entirely ignorant about art, but one that cares more about tattoos and beer than good raku and competent sculpture. It is an opportunity to expose your art to a very large audience that is desperate for art and doesn't know it. If you are willing to suffer for your art you can make a difference here. And every once in a while, you might make a sale. It's painful. On the bright side, I do make a profit here. I looked at my sales figures for the past three years, and I've done about the same numbers each time. I think the Royal Oak location appeals to a broader spectrum of people across the metro area than the Pontiac location did, but it tends heavily towards lower class blue collar.
I really enjoyed hanging out with Barry for a few days. Lord knows we had enough time for that. Most afternoons it was hours between sales, and then they came in spurts. The people to sales ratio is quite high -- sometimes several hundred people passed by without a single package showing. I spoke with Nels and Ellen a couple of times. I ran into photographers Pat Whalen and Larry Humphrey, who braved the heat and the crowds. And I did make a marginal profit here, which is more than I can say for shows in Florida this year. Big shows like Fort Myers and Artigras which are equally difficult, but for different reasons.
A word about Donna Beaubien, the new show director. She has had good experience managing art fairs. She was involved with the original Birmingham Art Fair in Shain Park. She handled the Greektown Festival in downtown Detroit before it folded due to parking and street issues. She runs two nice little shows in the Village of Rochester Hills, and runs them competently. She is a genuinely nice person, and cares about artists. Her shows, while still having some artists of less than national quality, attract the locals, and people do sell there. I generally try to do her summer show, first week in August. The spring show is more prone to rainy weather. The booths line one side of the street, and both sides of two smaller spur streets. Booth fees are reasonable, hours are easy, parking is free, people come to the show to look and to buy. They are nice local shows.
This was Donna's first year with Arts, Beats & Eats. Connie Mettler of AFI recommended Donna after Connie decided to retire from ABE. Donna is a very diplomatic person. She chooses her battles carefully, and tries to always keep the needs of the artists in the forefront. On the positive side of things, the load-in and load-out went very smoothly, somewhat improved from last year. They eliminated thirty artists from the east side of Seventh and the parking cul de sac over there. The Lincoln Ave booths were lower cost than the booths on Washington (the main drag), and there were less of them. The sponsor booths were moved out of the artist area. The gate security guards let people carry in water bottles this year. The Royal Oak police were extremely helpful when my trailer was blocked by a media van at the end of the show. All of this was an improvement over last year. Donna may have had at least a little to do about that. She is very organized and very pleasant to deal with. And very visible. She spent time in each and every artist's booth, not once, but several times during the show. Kudos to her for taking on a very tough job.
And finally, the awards. At the Sunday morning breakfast at Jimi's Restaurant, there are several awards handed out for artistic merit. A Best of Show, several Awards of Distinction, and some third place awards. And an award that goes to the hardest working assistant at the current show. One year it went to Donna's husband, Bill. Another year it went to James Greene, and last year, Ginny Herzog's granddaughter Casey won it. All well-deserved. The award consists of a battered old dolly, painted gold, with embellishments. Each assistant adds something to it, and hands it off at next year's show. This year, my wife and partner in crime, Karyn, won the Golden Dolly. You should have seen the look on her face when Donna went into the description of this year's winner. Karyn does not cotton to public attention. I had nothing to do with the award, though, so I survived with all my parts intact. And it does come with a small honorarium, which I'm sure will go towards shoes. The rest of the awards went to various artists, among them Steve Anderson for his metalwork, and Alan Teger for his black and white photography. Michael Stevens won for his jewelry. I forget the rest. Look it up on the interwebz.
The dolly with the Golden Dolly -- she earned it.
Will I do this show again? Yes, since it's close to home, and actually a lot more fun than Ann Arbor. If you go, you must eat breakfast at Jimi's on Washington. I'd like to see the quality of the juried artists improve, but that may not be possible, given the venue, the long hours, and the audience. Consider it for next year, cause Michigan can use all the good artists it can get.