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Gasparilla Review--The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

I really wanted to say great things about this show. After all, they did some things right before the show even opened. For one thing, they worked tirelessly to get enough corporate sponsorship to keep the show fee down. Most shows, today, just pass those fees on to the artists because they are unwilling to go into the community to get enough funding. From my perspective, fees should be low because we generate millions of dollars for any city that puts on a show and that translates into revenues for that city by way of taxes on that cash generated. Secondly, they moved the show back by the museum, which, should have been a really good move. Thirdly, the $75,000 in prize money is second to none. Even a lowly honorable mention was $1300. The weather was great. We had blue skies, no wind, 70 deg, and no rain. Also, if you were willing to stay a couple miles out of downtown and use Priceline, room rates were very reasonable. I stayed at a Hyatt for $45 and that included breakfast. Before I launch into the Good, Bad, and Ugly, I want to say the Gasparilla show is easily tweakable and still has a lot of potential, especially as the economy recovers.

The Good: As I said before, the weather was perfect. I think sales ranged from OK to really good. I didn't get to talk to everyone but no one was really complaining about their sales. A few people I talked to had good figures. No one had great sales, though. The crowd seemed to know what they were looking at. Since I have to keep people from touching my pieces with greasy fingers from the crap the vendors sell, I judge the quality of the attendees by how many times I have to ask people not to touch the work. I am happy to report that I didn't have to tell anyone not to leave fingerprints and the people who picked up the work knew how to handle pottery. No one lifted the lids off the lidded pieces and very few people had to ask me what the material was. I'd say, by and large, the crowd was somewhat sophisticated.

The Bad: How one did at this show was directly due to where your booth space was. I think people who were on the street did much better than the people in the park. And, the closer one was to the river, the worse they did. There were 18 spaces that were horrible because they were behind the food booths and the stage. I don't think they got a whole lot of customers. The spaces directly in front of the food and the stage weren't much better. I, unfortunately, was right in front of the fried grouper stand and the stage, so I had a double whammy. The grouper people didn't bother to change their oil the whole show, so the smell of fried fish oil got progressively worse. I had a headache from the smell, the entire two days. My clothes reeked. I could hardly hear my customers over the music and I had a sore throat from having to speak over the noise. I think that aspect of the show was poorly run. I was told that the show changes directors every year. If that is true, then the show was run by an inexperienced crew. That shouldn't matter though. A little logic would have helped. A little change in the layout, by separating the food and music from the artists would have gone a long way to solving that problem. And it doesn't take a genius to know that it was wrong to place booths behind the food and stage. I had a decent show, but, I know I could have had a lot better one if I had been in a much better location. Also, when there is serious prize money, there should be at least 3 jurors. Most artists were not too impressed by what was chosen for prizes. I won't get specific about individual prizes, but, if you looked at final exhibit of prize winners and then toured the show, you would wonder how so many great artwork and artists were ignored by this juror. That wasn't just my opinion but also the opinion of most artists I talked to. In fact, I never brought up the subject. This is what other artists said to me. I have a real problem with picking the artists who are considered for awards, from the slides, especially now because they aren't even slides. They are digital images, which are easily enhanced. If I was to run a show the awards would always be determined by the total body of work in booth. The judges would have to look at the "real" artwork in every booth and pick the prizes that way. That is the only legitimate way to judge.

The Ugly: This show had absolutely the worst setup of any show I have ever done. They have always been a little anal about lining us up and controlling us getting to our booths but this far exceeded any other year. I always thought their insistence on controlling the load in a little funny because artists have done this many, many times. We know how to get in, get unloaded, and get out because we have done this many, many times. We can police ourselves. We don't have to be treated like children. The committee was adamant as to when we should show up and what to do. They decided, in their infinite wisdom, to let only 6 vans in at a time. All the people on the street had to wait until all the people in the park had unloaded before they could start to unload. There were 95 people in the park. It only took a third grade education in math to figure out what was going to happen. They allowed only 2.5 hours for all the people in the park to unload. At 6 per half hour, it would take over 8 hours for everyone in the park to unload. I had to wait 2 and a half hours in line before I could unload and it would have been much longer but they eventually realized they had to let more people in at one time. They blamed this on the fire chief who claimed it had to be that way because they needed a fire lane. We were in a field!! There were infinite fire lanes!! I blame it on the fire chief who obviously couldn't do third grade math and the committee who weren't smart enough to figure out a solution on the fly, until 2 hours into the fiasco. By the time they acted, everything was backed up. When I left at 6:30, people were waiting to get to their spaces on the street.

I left out some things that I would like to address, which I will in another post. I want to offer some solutions that would help fix things. But I'm staying with friends in Tampa and I have to sign off.

Views: 341

Comment by Alison Thomas on March 8, 2010 at 2:36pm
Be grateful you weren't in C and D locations. You got to sit and wait. We got to drive from spot to spot to spot to spot only to be told we were in the wrong spot. It truly was the ugliest setup I have ever seen.
Comment by Connie Mettler on March 8, 2010 at 2:38pm
Thanks so much for this post, Barry. Excellent in so many ways.

I am always pleased even when I hear reports of "good". I've never thought of this as a "selling show" so to hear that everyone seemed to be okay is great! Ah, the judging! Because of the excellent prize money many wonderful artists apply and show up, including many who don't do any other outdoor fairs. Was there only one judge?

Nels also reported on the bad 18 booths in the show.
Comment by Marina Terauds on March 8, 2010 at 6:41pm
The ugliest setup…and the ugliest tear down also. I was in A location, but I don’t want to be grateful, and I would trade for C and D with big gladness. My space was behind the food court and stage. I cannot tell you what I hated more: location, music/noise or horrible smell.
Comment by Linda Anderson on March 8, 2010 at 6:58pm
Thanks Barry, I just posted another thanks to Wendy and extend the same appreciation to you for your informative report. I've done the Great Lakes shows for years and have been watching the Florida shows over the last year. Our daughter lives in Clearwater and during our cold winter months we have decided to accept her kind offer to house us during those FL shows. We were accepted for (3) in January, but backed out of them this year after hearing about the disappointments from Nels. Given the reviews and the terrible cold this year, it was a good decision for this year. Gasparilla is at the top of my "must do" list that I continually watch. Hope you continue to post your excellent reviews. I'll be watching for 2011 participation ;-)
Comment by bill boyett on March 8, 2010 at 8:46pm
The worst logistics I have ever experienced. I was on the street and I was lucky. Got set up and broke down ok. I saw hell around me. Obviously the staff was clueless about what is involved in set up and break down. Head should roll over this fiaso!
Comment by Barry Bernstein on March 9, 2010 at 10:22pm
I'd like to hear how other people did in their locations. I assumed we had the worst location and I heard people leaving our section because of the smell. I can say that I would have rather been next to a sewer than have to smell the burnt fish oil.

Connie, they had one judge and I can truly say I knew more about art when I was 17 years old than he did. Of course, I used to spend one day a week, in the summer, at the DIA, which is one of the best museums in the world(I've been to many). Also, I use to ride my bike to the Habitat Gallery and the Shaw Gallery, regularly, and was familiar with the best glass and clay. So, I feel confident that I can say that this judge was not competent to judge this show. Once again, I am not saying that any one prize winner was not deserving. This is just a general statement, which was echoed by a lot of artists I talked to.

There is an increasing amount of hostility between show personnel and artists. I saw it at Fort Myers and I saw it at the Tampa show. In some cases the committee members were rude. Perhaps, they didn't like that artists weren't following the program like good little boys and girls.
Comment by Alison Thomas on March 10, 2010 at 6:23am
Head should roll over this fiaso! >>

I agree wholeheartedly. But whose? From my vantage point I would say a great deal of fault lies with the police who were not following the load in plan. Twice we were directed away from the spot we were supposed to enter only to finally get in on the third try. Or was it bad communication from the committee to the police or bad communication from the head of the police down to the police in the street. Did the committee even involve the police in planning? Several of the items in the artist packet makes me think it was communication from the committee that was at fault. I mean, who tells artists who are mostly from out of town that the artist parking lot is north of this street and east of this street and then gives them a picture with no street or location names on it? How about from known location x, turn right on y and left on z? There definitely was poor communication from the director down to the staff in the street. The staff on the street who were giving instructions seemed to have no clue. And who has an artist dinner that half the artists can't attend because they are setting up? A lot would have been solved by telling us our booth locations in advance. I think many in my location would have dollied to the sidewalk in advance and not even attempted to drive in.

People's tempers were definitely high, both committee and artists. We didn't treat each other well either. My husband was poked hard in his bad shoulder by an artist who wouldn't move her van over for anyone else to get through. Of course a committee member telling everyone to pull to the left or right would have eliminated that problem.

Fortunately or unfortunately I made good money at the show and I just can't chuck it into the never again file. I will think long and hard about applying again though and I will make a phone call before I do to say "tell me your plan for that not happening again"

I would hope that there is a big mea culpa apology from someone coming but I'm not holding my breath.
Comment by Barry Bernstein on March 10, 2010 at 9:30am
I'll say right out front that I will do Gasparilla, again, if I get the chance. I wouldn't be surprised if I was blackballed from the show for voicing my criticisms. However, if the committee reads my blogs they should realize my only goal is to make this show, or any show, better. Our point of view has to be expressed so that show committees are aware of our perspective.

I was told that at the last minute the fire marshal was responsible for the fiasco because he limited the amount of people allowed in at one time. He said something about needing a fire lane. From my perspective there were many fire lanes because it was an open field. And as far a the possibility of a fire, there was a greater chance of it snowing 20 inches than there was of any fire occurring. Was the fire marshal making decisions based on a lack of knowledge of the situation? Or, did he just not want us to be there? Was there a hidden bias? At any rate, the committee, as they tell it, and I heard this multiple times, strongly pleaded with the fire marshal and he refused to budge on his decision. I don't know whether the fire marshal is competent in his position, but, in this situation, he did a really bad job, if indeed he is the one responsible. Of course, to us, it didn't matter whose fault it was. We lived up to our agreement by showing up at our designated time and providing the best artwork we are capable of. It's the committees role to overcome any problems that might arise in real time and deal with it.

I am grateful that the show provided free parking for us, no matter how far away it was. However, the directions were sketchy at best. The written directions said Royal street was 3 blocks East, I think, of Polk. The truth was that Royal was 5 blocks from Polk. Also, if you followed the signs, you ended up going in a big circle, which I did twice on Friday until I figured it out. While going around in circles, I say other artists doing the same thing. I noticed by Saturday night they had the signs pointing in the right direction.

This will never happen, but, I wish they would fly me down when they are putting next years show together. I could easily fix all the problems with a little logic.
Comment by bill boyett on March 10, 2010 at 10:02am
Fire Marshals have been difficult at other shows I have done. Worst with a new Fire Marshall out to show everyone who is the biggest dog pissin on the hydrant. Shows that anticipate problems with fire marshals seem to have good luck heading off problems. Just be glad he did not come around requiring fire extinguisher for evrey 6 tents ............. this happened at a florida show I did.
Comment by Caroline Kwas on January 2, 2011 at 11:53am

Yes, yes, yes...worst loadin/teardown!  Judging (or lack of)!  Sales were practically nonexistent!  If it wasn't for my devious hubby bribing a parking garage attendant room for our dually and uhaul, I might still be waiting my turn to tear down!

Another thought here....does anyone else feel that the show had just way too many exhibitors for the space?  What was it, 335?  I saw sensory overload all weekend.  I'm still fairly new at this, but I think some shows cram too many of us in one space.  People get overwhelmed, too much stimuli, at least for those of us who don't have a following of collectors yet.  For now, I'm going to try to stick with shows that have a max of 225-250 artists, depending on the show's layout.

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