For those of you--no, wait, make it BOTH of you!--who have been wondering "What the heck happened to Geoff?", here's the scoop: After seven years in the art fair biz, my show schedule has a lot of repetition in it now, and it seemed silly to keep reviewing the same events year after year. But I promised the esteemed Connie Mettler that I'd re-review a show if I felt that the old reviews were no longer a valid barometer for readers. And that may be the case with Howard Alan Events' Coconut Point New Years Weekend show.
A brief history: When this show first came on the scene, it was a late-November affair, one of the earliest shows on the Florida circuit. But snowbirds aren't down in force in SW Florida until after Christmas. So a few years ago (after the powers-that-be in Naples took the reins of the Naples New Years show from HAE in favor of their local art association), Alan was quick to slide the Coconut Point venue (a swank mall about 15 miles to the north) into its slot on the schedule.
And although in my experience, this show has never quite produced the revenue of Alan's February Coconut Point show, it has been, for the most part, a pretty strong kickoff to the Florida show season. But for most folks this year, it wasn't. And there are some possible reasons worth noting.
* One of the most welcome aspects of this show is that setup is normally a leisurely all-day Friday affair, providing time to chitchat with artists newly-arrived from Northern climes, pull right in front of your booth, take your time getting unloaded and set up, and maybe even spend some bucks on a nice meal at one of the many fine restaurants the mall provides. But this year, the usual setup date fell on the day after Christmas--Black Friday, when stores everywhere are packed with shoppers exchanging gifts and pounding the limits on their gift cards. So the mall, wishing to maximize parking, requested a Saturday show setup.
Unfortunately, that decision got made after the deadline for artists to withdraw from the show. So those artists, particularly those who want or need extra time to set up, suddenly didn't have it. Most years, obviously, that won't be a problem. Alan's show manager said that it will return to a Friday setup in the future. But I would hope that the mall and HAE can work it out in advance next time Black Friday intervenes, so the schedule isn't changed after the payment deadline.
* Unexpectedly, the Saturday setup put some artists, including me, directly in the line of fire of lawn sprinklers, which came on at the worst possible time--6:30 am, just as many of us had our tents partially erected and our work stacked up--you guessed it!--on the lawn. I didn't have any long-term damage, and I didn't hear of disasters from other artists, but it could have been really bad news. And I could have done without a half hour spent drying artwork with paper towels, or working the full day in wet clothing. (I was grateful for the extra shirt I brought, but my shorts and shoes never recovered.) Again, I'd like to see a note added to the show-mall agreement stating that both parties will double-check the sprinkler schedule so that never happens again.
* This year, the show was migrated away from its usual spot in the center of the shopping area, toward the perimeter of the mall, which has less foot traffic, and where the show isn't as visible to shoppers. This had to do with parking, too, but nothing to do with the holiday. Many large anchors at uber-malls like Coconut Point have a contract clause that guarantees a certain number of available parking spaces in proximity to their store. Most times, the anchor store informally waives that when the mall holds special promotional event, in the interest of being neighborly to smaller stores that get a boost from the additional customer traffic. But one of the major tenants squawked about a recent event and invoked their parking clause...leaving the mall no contractual choice but to move the show toward the mall perimeter. And this is likely to be a permanent arrangement.
Soo, with all that said, how the heck was the show? Saturday sales were pretty meager. Whether folks were fatigued by gift card redemptions, returns, and shopping the 60% off sales at the brick-and-mortar stores, or whether it was psychologically just too-too-close to the Christmas holiday, it's hard to say. But the crowd was generally incurious, and definitely not spending money. I was able to make booth fee back, at least, but even my neighbors, who kill it at this show nearly every year, were struggling to make a buck. Reports from other areas of the show were similarly glum.
Sunday, happily, was a bit better, at least for some of us: By noon, art buyers were in evidence: folks browsed, asked good questions, and expressed interest, but (perhaps because of my location at the front of the show) most everyone told me they wanted to see the rest of the show first before they bought. This is where you have to count on your experience and a willingness to have a good attitude, even when you're not closing sales. Although there were a couple of times I had to take a deep breath, leave my booth, and stroll the show for a couple of minutes, ultimately I reasoned that if enough people loved my work--and they seemed to--that I'd get my share. And around 2 PM, the tide started to turn, culminating with a 5 PM cash buyer of two large canvases, capping a respectable, show-saving payday.
I didn't have time, post-show, to canvass lots of artists, but the sentiment I got from most of those I spoke with was that Sunday was a far better day...but that the holiday hangover and the new location may have scuttled the big kickoff show people had hoped for.
As for me, I feel like I dodged a couple of metaphorical bullets, and I'm happy to get out with a decent profit and undamaged artwork. And there are some lessons to learn: For artists, you can't make a sale if you are out of your booth complaining. And for even the best promoters--and HAE, for my money--is one of the best--s*** happens. Let's see how Alan, and the mall, can work out these issues and have this continue to be a successful show.