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Sonoran Arts League 12th Annual Festival of Fine Art

Sonoran Arts League 12th Annual Festival of Fine Art ( I had an inkling of a feeling...but I went ahead anyway. The guides were right again but I, a mere mortal who doesn't listen well yet, trudged forward. A friend of the wife who is a long time member of the arts league had told us about this show and how they were trying to get a new variety of art in it and I thought, "what the heck, as good an excuse to get out of winter in Denver as any and it is no further than any of the other shows I've done so far." So, off I rode. This time I had to do it all myself as the wife and I have been gone for about a month with shows and a vacation in Hawai'i with my sister and bro-in-law (what am I doing in Denver?) and she felt the need to spend time with her elderly father with whom she has been living for most of the last 3 years. No big deal, I've done it all myself before, even if the tendinitis in my elbow is acting up a bit.

The show was held at the Stagecoach Village in Cave Creek, AZ. I found out later it was previously held at the town center of Carefree, AZ, not too far away. Which suggests that this show might have an identity crisis. There was also another show at the same time as this show at the Frontier Village, just up the road, organized by another show promoter! I think I read somewhere that this area has too many shows, I'm starting to get the picture...Set-up for this show, like most of the shows that I have done in AZ was the day before. Ran into an artist whom I recognized (apparently she didn't recognize me) and asked her if she knew where the check-in was. She explained that she was an artist (I knew that!) and didn't know anything more than I did but that the gal over there was Candy (the shows organizer/promoter). I made some comment about the Stagecoach Village looking like another Arizona ghost town like Fountain Hills. That comment didn't go over real well as the "artist" got defensive, at that point I retreated. But it does seem that a lot of these newer small shopping areas that have developed around the Phoenix area look like ghost towns to me with low levels of occupancy. Cave Creek is not a new development, it is a town that developed long before Phoenix blossomed and still has the ambiance of a small arts community. Other developments like Stagecoach Village have developed as shopping centers within the town limits later.

I did catch up with Candy, who had taken on the task of organization of this show from the arts league, she was busily trying to figure out spots for the artists as she reported that "10 artists canceled" (more about that later!) and she had to reconfigure her layout on the spot. Good thing it wasn't a huge show! She pointed out a spot on the east side of the mall for me which was soon commandeered by another artist who needed the space to spread his sculptures out. Not to worry, my new space was next to him and it was just as good if not better. Have you ever been to the middle east and gone among the vendors in the little streets and every one of the booths in the bizarre looks like it has almost the same stuff? The show setup had that feel to me on reflection as I and four other photographers were within spitting distance of each other! "Good thing we're all different" reported the guy next to me. It was true, my work is more about 20th century Americana, roadside attractions and rusty automobiles, his was western landscape work, the guy next to him had huge black and white canvas landscapes, the guy around the corner was western/cowboy stuff on leather and the guy down the block had different western landscapes. I guess that is what happens when you have to organize on the fly!

Back to the show...Set-up for this show was Thursday afternoon at 4 I was there at 3 and got my booth space which gave me ample time to get things up, especially with the increase in daylight hours, before the Friday opening time of 10 a.m. Not unlike the Carefree show that I did in January ( this show was also mostly populated by the snow-bird crowd of lookers. Long story short...Most of us sat around for long periods of time during the day or talked to the curious on Friday. Fortunately, at 4:30 one individual and a young couple came in and saved the day with their purchases. Could they be angels in disguise come to save me? Saturday was pretty much the same along with lots of talking and sharing about my work but the email to a client that I had met at the January show came through. He came in with his wife and put in the order for 5 photos of work that he had commissioned.

Now I had mentioned that 10 artists had canceled this show. There was a kink in the jet stream that had sent it south along the pacific coast midway down the Baja Penninsula and then shooting back up through AZ, UT and western NM and CO. We were sitting right in the middle of it. Apparently those 10 others had gotten nervous and bailed early. Most of the others that were at the show were nervous as hens with a coyote in the house talking about where the weather was, what was expected, etc. Judging only on how it looked in our little corner you would think nothing was out there. Skies were blue on Friday and the temperature was 85 but anyone with a smartphone (me included) was watching the Weather Channel App. It was supposed to be cooler on Saturday with high winds showing up by 2 or 3 in the afternoon and rain showers. When Saturday arrived although it was a bit cooler, only 75 with some overcast and sun peeking in, it was still nice. The artist crowd was getting even more nervous as the day went on with a few taunts from fellow artists about "chicken little artists". Candy was circulating rumors about possibly shutting down the show early and that wasn't well received by some of the participants either. I was feeling like the show was played out so I was good either way. By the end of the day I couldn't discern fact from fiction but the word was the show would pack it in which indeed it did even though, although forecast, there was no wind or rain what-so-ever even at 5! There was some grumbling but most artists pulled up stakes. Two artists in our area decided to stay and left their tents up, at least overnight as-far-as I knew. Wonder what happened to them? As it turned out it rained like crazy Saturday night into Sunday morning with more on the way later in the day. Was it a good call? I think given the combination of lackluster sales and the prospects of bad weather it was well worth it to pull out a day early!

As for getting out of Phoenix on Sunday morning? I-17 going north to Flagstaff was closed due to 19" of snow, I-40 both east and west through Flagstaff was closed due to the snow as well! Although I had another motel night booked I decided to leave a day early via the southern route through Tucson (in heavy rains) and then east into NM. The weather wasn't any better there as vehicles were being routed off the highway in Lordsburg due to high winds and no visibility between there and Las Cruces. I've been snow bound in Las Cruces before but Lordsburg is even worse. I started to feel like I was in an episode of the Twilight Zone, the only other thing needed at the MckyD's was Rod Serling!

Show Organizer/Promoter: Sonoran Arts League via Vermillion Promotions

Booth Fee: $25 Jury Fee, $375 Booth Fee, $30 City of Cave Creek Business License and an Arizona License euphuistically referred to as the Transaction Privilege Tax (TPT)/License

Logistics: Load-in, depending on where you were located was either easy or a lot of transporting. I was there earlier and was able to park at the middle gazebo and cart my stuff in. If you were at one of the entry points it seemed easier. Some of the streets were narrow and there wasn't much space to park and unload.  Some areas of the show did have a lot of congestion built into the way booths and streets were setup. Some artists may have gotten overlooked at either end of the show. Load-out was pretty much the same. I was packed up and out by 7:30 which was only an extra half-hour from my usual time, sorry sweetie! I think it took the extra time as I first packed everything up and then had to cart all my stuff up a ramp to the nearby parking lot, usually I can drive right up to my piles of stuff.

Show Hours: The show was set to run from 10-5 Friday-Sunday

Amenities: This was not a regular Candy Vermillion Production for which I was told she often provides lunch for the artists, that said, she did have yummy sweet stuff, water, juice and coffee each morning. There were limited booth sitters from the Arts League that went by given that the show was in such a small space anyway that didn't seem to matter much. The show had a few nice food vendors (and popcorn) I think it was the same Greek food guy from Tubac! serving variations on a Greek menu, gyro's, hummus, salad, etc.  Nearby restaurants, were there any? Like I said the shopping area looked like a ghost town. I  looked for food when I drove out one night but didn't see any in the immediate vicinity. I bought stuff at Safeway and kept it in a cooler.  Parking was in an area at the back of the mall, plentiful and free. The walk to the lots was not too bad. Porta potties aplenty seemed to be kept clean!

Reflections: I would probably not do this show again unless I move to Arizona. Although the booth fee was not exorbitant  it is too far to drive, the return was too little and the expenses too much. Another reason I may not do this show again is that there seem to be too many shows going on in this little part of the greater Phoenix area. Overkill! Unless the thought is that vacationers are only around about a week or so and a new batch of blood wont know the difference?

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Comment by Candy Vermillion on May 23, 2015 at 2:14pm

I meant to say courteous - Those are things they we have to deal with on the spot and I find most are very patient and courteous in that regard.

Comment by Candy Vermillion on May 23, 2015 at 2:06pm

I normally don't respond to comments made in this fashion, preferring up front and honest reviews. Unfortunately Mr. Berkun's review seemed to be aimed at sarcastic entertainment rather than providing factual constructive comments. I have been producing shows for over 30 years and the most valuable tool that I have is input from the artists. This has helped me to make improvements after each and every show, because there is almost always something that can be improved upon. Just as important, are comments or suggestions from the general public or anyone involved in the event whether it be participants, attendees, local businesses, etc. 

1. It was quite obvious from comments that I was receiving from other artists soon after Mr. Berkuns arrival that he might be a bit of a challenge. Mr. Berkun was correct about the artist getting defensive with him. I received several comments from other artists that he was not pleasant. I don't want to assume the reasons for the disposition of others as Mr. Berkun seems to do, but he appeared to be tired and agitated. I had at least one artist that knew him from another show, insist that they not be placed next to him. That is one of the changes that I was trying to accommodate during setup because I had a sense that it would become a bigger problem during the weekend.

2. Mr. Berkun arrived an hour prior to the designated check-in time and wanted his booth space. The Stagecoach Village area is a rather small and intimate setting. The show accommodates approximately 80 artists, so it was not a big show. The check-in information sent to all of the artists indicated check-in was in the gazebo, which is located directly in the center of the map and the first structure one would find upon arriving in the parking lot. Nobody else seemed to have a problem locating check-in or me.

3. True - the show was previously held in Carefree and run by volunteer artist members of the League. The show was apparently moved to Stagecoach two years prior because the League had issues with the City. I'm told that the first year the League held the show at Stagecoach Village they again ran into difficulties trying to recruit member artists and organize the event. I was asked to partner with the League and produce the event.

4. The "show" that was being held at the same time was a very small crafty event with perhaps six booths about a mile down the road. That show is not and has never been any competition to an art show in the area. Unfortunately no promoter can control events on other properties.

5. I was not busy reconfiguring the show on the spot, to the level suggested by Mr. Berkun. The placements are always assigned in advance, so that assumption or comment was not correct. We did have a number of cancellations from Art League members. One of the main reasons given was due to the pending weather forecasts. The previous year the show had been blown down in a micro-burst and sadly many of the artists suffered significant damage to their work, tents, etc. I in fact witnessed this on the News and drove out to assist the artists with cleanup. Subsequently, we changed the date the following year, because some seemed to believe that a little later in the year would lessen the chances of inclement weather. Many of the participating artists were local League members and not full time artists. My assumption was they are not used to dealing with inclement weather risks.

6. The event was not organized on the fly as suggested by Mr. Berkun. Eighty artists and 4-5 photographers, all being somewhat different is not a bad ratio. One of the photographers was called in from the wait list to fill a cancellation, rather than to leave a void. There is obviously many many more photographers and jewelers than any other art medium. This ratio actually seems to increase each year. This creates a challenge for juried shows. Organizers need to fill shows, and most artist's have differing opinions on what that ratio should be. 

7. Our shows were then and have always has been well advertised. We consotently receive compliments about our advertising and abundant signage. The reason the shows in the Carefree/Cave Creek areas are so popular is because of the demographics. Stagecoach Village continues to be a good venue. I often hear comment from the artists at Stagecoach, that they have never found such an engaged and qualified audience. The artists also share compliments that they hear from the public regarding the quality of the show, the wonderful layout, entertainment, etc. Honestly, we rarely hear negative comments about Stagecoach Village. It seems to get better each year and traffic remains consistently good.

8. The comment that I was supposedly circulating rumors about closing early is also untrue. I fortunately had never experienced a situation that would prompt me to close a show early. Many of us were monitoring the weather channels and I was constantly being asked by several artsits what the plan was if the weather should take a turn for the worst as predicated. I assured everyone that I would make an announcement should the need arise. I began to receive what I believed to be creditable information regarding the severity of a pending storm with significant flood warnings. I know that it is difficult for artists to lose a day of potential sales, but most of us have witnessed what can happen with damage and loss of work and equipment. Safety is always the main concern when lightening and high winds are predicted. I went to each and every artist an explained that I was calling the show off for Sunday. The artists seemed divided, but I was fairly confident that it was the right thing to do. The storm came in within two hours at the close of show on Saturday. I was still there out of concern for a few artists that had decided to stick it out. The storm was pretty significant with wind, rain and hail. I know that it was absolutely the right decision. I later received a text a couple of artists that said they wished that they would have started tearing down when we made the call. I realize that the weather reports can be an ever changing dynamic, and that my decision could have been called wrong had the storm gone around us. These decisions are never made lightly because I know that it is difficult enough for the artists. I'm thankful that no damage was done and that nobody was injured. Therefore it was absolutely the right decision at that time.

9. There is an abundance of local eateries. In fact the area is known for the number of restaurants within a 1mi radius. At the time, Stagecoach Village had only one restaurant open. For that reason we brought in food vendors, in addition to providing morning refreshments, coffee, water and lunch on Saturday. At the Litchfield Park venues I also provide the artists with a Saturday night buffet at the local restaurant. It has always been very important to take care of the artists.

10. Our records indicated that Mr. Berkun was in fact sent an acceptance notification to the previous show that he mentioned. I try to send out setup reminders prior to the show, and only heard back from him the day before the show stating that he did not receive a notification. I realize that this can happen, and was a little surprised that he didn't contact me sooner.It has been my practice to believe what I’m being told. I like every do make mistakes, but I have also heard every reason imaginable from individuals that want or need to cancel, but want to ensure that they receive a refund. In this circumstance I needed to request a refund from the Arts League. I don't believe that it took that long, and Mr. Berkun did apply to the next show, so I’m assuming it was not a big problem.

Again, I would always prefer to hear comments directly from the individual. It just makes it more credible and easier to understand and try to make improvements. I feel badly if Mr. Berkun’s had a bad experience or a bad show. As a promoter, I strive to work hard for the artists to bring them potential customers. I take seriously all comments provided to me. I’m often told that I am the most visible promoter around. I can say that I am the first to arrive and the last to leave at every show that I produce. I’m there for questions, assistance, or any situation that should arise. I personally monitor and critique every event that I produce, or attend for that matter – and I attend many. There are situations that arise, such as in the Sonoran Festival where cancellations occur or promised volunteers by an organization don’t materialize. Those are things they we have to deal with on the spot and I find most are very patient and curious in that regard. It makes it easier for everyone. I learn something at that show, as I do every show. For instance, I now hire temporary labor out of my budget to assist artists that have a need. There is a lot of hard work that goes into the production and promoting end of the business. The majority of the artists that we work with know the business and appreciate all that we do, and most are not shy about making a suggestion about something that they think may be beneficial. - That is always much appreciated by all


Comment by Robert Wallis on May 23, 2015 at 10:27am

Candy, since you claim this is not true, please enlighten us by stating what isn't true and what is. Are those 80% returning artists primarily locals or are they traveling long distances to do the show? I don't have a dog in this hunt, but have been on the receiving end of flak for critical show reviews. Brian was quite specific in his review and you need to do the same if you're disputing his report. Vague generalities aren't going to cut it.

Comment by Candy Vermillion on May 23, 2015 at 4:24am
Comment by Connie Mettler on April 3, 2012 at 11:14am

Say hi for me too, Pat. Great folks.

Comment by S Brian Berkun on April 3, 2012 at 12:06am

Yep, that's them! Say hi to them for me!

Comment by S Brian Berkun on April 2, 2012 at 9:47pm


Thanks for the encouragement. I don't know if I'm really a road warrior as I was talking to my booth buddy this past weekend at the Tempe Spring Festival of the Arts, now THERE is a road warrior. He shared that he has been doing shows in Florida, Texas, Arizona, Wyoming, Oregon....They REALLY put on the miles, To Rick and his wife Linda I tip my hat! I really enjoyed sharing the weekend with them. As for the promoter of the Sonoran show, yes, she has her own string of shows. This is the first show that I participated in that she organized. I had applied to one of her shows last year and only found out the Monday before the weekend of the show that I had been accepted! It didn't leave a good first impression! I didn't do her show that weekend and after several calls did receive my full booth fee refunded so it worked out okay. In addition to this promoter there are at least two or three others in the area that promote shows in Carefree, Cavecreek and throughout AZ.

Comment by Connie Mettler on March 30, 2012 at 9:58am

What a thorough and sound review, Brian. Many thanks for all these details.

It also sounds like you are truly a road warrior! The miles you must drive.

Are you saying that the person who put on the show has a string of shows? If so, have you done others?

Comment by Annette Piper on March 26, 2012 at 3:22pm

At least you had some sales Brian and caught up with a previous client.  It does sound like show overload and for the amount of sales/people buying, an expensive show.

Comment by Jacki Bilsborrow on March 26, 2012 at 2:41am

Thanks for the review.  We need more Western show reviews.  We have lots of reviews for East coast shows and want to include more western shows. 

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