Now back in Florida, I thought I'd take a couple of minutes and wrap up the telling of my show experiences in the Northeast. It was a challenging summer for show sales, but a great opportunity to expand my inventory and my marketing presence. We'll see, in time, if that work pays off.
But first, let's look at the last few shows on my agenda. After about 10 days of R&R back home in Florida, I flew back into Atlantic City International Airport (via Spirit Air, which sends a direct flight from Ft. Myers once a day) on Oct. 10. First stop: The Chesapeake Bay Art Association show, a scheduled two-day affair in the park at Ocean View. This is a small, inexpensive show ($110, tops!) that draws mostly regional artists. It's not a show that I'd advise an artist to travel huge distances to do, but as an entrée to the surprisingly active arts scene in and around Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Virginia Beach, it can't be beat. Friendly, well-run, casual: lots like old-time art shows used to be.
It's close to the water, in Ocean View park, where a path winds its way along the bay. Artists along the path contend with ocean breezes nearly all day long, no matter the weather (about which, more in a paragraph or two). If you're even fifty yards inland, the wind is less of a problem. If you make it to the show in time to set up on Friday, you can drive right to your booth and set up. On Saturday morning, you need to park along the street or in a nearby parking lot and dolly from there: a little more work, but not a problem.
Last year's show was surprisingly good, and I was hoping for a repeat performance. The show gathers a lot of support from the local community (Norfolk's mayor even came by, waited politely while I wrapped things up with a customer, then graciously introduced himself and thanked me for coming from Florida to do the show.)
But, as so often has happened this summer, the weather didn't work in my favor. A late-summer storm driven by a weather system off the coast had been lashing the east coast for several days, and it just refused to move on. So although Saturday started on time, crowds were light under stiff breezes and cloudy skies. "We'll get 'em tomorrow," I thought, after counting less than $300 in sales. But the forecast called for even stronger winds, with possibility of thunderstorms, for Sunday. With the result that, much to my surprise, I arrived Sunday morning to find artists packing up.
The show director called off the show based on the forecast high winds and chance of lightning, she told me. And for sure, in the two hours I was packing up, breezes did pick up to about 20 mph where I was (and perhaps to 30 mph along the aforementioned pathway). But the thunderstorms never came, nor the rain. Was it the right call? Well, it's tough for me to be impartial: Having counted on the show revenue to at least cover the week's stay before exhibiting at the following week's Stockley Gardens show, I was disappointed. I did learn later, however, that Norfolk city regulations for outdoor events give city officials the power to call events when lightning is in the area. So maybe it wasn't the show's call decision at all. Either way, they opted as they did out of concern for artists and their artwork. And given the oceanside venue, with booths set up individually rather than pole to pole, I can't say it was the wrong call.
After a week's stay in the Ocean View EconoLodge (one of the best values for the money I've ever encountered: clean, impeccably well-run hotel, and less than $350 for the week), it was on to the well-known Stockley Gardens fall show (Oct. 18-19). This locally-run event occupies three square blocks in Norfolk's Ghent neighborhood, one of the nicest older residential areas in this history-rich town. The streets and parking are tight, but it's an inexpensive ($250 single booth) well-organized show and (much like the Rehoboth Beach (DE) Art League show I had done two months earlier) is eagerly awaited by art buyers.
It had been one of my strongest shows ever in 2012, but this year the mojo didn't strike twice. Saturday was a browse-fest, with a less knowledgeable crowd than I remembered, and artists I spoke with at the great-as-always Saturday night barbeque dinner might best be described as "puzzled."
Sunday was a really beautiful day, and the art-savvy buyers came out in force, but for many of us it wasn't enough to meet expectations. Although I wound up with a decent profit, the show was down about 50% for me; the folks I spoke with during load out reported overall sales that were a bit lackluster, as well.
I'm not sure why: In a city with so many military employees, it might have been the lingering nervousness over sequestration. Whatever. This is still on my "must do" list for next year, but I'd hoped for more. Maybe the gubbmint can get its act together in 2014 and lessen buyer anxiety a bit.
I'd started my northern journey 'way back in May, spending time in Stone Harbor NJ to add to my knowledge and inventory of Northern bird life, and shooting aggressively wherever I went for the next four months. From that standpoint, the trip was a success. Many, if not all, of the images I created and sold up north will remain staples of my inventory all winter. (Early indication is that they'll sell just as well down South.)
But of the eight shows I did in June, September, and October, only one (Seawall, in Portsmouth, in late August) exceeded their 2011 or 2012 totals. Only three were strong enough to make them likely candidates for 2014 (Rehoboth's two weekends, plus Stockley), and with average expenses of more than $700/week on the road, precious little profit was had even at those venues.
All of which puts my summer 2014 plans in a bit of a pickle. I've got a few months--only a few--to sort things out. The lingering effects of Hurricane/Superstorm Sandy can't be denied: only last week, at the storm's first anniversary, did hard numbers on the storm's lingering economic impact come into sharp focus. Over one-third of damaged homes along the New Jersey coast, for example, are still awaiting insurance money. Even when money has been forthcoming, it hasn't been timely enough, or sufficient enough, to rebuild to the new housing codes. And lastly, the insurance premiums for said homes have skyrocketed, leading many long-time homeowners to simply walk away.
The impact on the communities there will last for years, not months. The success of art shows, at least at the shore-based venues, likely will take time to recover as well.
For context, see earlier posts in this series: