Art Fair Insiders

Call for Artists, Making Money at Juried Art Fairs, Craft Shows and Festivals

Spent the previous weekend in lovely Prescott, AZ (pronounced Press-kit) at the 35th Annual Arts Guild show. The show is located on the lawns around the courthouse in the center of town. People know that it is an annual event and being the first show of the summer season it seems there isn't art show fatique. But that isn't the reason for writing this post. As if there aren't enough shows in AZ these days for promoters to promote it seems that there was another promoter promoting a show adjacent to this one! I mean kitty corner from this show! I've seen this other promoters shows when I've done shows in Carefree, AZ and they were down the road a bit but this is ridiculous! When I was participating in the Sonoran Arts League Show in March there were two other shows taking place no more than a mile away from each other!

The larger issue here, and we've probably all acknowledged it at one time or another, is the proliferation of shows that are taking place! Paragon is on the move, Amy Amdur has a show in just about every corner of the Chicagoland area on any given weekend, Howard Alan must own Florida by now and has had a presence in the Colorado high country for a number of years as-well-as trying to make in-roads at Lake Tahoe and Park City for a couple of years. I did his Park City incarnation one year as I wasn't invited to the Kimball show that year, it was behind a shopping center, I mean REALLY BEHIND, apparently it wasn't a good gamble as I don't see it on his calendar anymore. Now the same people that bring you the Rio Grande shows in Albuquerque are making a play for another show in the Denver area, lets see, that makes at least 6 shows in the same market! Jim Delutes did such a good job of resurrecting the Downtown Denver show at the Pavilions that they decided to kick him out and do their own show on the very same weekend (ArtStir) and just a few blocks away!

Now I read a blog about how all these shows are diluting the market for fine art (craft) and we all want to vilify promoters for their shameful gluttony but, artists share responsibility for this land grab as-well-as the promoters they want to string up. Truth be told, if artists weren't so willing to run to the latest and (presumably) greatest show on earth there would be less shows and less dilution of the bottom line.

As I think about this issue I recall the Ken Burns PBS production on the Dust Bowl. In addition to changing their tilling style so that they were tilling the soil less deep, farmers were also planting many more acres. Then, when the price of their crops went too low to make a decent living wage their answer was to plant more acres! Guess they never heard of supply and demand. In the end when the rains dried up with an extended drought and tilling the soil went on unabated the land gave out and blew away. In fact there are still areas of South East Colorado that have not recovered from the ravages of the dust bowl era. Seems to me there is a lesson in this. Those that ignore their history are doomed to repeat it, no matter what business their in. So who's responsible for the bottom line becoming smaller? Probably all of us, promoters and artists alike. I let you draw your own conclusions as to how to answer this dilemma for yourself. But it seems to me that not applying for these newcomers in an already diluted market might make the most sense. Or, as has been suggested, if a show does not support you, don't support it. I was wait listed for the Downtown Denver show this year and I didn't plan on applying to ArtStir, the next startup in an already diluted market, instead I'm attending a small show in New Mexico in a market without any other shows. But that, as they say, is another story.

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Comment by Richard L. Sherer on June 24, 2013 at 4:55pm
S. Brian, a new blog Too Many Shows - Too Many Artists? was started as an extension to your blog. Hope they read both.
Comment by Barry Bernstein on June 24, 2013 at 1:35pm

I just thought of something that I want to share. When I was taking art classes, the ceramics professor showed us a film about Shoji Hamada, who all potters with an education know was one of the premier potters to ever work in clay. He exclaimed that it only took him 20 years to make a good pot. He said that it took 20 years because he had really bad clay. He then exclaimed that if had really good clay it would have taken 30 years. Only in America can someone make a few things and call themselves an artist. You don't have to believe me. Go read what all the masters said about it throughout history. They all wrote extensively about the subject.

Comment by Barry Bernstein on June 24, 2013 at 1:26pm

S Brian, I've been saying the same thing since AFI started. However, it's a free market here in the US. Anyone can do anything they want and they are protected by law. That's why I'm a crusader for having an education in art, knowing what you are doing. Too many people in the art fair world have never taken an art history class, been to a museum, or read a book. They make a couple of cutesy things and think they are artists. And when they start selling their stuff, look out!! They are now experts in the field. You know, I have never called myself an artist. I don't even know what that is. Understanding what art is takes years and years. It is not an easy thing to grasp. It's complex and it is not possible for someone who has only done this for a few years to get it. That's not to say that if you continue on your path to learn that you may achieve a level of knowledge. I would be the last person to stop someone on the path of discovery. Keep working.

Scott, glad you work at the DIA. I used to take the 8 Mile bus to Woodward for 25 cents and get a transfer, which was a nickle and go to the museum, the Detroit Historical Society, and the main library. That was 60 cents round trip. I did this about once a week in the summer for years growing up in Detroit. I've stared at the Diego Rivera mural for hours. And the Bruegel painting "The Wedding Dance," the Egyptian pottery collection. I could go on and on.

Comment by Richard L. Sherer on June 24, 2013 at 1:01pm
Probably should be a new thread on "Too Many Artists - Too Many Shows". As in any industry it takes time to sort out the survivors that will keep things going. The two are related and a lot of people flocking to shows to try to sell work that isn't selling just keeps promotors producing more shows to fill the need, quality goes down, more B/S gets in. It looks like a vicious cycle to me that won't end until folks face reality. Hope you can see why the divergence happened. Apology to you and your thread on my part.
Comment by S Brian Berkun on June 24, 2013 at 12:49pm

Okay, stop the presses! You guys are seriously off the original topic, but I'll not be rude enough to call you names like some other nameless ones have! The original thread was about the plethora of shows in any particular market. I wrote my response as a result of another blogger who was bemoaning the loss of good shows, etc. Let's get back on topic please  ;-0

Comment by Richard L. Sherer on June 24, 2013 at 12:47pm
Correction: Too much fear about selling at high prices.
Comment by Richard L. Sherer on June 24, 2013 at 12:45pm
Really interesting replies guys and gals. To be the devils advocate, for some artists mentioned, their work did not achieve its true value until they were dead. So much for paying the bills to continue. In my field a lot of the young turks promote themselves as great saddle makers because they are cowboys. Knowledge of equine anatomy and use of saddles and gear is important, but how far does looking at tails on cows you don't own take you for developing your mechanical and artistic skills? Time at the bench trumps time on horseback IMO, yet I am criticized by the cowboy makers for this point of view. Bottom line, the work speaks for itself. I took some art history classes in college but all of my art training was in an apprenticeship. Luckily the guys I studied with were some at the top of the field at that time. I have to disagree with Larry about quality having nothing to do with selling. Not to knock any other leather worker at shows I have done, but more than once I have heard people entering my booth comment "this is the guy that has the really nice stuff". It may refer to local businesses or other leather work, but quality and craftsmanship is recognized and results in sales. McDonalds can have the meat, just give me the hide (that's a joke). My mother kept my politically incorrect Aunt Jemima grocery list holder colored with red and black crayons all her life and I still have it. I also have the first belt I made. Both suck, not art. Sentimental value is great. Artists as a whole IMO tend to undervalue their work. That is great for me when I shop for art but not so great for the artist. Too much fear about not selling at high prices. If you don't value your work why should anyone else? Guess I will have ruffled some more feathers but hope it starts people thinking about marketing and making money after the artistic exercise of producing the work is done. Now I have to go cut up cows into parts for three saddles in the works, 75 different checkbooks to be made up, 12 pairs of suspenders , seven flasks of different sizes (all for inventory), two antique restorations that have been here for over a year, finish up three special order flasks, suspenders and belts, send off app. to Elk Fest in Estes Park, etc. etc. etc. the art work is fun, I try to make the business of art equally fun.
Comment by Theresa K. Hardy on June 24, 2013 at 12:14pm

I respectfully disagree with Barry as well.  Actually, I was quite stunned by his thoughts.

 

Comment by Scott Pakulski on June 24, 2013 at 12:11pm

Thank you Barry for calling the Detroit Institute of Arts one of the best museums in the world. I am a volunteer at that museum now for 17 years!

Comment by Elle Heiligenstein on June 24, 2013 at 12:02pm
That is your opinion, and I will continue to respectfully disagree. I agree with your McDonalds analogy wholeheartedly. I have seen some things, namely the buy/sell, that leave me wondering who is jurying some of these shows.

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