Art Fair Insiders

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What has the world come to-robbing artists?

The past few months I've become more aware of a disturbing trend that seems to be on the rise-breaking into artists' booths at night.  I'm dwelling on this now by the cozy light of a campfire in nowhere, Rhode Island and a cold one in hand, and I'm...puzzled? vicariously violated? utterly astounded? all of the above? -by the fact that people are desperate enough to steal from the starving.  OK, most of us here debunk the myth of the starving artist (I hope) but, let's face it, society in general does not view us as the movers and shakers.  Our work doesn't command that much on the resale market, if you can call it that.  So what are these lowlives looking for when they invade booths at night?


I was in Setauket, Long Island last weekend- a nice little village on the North Shore of stately historical registry homes, estates- your typical upper middle class neighborhood.  This was a show in its 46th year, no fly-by-night venue.  Out of all the cities I've been in over the past 3 months, this was the last place I would have expected to encounter such an egregious violation of one's hard work.  Hell, when I grew up here, we didn't lock our doors at night.  Call me naive, but I never thought of artwork as inherently stealable unless it's a Thomas Crowne Affair.  Let me clarify, I know I'm walking a thin line here.  I know jewelers who have been stalked and robbed at gunpoint, but what I'm talking about is non-precious metal/jewel art that can't be melted down or resold to a pawn shop.  My paintings really don't have much value to the average scumbag, and I'm ok with that.  I'm really disturbed that this happened in an upscale village to the extent that it did.


Many artists arrived Saturday morning to find that, at the very least, their booths had been violated and work had been moved around.  The worst was a painter who had $4000 worth of work stolen.  What was appalling was the show's response to her, which was to brush her off and refuse her request to pack up and leave.  Show security?  I didn't give it much thought before this show, but Framer Dude (who missed his calling as a detective or bounty hunter) has always done a late night walk through to test security and deemed this patrol as lacking, along with several others we have done.  I realize that shows have only a certain amount of dollars to divide up, and perhaps they too are guilty of the same naivety and complacency that I am-that art shows are not big on the hit list.  But this show's layout was a prankster's or a thief's field day- one older gent for security, a dark street, and a row of booths that twisted around through the woods, with a bar in the middle.


My point here is not to lament the evils of the world.  I'm not that much of a rube or a whiner.


I want to pass on a tip that may thwart would-be thieves- who are probably low tech and seeking easy, unsecured targets.  Framer Dude and I take out stock in zipties, also known as cable ties at Home Depot, for setting up the booth.  These have a multitude of uses and we discovered a new one when we sat down and thought about how to make the booth less accessible at night.  When we close the zippers down, we now use a zipties in the four corners and four side zippers, through the holes in the zipper toggles, and attach them to the legs and bottom poles.  I think most thieves are counting on easy access, quick in and out and won't waste the extra time or thought (if they have any after letting off their crackpipes) to tackle a booth that requires a pair of wire cutters to get into.  


Not a fail-safe, but at least it makes it a bit more difficult, rather than just unzippering the tent.  Of course, if they're crackheads, they might carry razor blades and slash their way through the sides, but I haven't thought of a way around that.  Perhaps I should leave my huge German shepherd in the booth at night?

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Comment by Carol Larsen on October 7, 2011 at 9:26am
Another thing to do with the walls that split are to invest in a second set of walls and double layer the booth. Place a solid wall in front of or behind it along with other walls with their zippers staggered in proportion to the ones behind them. Along with the zip ties mentioned. You can also go to the hardware store and they have the long covered thick wire that can be purchased by the foot, crimped on the ends to run a pad lock through. This can be run around the tent in place of a bar w/the zip ties. We use similar for our generator - its a good 20 feet long.
Comment by Gary Haynes on September 22, 2011 at 4:47pm
I leave a doberman in the tent that I haven't fed.
Comment by Rich Terry on September 22, 2011 at 6:42am

Security staff is a great addition to any show however, it is way to easy to hide between building, tents, trailers, in trees. etc. and you cannot have security at every single place. You cannot always blame staff or promoters.

 

I also use grid on all 4 sides and while open there is a 4' wide entrance which works well. There is always a spare 4' wide grid panel behind the booth which gets put in the entrance and cable tied when I close up. This is heavy grid wall with a 1" square tube frame.  This set up has also been through many storms including two microbursts where I have returned to find everyones display gone but mine.

Comment by Kristin Perkins on September 21, 2011 at 5:57pm
I take my artwork with me since I make jewelry, but at a show recently, I had some DISPLAYS stolen.  I couldn't believe it. I too considered the zip tie thing. But then wondered if I'd rather have a few misc. items taken from my tent or have my tent slashed and ruined? What a world!
Comment by Charles Bingham on September 21, 2011 at 4:33pm
You know, i think they make small battery operated motion alarms you can put inside your canopy at night. They have a loud alarm and go off when they detect any motion in your booth.(which there should be none after hours. Not too expensive or complicated. Just a thought.
Comment by Katherine Graham Sarlson on September 21, 2011 at 3:26pm
I hang my art on 7' gridwalls that are zipped to the upper bars of my tent.  While they are not failsafe (and do not do anything about the front wall), having metal walls on the 2 sides and back seems to be a good deterent.  Again, not failsafe, but seeing/feeling the metal grid inside might be deterrent enough to the jerk who only wants to get in and out quickly.
Comment by Jay McDougall on September 21, 2011 at 12:38pm
What Will said. All I have to add is- !!!
Comment by will connor on September 21, 2011 at 11:35am
Or, how about this idea?:  Instead of worrying about zip ties, battery operated sirens, or taking out your work after a long day,  insist that the show provide the meaningful security that they are, or should be, responsible for providing to their clients (us).  It's not that hard, or expensive, to have some eyeballs on the tents through the night.  There are plenty of shows that do this very effectively.  The one's that don't-- like State College (where I had theft 3 years in a row before a group of us starting hiring our own security)--  are screwing us.
Comment by Rod Richardson on September 21, 2011 at 10:05am

This is a really timely BLOG.  Millie and I have been doing AFs for 10 years now.  She makes high end jewelry.  We take anything of value with us at the end of the day and Zip-tie all entry points of the tent.  We're usually the last ones out of the park but it's paid off a few times.  This summer in Wyandotte (MI), everyone around us go hit the same night.  The lady next door had about $1,000 worth of leather goods stolen.  Peter and Wendy last about $500 in lawn art (they leave their big stuff out) and we've had several friends tell of night time vandalism.

 

Our theory is that it's not crack heads but teenage kids that do it for the thrill of it.  We do a lot of high demographic shows in Chicago and Detroit - the petty thievery at Old Orchard is well known and the artist "whisper stream" when anyone gets hit is quick and it's always some well dressed teen doing it for kicks.  This summer I watched a gang of 4 stop at the booth across from us, act like they were shopping then take off in a hurry.  Before we figured out what they had taken, it turns out the artist's cell phone was missing.  She realized it when she went reached for it to call 9-1-1.  None of the perpetrators were over 20 and they had a non-chalance about them that said, "hay, we do this just for kicks."

 

Speaking of the demographics - at Old Orchard we are inside the mall (along the sidewalks) between  a Nordstrom's and a BMW display.  We're not getting hit by crackheads.

 

So our motto is "better safe than sorry."  If they want to steal a table or my ancient box of bungie cords - more power to them.  Everything of value is with us in the truck or back in the motel room.  Takes a little longer but it's worth the effort.

 

There's a BLOG elsewhere on this site about theft in broad daylight - we have a couple of posts there about how we combat that.  Not 100% successful yet but we're getting there.

 

I liked the shotgun idea posted above - we'll take that one into consideration in our 2012 season (grin).

 

Rod Richardson

Native Textures (dot com)

Comment by Caroline Kwas on September 21, 2011 at 9:52am
Rich, you've just given Framer Dude a new problem to solve, and boy does he love to problem solve.  He's getting the Sears charger pack right we have on board the RV now and playing with ideas :)  Great idea, and I suggested attaching a floodlight too.

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