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death spiral of art fairs (long and rambling)

updated thu 22 aug 02


Kay Howard on tue 20 aug 02

Since my comments about the disappointing Worthington art fair have =
opened this thread, I=92ve read all the postings and have had many =
thoughts. It=92s hard to disagree with anyone. I do think that art/craft =
fairs are responding to the general economic conditions, and so IMHO the =
situation is more complicated than oversaturated markets and greedy =
promoters, although that is certainly part of it. It appears that a =
number of factors are converging to make it more difficult to make a =
living by doing shows. And that scares me because it is the only way I =
have ever sold my work. I=92ve been doing shows for 8 years=97at first I =
was thrilled to make booth fee and have enough left to buy dinner. My =
husband (hereafter referred to as "Phil" or "the engineer") had a great =
salary as an automotive design engineer and my pottery was extra. But he =
hated the corporate world and at the earliest opportunity, bailed. We =
aren=92t young (me 59, he 67). So we entered the world of shows (a =
parallel universe!), and did well enough the last 4 years with his =
social security to sort of put a modest living together.=20

Then along came 2002. Income down by 40-50%. And not just me=97for the =
most part, I have heard the same story from many=97even those "snooty =
jewelers and painters". Many of whom I really like and respect. Just =
remember, we buy dirt, those jewelers buy silver, gold and gems. And get =
robbed with regularity (the buy-sell/bead stringers are a different =
conversation). Can you see a thief trying to sneak off with a 45 pound =
banana box?

Anyway, part of this is that people are afraid to spend money. Heck, =
I=92m not spending, why should I think those other folks, who are just =
like me, should be doing differently.? And I didn=92t even lose any of =
those fantasy stock market bucks. Until our potential customers realize =
that the stock market is not the real world, that most of them are still =
employed and really do have some discretionary income and that beauty is =
still something needed in their lives and their homes, we will have lean =
times. And more than ever we will be the =96free=97entertainment. =
Question: What do you call a business card? Answer: a get out of my =
booth free card. Ya gotta have a sense of humor.

The "shows are dying" and " we should not do so many" conversation is =
one the engineer and I have been having with some frequency. I repeat. =
We aren=92t young. For several years we went to Florida in Feb and did =
shows-mostly a well known promoter who recently raised his fees and =
added jury fees. If I go south in =9203 it won=92t be to do his shows. I =
also will not be doing anymore Sugarloaf shows=97way too expensive for =
what we make. These promoters have big businesses and a steady supply of =
good, bad and mediocre exhibitors waiting to try their luck. . I would =
be surprised if they disappear. To be fair, they do advertise and bring =
in the people. But John is right=97they are interested in their profits, =
not ours. But let=92s talk about Ann Arbor.

Some of you remember I was disgustingly euphoric to get in at the last =
minute. It was a real learning experience.. It was also our best show =
this year; but it did not exceed our wildest expectations. The crowds =
were not there. But it was a blessing that we did not expect. And we =
have heard that next year the pie will be smaller as 200-300 more =
exhibitors will be added to the melee. I would not drive from California =
to do this show, and I have heard that many long time exhibitors are =
simply leaving the show. Since I live 35 minutes away, I will do it =
again=97but conventional wisdom seems to be that this venerable event is =
self destructing=97greed strikes. Sigh=97just when I finally get my =
chance. As I said, greed strikes and I am not immune.

So what is the answer? If the big corporate promoters survive and the =
Ann Arbors are the dinosaurs, where does that leave us? Maybe banding =
together to produce our own shows, home shows, co-op galleries=97all =
good possibilities if possible. But I really like doing shows=97I like =
the people, the interacting, the wonderful artists, the educating that =
goes on. I don=92t want to stop=97and I have to say that the shows I =
have been doing are pretty high quality (yes, even those promoter =
ones=97I object to the high booth fee and methods of operation, not my =
fellow travelers) and I think one thing we must do is our part to keep =
quality high and to insist that rules are followed=97or don=92t do the =
show. Easier said than done, I know=97SOS shows up everywhere! (s*** on =
a stick for the uninitiated) I for one prefer to believe that the =
quality shows, that treat artists and customers properly and charge =
appropriate fees will survive with our help and we will prosper =
together. While we certainly must become diversified and flexible, and =
be more persnickety about choosing our venues, I do not believe that =
abandoning shows is the answer. We have heard from our clayarter friends =
what shows meant to their development as artists and persons.=20

If accessible art disappears from our culture, we will all be =
poorer=97economically, spiritually and every other way.=20

Sorry=97I have really babbled, and perhaps not too coherently=97times =
are confusing and it=92s hard to know which path to follow. So whether =
you are playing out the show season-I am-or holding it together some =
other way=97good luck---and keep making mudpies. I know that just like =
me, you are all just trying to make a living the best you can and with =
the tools you have. I=92m mighty grateful for all the generous and =
thoughtful advice that comes through these pages.

Kay in dark Grass Lake, MI=97off to Bookfield/Milwaukee this week-end to =
do another of those corporate/greedy promoter shows and to see my son =
the "chicken wrangler" at UW Madison. Weather sounds good J=20