The Stillwater Arts Festival (formerly “The Run For The Arts”, formerly held at Couch Park, formerly held on the court house lawn, and formerly held in a bank parking lot before that) has changed more times over its 35 years than something that changes a lot. I first saw the show in Couch Park in 2006. It had about 40 local artists and was a cold rainy mess of mud and disappointment. It was still in Couch Park during my first two years of doing shows (2008 and 2009), and it grew to 60 and 70 artists. A handful of artists were from out of state! I also saw what happens when it doesn’t get rained out: great googly moogly, we actually sell stuff!
2010 is when it moved downtown. It got wet. (read my review)
2011 was the year of extremes. The first day was rock solid (I sold enough to question my ability to create enough inventory before the next show), but the second day brought so much wind that I had to break down early before it could destroy the rest of my display.
The Stillwater Arts Festival got all grown up
If you’re like me, “2012” invokes mental imagery of asteroids blasting the earth with hellfire and destruction. So far, 2012 brought a festival of creativity to downtown Stillwater, Oklahoma — taking the form of a meticulous arrangement of 127 artists. Oh, yes. I typed that right, 127. And remember, this was a show which only six years ago had a third that many artists.
How did it get so big? This was the first year the show was available on Zapplication.org — a massively-popular system for artists all over the country to apply to lots of shows at once. All the big art shows use Zapp: Cherry Creek in Colorado (the creator of Zapp), Ann Arbor in Michigan, St. James Court in Louisville, Park City Kimball in Utah, and locally: the big OKC Festival and Tulsa Mayfest. If it’s big, it’s on Zapp. And here was the Stillwater show getting all big.
Where’d everybody go?
The only thing totally out of our control (the weather) was wonderful both days! Sure, the wind picked up on the second day; but at 15mph and 75F, it wasn’t the cold, dank, rainy, tornadic cluster of silliness that mother nature usually offers us this time of year.
The weather was nice, the collection of artists had never been greater, but what about the crowd? They were evidently off doing something else, at least from the point of view of my booth. (Here’s the part where I whine, and thanks to my technical background, I whine in maths.) The promoters of the show estimated 10,000 visitors for the two-day show. Saturday was 10am to 5pm, and Sunday was 11am to 5pm — 13 hours total. Dividing 10,000 visitors by 127 artists, and 13 hours, that means each booth was visited by 1 person every 10 minutes, on average. If they reduced the size of the show back to 85 artists, and had a 20% increase in visitors (just an extra 2,000), the ‘visitation rate per booth’ would double. (As of this writing, two days after the show is over, the City of Stillwater website still says “approximately 80 juried artists“…)
In this part of the country, there are only so many varieties of artwork to choose from, so inviting more artists simply increased the number of artists in each medium. Last year the show had four photographers. This year we had 12 — one tenth of the show was photography.
Location, Location, and that other thing
Visitors generally want an art show to be located in the best part of town, and we artists want our individual booths to be located in the best part of the show. The “best part of town” for an art show is a place with ample parking for a zillion visitors, and in neighborhoods where people feel comfortable walking around (parks and business districts). The “best part of the show” is different for everybody, but we do agree where the worst part of the show is: on the fringes, out in the dark corners where nobody goes.
Even though the mere concept of a shopping mall is disappearing, we can still learn from the mountain of research regarding store layout. I can’t seem to find the journal articles I had on this, but it was fascinating stuff: Malls can be designed in practically any shape, but each hallway ‘spoke’ from the center must have an “anchor store” at the end. In order for a store to be an anchor store, it must move a massive number of sales per square foot, and generally be a magnet that pulls people to the entire building. With anchor stores on the fringes of the structure, traffic will flow through the building from one anchor store to the next. Visitors discover the other stores along the way. How would this apply to an art show? In the mall analogy, consider anchor stores to be food vendors and music stages. Attract people to the edges of the place. Don’t let people think the edge of the show is just a place to turn around. Don’t let people get bored.
Here in Stillwater, Oklahoma, when people think “downtown”, they think of a three-block stretch of Main Street, from 6th to 9th. Anything past 9th is “past the last traffic light.” Anything off on the side streets (7th and 8th) is, well… “off on the side streets.” So, if you want to set up an event downtown, and you don’t want to send visitors out away from the action, you’re pretty well stuck between 6th and 9th.
So, where did they decide to plop down the show this year? Between 7th and 10th. Where was my booth? Past the last traffic light. But mine wasn’t the worst location! Since the show had 120 artists, the extra booths went out along 8th and 9th in both directions — the shape was unlike any Tetris block in existence.
When I talked to other artists, it was pretty much a consensus — the show was too big, and the artists out on the side streets felt like they were too far away to be noticed.
We artists can go on and on with a million different excuses why we think our sales tanked at a show: “My booth placement sucked… there were too many artists… there’s another big event going on across town… the weather, the noise, blah blah blah…” But sometimes it’s just dumb luck!
Welp, off to Edmond!