In order to make the previous story a happy one, here are the things I left out:
For some silly reason, I was convinced I would sell a good percentage of my inventory, “Since southwestern art doesn’t sell in South Carolina, it just has to sell in Arizona, right??” Well, the Tucson show was a perfect storm of problems all coming together.
Some of the problems were my fault, some of them were the show’s fault, and then you’ve got the economy, which nobody knows what to do with..
- The show was enormous: 400 artists spanning seven city blocks. (In Stillwater Oklahoma, this is longer than Monroe Street, from Hall of Fame to University down the middle of the OSU campus!)
- Most of the state descended on the area, and the crowd got so dense that it was impossible to walk the opposite direction from everybody else. You would think that if it’s packed with people, sales would be through the roof! Most people who walked by my booth didn’t even look at it – they had “art fatigue” by the time they got to me. (I talked to an artist at the other end of the show, and his sales were suffering from the same thing.)
- The city left one of the crossing roads open, effectively cutting the show in two. I’m almost convinced that quite a few people got discouraged at waiting for the red light, and didn’t bother seeing the other half of the show.
- Somehow about two-dozen retail & buy-sell artists got into the show when the official rules said they would be juried out! This is upsetting to a lot of the artists, including myself, because it cheapens the entire event. Off the top of my head, I remember seeing booths for ShamWow, Geico Insurance, and some local kitchen remodeling company! They’re probably great at what they do, but they are not artists, and simply have no place at an art show. (You bet I complained to management about it.) But now I’m curious.. I’d really like to see what their Zapp slides looked like.
- The community was geared toward “hippy art”: countless people in flip-flops, multi-colored hair, and several-day-old Grateful Dead shirts who were looking for cheap stuff made of plastic bags and popsicle sticks. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a complaint against the community; I actually enjoyed being there and interacting with the locals! But when my booth is tucked in the middle of a row of craft booths, something has to give — and it won’t be the craft artists, because they fit in that community perfectly. To be blunt, I felt like an outsider. My suspicions were supported when I got into a friendly conversation with a neighboring artist. She told me that my art belongs at a different kind of show: one that specializes in fine art, one where customers aren’t afraid to purchase art for more than $50, one that looks like the Guggenheim Museum flew over and landed right in the street. Scottsdale AZ, Utica Square in Tulsa, Sun Valley, Park City, Jackson Hole.. that sort of thing.
- Then we’ve got the economy taking a spinning nosedive off a cliff, which didn’t put anybody in the mood to buy anything – except food, for some reason. The food vendors probably went home with truckloads of money. For instance, nearly one out of every ten people were carrying a $5.00 cup of lemonade.
Now I know what NOT to do. Until I figure out a new strategy for applying to art shows, I will be limiting myself to ones to which I can drive in less than a day. (After seeing one of the vendors pull in a crapton of profit, it’s looking more appealing to go back to my roots and set up that lemonade stand again.)
One final thought: Even though there are lots of interesting people wandering up and down the festival, don’t ever take more than one candid shot of someone. I learned that the hard way — I was nearly pummeled by a guy on stilts. Oh, and don’t ever piss off anybody with stilts.