The Independent Artist is a publication of the National Association of Independent Artists (NAIA) that is published twice a year.
Many thanks to the artists, collectors, merchants, service providers, and other professionals who generously contribute articles for inclusion in this publication.
To advertise in furture issues of The Independent Artist, contact NAIA member .
To submit articles, letters to the editor, or ideas for future issues of The Independent Artist, email , chair, Communications Committee.
|Issue 14, Summer 2014||Issue 12, Fall 2013||Issue 11, Winter 2013||Issue 10, Spring 2012||
Issue 9, Fall 2011
||Issue 8, Fall 2010||Issue 7, Spring 2010|
BY TERRY CORCORAN
2014 NAIA BOARD CHAIR
We are pleased to reveal our most recent project “How to Produce a Great Art Show.” It was unveiled as an NAIA publication at the 2014 ZAPP Conference. Through the leadership of our Communications Chair Carroll Swayze the booklet was put together with input from the NAIA Board, Show Directors and Exhibiting Artists. We would like to thank everyone who contributed and a special thanks to Carroll for a job well done.
The smooth change of show directors depends on information often not recorded be passed to the incoming director. From planning and prospectus to safety considerations it is a large undertaking for a volunteer committee or first time show director to remember everything. Through years of combined experience “How to Produce a Great Art Show” provides the considerations that are the makings of a successful show that artists and patrons will return to.
The NAIA has observed many changes in the last decade. Membership has grown and diminished in response to the external pressures an organization faces in a changing economy. Disharmony about policy decisions such as having show directors on the board has also affected attitudes concerning membership and volunteer support. We do not have the large number of members and volunteers enjoyed during more prosperous times with many hands to do evolving numerous duties. In response to these realities it became our task to reign in costs and simplify jobs. We do have a workable number of board members but new board members are always needed.
We have been making changes to the nuts and bolts procedures associated with board duties to ensure the best use of limited time. To reduce outgoing revenue we eliminated the Executive Assistant position in the spring and hired a bookkeeper that will also do membership processing. Technology is a wonderful thing when it saves time but too often it can become overwhelming for volunteers to enter track and update data in several programs. We eliminated the online data base management company to further reduce our costs and save time. Ben Frey has been heading up the efforts to streamline and manage our data and make it easily accessible to those that need it. To better serve our members and further reduce costs thanks to Ben we will soon be adding a PayPal link for fast secure membership payment.
One of the problems most identified by artists are buy sell vendors and production studios posing as individual artists. If you have solid evidence of buy sell or production studio violators please share it with the Director of the show. Directors are doing what they can to verify information and they do share it among themselves. Recently some violators have been uninvited to shows after invited artist lists have gone out once alerted to the potential violator and evidence. Other shows have stated the violators will not show in subsequent shows so some progress has been made. They can assess the credibility of the information and do what they can to verify but only if they know. Boxes that say “Made elsewhere” are not evidence of buy sell.
A recently investigated incidence of buy sell turned out to be imported frames, the heavy duty boxes perfect for repacking framed work for a show. Be aware of such considerations when presenting evidence that is seemingly not acted upon. The NAIA FB forum is open to both artists and directors. Discussions and information on the forum has been very helpful. The news clip interview link where one entrepreneur identifies their manufacturing facility in Colombia is an example.
We congratulate artists successful enough to have a production studio employing others. Cottage Industry has a tradition in America there are venues that allow and promote it along with production studios. Most shows have published rules pertaining to what kind of work is permissible. NAIA is not responsible for discovering or researching for offenders though we are sometimes made aware of them. We are interested in shows enforcing the rules of their show as stated in the prospectus. Artists who are aware of infringement must stand up for themselves and other legitimate artists. Contributing solid evidence and informing show directors where to view the information so they may act is important if we are to maintain the confidence of the public in buying original work. Membership has suggested an accessible database file, we have inquired informally with lawyers who have warned about the liability issues. The NAIA continues to look for ways to legally and ethically address this issue. The NAIA serves as the conduit and voice of the artist but we can only do it with your support and membership. Please join now.
NAIA Board of Directors, Chair
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BY JAMES BRUTON
PRODUCTION MANAGER, DES MOINES ARTS FESTIVAL
(De Facto) Job Description: Production Manager, Des Moines Arts Festival
Your job is to build a city that supports 200,000+ people.
You’ll have two days (and a limited budget) to bring in and set up electricity, water, communications, trash collection, ATMs, restrooms, and more. Build art galleries, restaurants, bars, entertainment venues, stores to sell merchandise, hospitality suites, offices, first aid stations, and more. Hire and manage security, construction workers, electricians, entertainers, sound technicians, food vendors, street cleaners, parking attendants, and more. Recruit and manage 1,300+ volunteers and over 30 non-profit organizations. Source suppliers for tents, banners, beer, wine, soda, water, ice, barricades, fencing, moving trucks, golf carts, radios, fireworks, and more. You’ll have to secure all the appropriate permissions, permits, licenses, as well as insurance coverage. Coordinate with local authorities, regulators, and the fire department to make sure you are in compliance will all city, county, and state regulations. All of this has to be orchestrated so that everyone has what they need, when they need it, or the whole thing could fall apart. This new city must be sustainable for three days while promoting an atmosphere conducive to purchasing fine art. Then you’ll have twelve hours to tear it all down and leave no trace that it was ever there.
If anything goes wrong, it’s your fault. If everything goes smoothly, you get to thank your volunteers.
Friday – January 17th, 8 a.m.
The Deep End of the Pool. It’s 6° outside and the sun broke past the horizon just 22 minutes ago. The sky is dark and the 2014 polar vortex is in full effect. But I have summer on my mind, the last weekend in June to be precise. It’s my first day on the job as Production Manager for the Des Moines Arts Festival, one of two full-time positions working on the event.
I’ve been handed a map encompassing seven square blocks of downtown Des Moines, a production timeline with a list of 960 tasks to accomplish, and a three-ring binder that has 6" of paper crammed into its 5" capacity. This production binder, affectionately (and perhaps sacrilegiously) nicknamed “The Bible,” contains the details of last year’s Festival. I have a very short window of time to digest all this information and produce a Festival that’s not only better than previous Festivals, but better than any other festival in the world. That last part is just my own personal goal, but hey, if you’re going to dream…
I quickly learn that, while I have many years of operations experience, a festival is a world unto its own. Every aspect of the event has to be recreated each year. And you only have one shot at getting it right. Most businesses have time to make a decision, implement a plan, and tweak it over a period of time to perfect the process. There’s no time to tweak during a three-day festival. Not until next year, anyway.
Tuesday – February 4th
High Hopes. Another unique aspect of a festival is that, since you essentially rebuild the event site each year, you have substantial control over what is brought onto and taken off the festival grounds. This presents an opportunity to implement sustainable practices into the event. Our Festival has previously incorporated some “green” practices into the event and even has two excellent volunteers acting as Chairs of the Sustainability Committee. The three of us began working with a group of students from Drake University in Des Moines to develop a comprehensive sustainability guide for our Festival. We will meet over lunch at a local Vietnamese restaurant every Tuesday until the end of the semester. I love Pho!
Wednesday – February 5th
Crossed Fingers. Professional artists will always be the cornerstone of the Des Moines Arts Festival, but live music is an important part of the weekend. Friday and Saturday nights draw large crowds to our main stage where national acts headline a full day of programming. Our Festival is completely free to attend, including these performances, but the crowds help generate revenue by quenching their thirst while watching the show. So it’s important for us to book the right bands and have them scheduled far enough in advance to effectively promote the shows.
We discuss potential headlining acts with our booking agent and agree upon a deadline of May 1st to have both nights booked. I’m told that we’ve had difficulty with the timeliness of our agent in the past, but I am assured this year will be different.
Tuesday – March 4th
Finding Good Talent. Cheap. Two interns have been working with us since the beginning of the year to help us get prepared. We start interviewing candidates for two more intern positions that open up in May. It’s a long and discouraging process, but we finally find two that are talented and, for a mere pittance, willing to work until their hands bleed.
Tuesday – March 25th
One of our two interns has decided that helping produce a Festival isn’t in her future after all. Great. Time to start interviewing again.
Wednesday – March 26th
A Little Nervous. I attend my first “Street Use” meeting at City Hall. This meeting is attended by members from the Des Moines Police Department, Fire Department, Parks & Recreation, Public Works, Traffic & Transportation, City Manager’s Office, and about half a dozen more officials from around the city. They are all looking at me. They want to hear my plan for shutting down the streets for five days. The answers I give will determine whether I get a thumbs up or thumbs down to close the streets. Everything seems to go well. Apparently I’ll know for sure sometime in June.
Saturday – March 29th
Inferno. The historic Younkers building, a downtown Des Moines landmark built in 1899, burns to the ground in the middle of the night. I happen to be in Chicago for the weekend and get the news via a text message. Why did someone bother to notify me? Because the smoldering pile of rubble that was once the beautiful Younkers building is adjacent to our office. And since the two buildings shared a wall and an open walkway, our building is off limits…indefinitely. Perfect. Everything I’ve accomplished during the past two-and-a-half months is either smoke damaged, water damaged, or both.
We move into a temporary office space the following Monday. It will take a few days to get computers and email up and running, but at least we have a place to work.
Thursday – April 10th
Office Grab. Because the safety of our previous office building is still uncertain, we are given ten minutes to race into the building and grab what we need. The whole time I feel like I’m in an episode of Supermarket Sweep, except that I’m wearing a hard hat and protective eyewear. I grab my files and last year’s production binder and head out. Only when I’m back outside do I remember the half-gallon of milk that’s still in the fridge under my desk. Gross.
Earlier that day I met with a Captain from the Des Moines Fire Department to discuss tent permits and fire regulations. While we’re talking, I’m also trying to figure out a way to get my two-year-old son a ride in a REAL FIRE ENGINE!
Thursday – April 17th
Vital Components. Our staff is very small, so we hire a group of strong and energetic workers to help out during the week of the event. This production crew transports items to and from our warehouse and office to the Festival grounds. They also help set up and tear down the event site and assist during the Festival where needed. I meet with the coordinator for this group and arrange to have a team available. This crew will be my go-to team during the Festival.
Tuesday – April 22nd
Our sustainability plans are moving along, albeit more slowly than I would like. It turns out that information is hard to come by regarding sustainable events in the US. On top of that, one of my Sustainability Chairs has moved to St. Louis.
To keep things moving along, I have several conversations and meetings with the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Natural Resources, local utility providers, waste management organizations, and several state and local groups dedicated to environmental concerns. I really feel that if I can make a difference at our event, then I can help educate other festivals and make a positive impact far greater than just three days at the end of June.
Thursday – May 1st
We have been meeting with our booking agent each week trying to secure headlining acts for Friday and Saturday nights. Today is the deadline. No acts are booked. Not even close.
The rest of the month is spent finalizing the details of the event and tying up loose ends.
Friday – June 13th
It’s two weeks before the Festival and we finally find out who our headlining acts will be. Not much time to promote the shows and drum up attendance, but we’ll make it work. We have to.
Friday – June 20th
Opening day of the Festival is in one week. I just got a notice that my street closure request has been approved. Whew!
My fortune cookie from lunch offers a reassuring message: “You are going to pass a difficult test.”
Saturday – June 21st
Mark the Site. The last Saturday before the Festival is spent marking out the event site. We take our site map, a 300'-long tape measure, a box of spray chalk, and mark out the location of every single structure that will be built for the Festival the following week. This is a long and tedious, but necessary, task. I start to get excited knowing that in six days, the streets will be completely transformed and tens of thousands of people will be walking around the site that I built. Hmmm. Actually, now I’m a little nervous.
Week of the Festival
Monday – June 23rd
Iowa Everglades. It’s been a wet June. We’ve had 7¼" of rain so far and we just got a little more yesterday. The chalk lines are still (mostly) visible, but the grassy areas of the site could use a solid week of sunshine to dry out. I don’t have a week. I have to start setting up tents in two days. And instead of sunshine, the forecast calls for thunderstorms at the end of the week. Some could be severe.
Wednesday – June 25th, 9 a.m.
Game On. The streets are closed and the Festival site is teeming with people building this, hanging that, and moving whatever. I will spend the next five days with the ear bud for my cell phone stuck in one ear and a speaker mic for a two-way radio by my other ear. Often I’ll be talking into both at the same time, answering questions and coordinating the build-out of the site. There are a lot of moving parts, but the load-in and initial setup goes fairly smoothly. Well, there was that one little incident involving one of my production crew members backing a 26' Ryder truck into (and destroying) a fence. Oh, and I’m still waiting on some of my banners to be delivered.
Thursday – June 26th
Thunderstruck. With only two days to set up, every minute counts. But when there’s lightning all around, you have to make sure everyone is away from metal scaffolding and that the banner-hanging crew puts down the 10'-long lightning rods they’re carrying. Necessary measures, but that lost time further compresses an already tight timeline. When the lightning stops, everyone races out and tries to get as much done as possible before the next batch of storms comes through. This happens about five times throughout the day. By 11 p.m., everyone is soaking wet and tired. We all retreat to our hotel rooms three blocks away.
Friday – June 27th, 7 a.m.
Where Are My Banners? The Festival opens in four hours and we still have six hours of work to accomplish. Earlier this morning, thunderstorms dropped an inch of rain on the site and there’s a lot of standing water to clean up. After a quick on-site breakfast and production meeting with our staff, the production crew, and an amazing group of volunteers that make up our Event Management Team, everyone rushes to work and makes the impossible happen.
I get the rest of my banners about an hour before the Festival opens. We rush to get everything hung before crowds of eager festival-goers start to arrive.
By noon, food vendors are serving lunch to office workers from nearby buildings, artists are engaging with buyers, musicians are entertaining crowds on three stages, and I’m walking around the site wrapping up details and making sure each person has what they need. The Festival is in full swing and everyone seems to be smiling. I’m really proud of our team.
Friday – June 27th, 10:30 p.m.
The Best Laid Plans. Rain and foot traffic today, and over the past few days, has turned the grassy areas of the site into a muddy mess. We decide to shut down one entire section of the site due to safety concerns. This means abandoning one of our performance stages and cancelling all of the entertainers that were scheduled to perform. It also means relocating a handful of sponsor tents to other areas of the site. We head back to the hotel around midnight.
Saturday – June 28th, 7:30 a.m.
My 8 a.m. production meeting will have to be delayed. Turns out two separate television stations want interviews. I haven’t even had coffee yet, but somehow I manage to talk about the world-class art that shouldn’t be missed as well as the great lineup of music still to come. I’m even able to discuss some of the sustainable practices we implemented into the Festival.
Saturday – June 28th, 4 p.m.
Take Cover. Kansas is experiencing tornados and quarter-size hail. There are heavy rains with wind speeds of 55 MPH in Nebraska. And it’s coming our way. We decide to close the Festival for a few hours to let the storm pass.
Saturday – June 28th, 7 p.m.
After a three-hour onslaught of wind and rain, the entire team is scattered across the site opening tents and cleaning up pools of water. I turn around and see the streets once again full of people. The sun has broken through the clouds and there is an amazing, buoyant energy that seems to permeate the entire Festival grounds. And, as if on cue, the most beautiful rainbow I’ve ever seen appears high above us. It’s going to be a good evening.
Saturday – June 28th, 10 p.m.
Proud. I’m on the phone with my Fireworks crew. As the headlining band hits their final note, I give them the go-ahead to light up the sky. I look across the crowd and see thousands of people staring at the shimmering lights. At that one, defining moment, I let out a little smile and say to myself, “I did that.”
Radio silence is one of the best sounds during a festival. It means that everything is taken care of and there are no emergencies to attend to. But I break radio silence to thank everyone and to remind them to look around the site that has come together under some difficult and intense circumstances, “You did that.”
Sunday – June 29th, 7:30 a.m.
Lucky. I’m tired. Really tired. I’m driving to the site this morning because I may need my car to transport a few items back to our office. On the way, I turn south onto 6th Street—a one-way street heading north. As I round the corner, I see a city bus barreling towards me about 50' away. A quick shift into reverse and an evasive maneuver back around the corner saves my life. I’m awake now.
Sunday – June 29th, 4 p.m.
Tear Down. There is a strong potential for rain, so the Festival closes an hour early allowing the artists to pack up their work and tents before everything gets wet. This gives me exactly 13 hours to tear down the site so the streets can reopen at 5 a.m. I assign responsibilities to my weather-worn but dedicated team, and we get to work.
Monday – June 30th, 5 a.m.
Late-Night Hitch. After a long night/morning of hauling everything off the site, the streets are clear and open for traffic at 5 a.m. There was one hiccup, however. A simple oversight at around 12:30 a.m. resulted in my production crew being locked out of our warehouse. The solution was to appropriate a nearby parking lot for temporary storage. This normally wouldn’t be a big problem—just transfer everything later in the morning when we can get back into the warehouse. But the forecast for today calls for torrential downpours accompanied by hail. Really? Because that’s exactly what we need right now.
Monday – June 30th, 2 p.m.
The forecast was right. Heavy rain and hail beat down on us mercilessly while we load the final items into the trucks. In all, we got almost 4" of rain and hail over the course of the event.
Monday – June 30th, 4 p.m.
Release. The last piece of equipment was just picked up a short while ago and I am having a beer with one of my production guys. I feel beat up and utterly exhausted, but I’m finally able to relax. I get an unexpected hug from behind. It’s my wife. I completely break down in her arms.
Monday – September 29th
Recognition. Two months have passed since the Festival. We have been busy wrapping up details and preparing for the International Festival and Events Association (IFEA) Convention. I’ll be giving a presentation on sustainability to other festival and event professionals tomorrow morning. Among other things, I will be talking about how we reduced our landfill waste by nearly 30% this year. Maybe I can help change the world after all.
At the awards ceremony, the Des Moines Arts Festival wins the Gold Grand Pinnacle Award, our industry’s highest honor, recognizing outstanding festivals and events from around the world. There are a lot of great events. To be included among the top is a little overwhelming for me. I think back to everything I put into the Festival and everything it gave back to me. I can’t wait until next year.
Acknowledgement. The past 8½ months have been a physical and emotional roller coaster ride of successes and setbacks. There were certainly times when felt I was in over my head. But that’s when the only choice is to fight harder than ever to stay afloat. I continue to grow as a person and am forever changed by the challenges I overcome. To look back and see what’s been accomplished, it’s clear the struggles were worth it.
Not everything went right this year, and much of it was my fault. But a lot of things went as planned. In so many ways, I have our volunteers to thank for that. Without them, there would be no Festival.
I have been guilty in the past of asking the question, “What do you do the other 362 days of the year?” The simple answer is, “Prepare.” Prepare, so that during the three days of the Festival, all 200,000+ guests, artists, entertainers, volunteers, and sponsors have an amazing experience they hope will never end. And just maybe, if you can pull it off, you’ll be rewarded with the Best Festival in the World.
~ James Bruton
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BY BENJAMIN FREY
MIXED MEDIA ARTIST & NAIA BOARD MEMBER
Art shows benefit from having new exhibiting artists each year since new work helps to encourage attendees to return each year with the promise of new discoveries. As a professional artist, I need to be able to return to shows regularly to develop relationships with collectors. At first glance, it might appear that these two ideas are at odds with each other but I think they can actually work quite well together specifically with a strong emerging artist portion of a show. In this context, I consider “emerging artists” to be those artists who are not yet familiar with the art show world. Shows often limit the jury category to artists who haven’t exhibited in more than three art shows or who first exhibited less than a year before and I think those are generally good parameters.
Emerging artists often bring work into the art show world that is unusual or different and often at price points that are more accessible to young collectors. Again, it might seem like having this additional competition would be at odds with my interest as a regular exhibitor but I disagree. I need shows to have a strong base of excited attendees and I need them to come open to the possibility of collecting at the show. New and young collectors are excited to find affordable work by emerging artists and I have had collectors finally buy work when their income improves and after having seen my work for several years without being able to afford it. It is important that they kept coming back to the show and some of them were able to start their collections early on with art from emerging artists. If those collectors start off excited about the show and excited to see new work each year that they can afford from emerging artists and they encourage their friends to attend, they will grow to become loyal attendees and eventually will be able to collect larger works but artists whom they enjoyed but couldn’t afford early on. And to keep them coming back it is important to have new work each year. Of course, I don’t want to have so much turnover that I find it impossible to jury into the show but when there is too little new work at shows attendees will feel that they know what they will find and perhaps skip a year or two of the show which is certainly bad for me. So there has to be a balance where collectors are encouraged to return each year with the expectation of new discoveries and yet enough returning artists so that they can familiarize themselves with their favorites and return to buy something that they might have been considering for a few years.
Art shows can use a strong emerging artist program to achieve this balance. In addition to providing fresh and unexpected work in a show, emerging artists are often connected to the communities where the show takes place. In general, the best shows for me have strong attendance and a sense of community pride in the show. The connection between emerging artists and the community can be used to generate additional publicity and encourage additional people to attend which in turn will grow the pool of possible collectors at a show while making the ties between the show and the community stronger.
The art show world is an unusual and sometimes complex segment of the larger art world. One that is not well understood by those outside it. Many people have visited a show as a customer or, more often, viewer and some of those who visit shows are artists as well. But regardless, they would have a dim picture of what exhibiting in shows is actually like. Art schools rarely cover the subject, presumably since the professors often don’t have much more experience with them than the average attendee. And so aspiring artists who have passed through art schools are unlikely to understand shows any better than before their education. Exhibiting at shows is complex and expensive and there is a lot to learn incredibly quickly. This is one of the reasons that emerging artist programs are so important: they ease the transition into the art show world and allow an artist to learn about this world in increments. Once they have experienced art shows from the inside, there is still much to be learned but at least the early steps have been highlighted and made a little easier. Ideally, an emerging artist can transition into becoming a professional artist and be part of the next generation of exhibitors.
For several years, the NAIA has had a program to help Emerging Artists learn about shows. The NAIA provides Emerging Artist Members with a packet of information on exhibiting at shows as well as access to a Mentorship Forum where emerging artists can discuss with professional artists issues they are having or questions that may arise in the course of doing their first shows and, when possible, the NAIA pairs an emerging artist with a mentor to guide them through the process of preparing for their show. Please feel free to contact us with questions about emerging artists: [email protected]
~ Benjamin Frey
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PRINTMAKER, PAINTER AND NAIA BOARD MEMBER
As I have said many times before, I have been an artist my entire life and I have been doing shows almost that long. It's obvious that not only do I love creating art but I am also deeply entrenched in this business we call art shows. I am interested in everything art show related because every facet of the art show industry affects my life directly. I love making art and I love selling my artwork. I am very aware of the symbiotic relationship between art show artists and art shows and I am always appreciative when someone spends a lot of energy to create something that either makes my art show life easier or creates a show that is successful for my work, therefore paying my bills and allowing me to have an amazing lifestyle and a great quality of life all the while doing what I love.
Artists whine constantly about art shows and their directors and committees but seriously folks, where would we be without these people. While there are a few artists who have successfully become art show directors, for the most part artists depend on the people who dedicate their time and careers to create a selling venue for all of our work. I, personally, am intrigued by them. I understand the person who graduates from college with a degree in festival marketing getting in the business, but how do you explain the volunteer directors and their staff who take on the monumental task of creating and running a sustainable, successful art show in their community. God Bless them, I say.
Artists also whine about ZAPP, bitching and moaning about how hard it is to create the right art for the right images to get into the right shows but seriously folks, let's face it, we've always had to do that. ZAPP streamlined a process that used to take a full day a week for me. Today with just a few clicks and taps, voila, you have applied to six shows in a mere 15 short minutes. ZAPP gave us the gift of "time" which is truly the only commodity that everyone wants and needs in their lives. I have a love/hate relationship with ZAPP. I love ZAPP for all the reasons that I just stated above, but more than anything I hate ZAPP because I DIDN'T THINK OF IT FIRST! ZAPP is brilliant, it made everyone's lives easier, and it works!
There have only been six ZAPP conferences and I have been lucky to be present at three of them. I say lucky because I always come away with something new and important that I can share with my fellow artists. This years conference was no different. Held in the beautiful Benson Hotel on August 28-29 in Portland, Oregon, the ZAPP Conference not only gave me insight into some great new ideas that I will incorporate into my business but going to Portland gave me an excuse to take an incredible western adventure for the three weeks that followed. Portland is an incredible city. It is young, energetic and vital, the food is amazing, craft beers and unusual bars abound and there is art everywhere. The Art Festival, Art in the Pearl, followed the conference which was a nice addition to the weeks overall art experience.
WHY GO TO A CONFERENCE?
There are many reasons to go to a conference. I believe in education and try to learn something new every day, so for me going to a conference is a learning experience. As I said, I have been to three ZAPP Conferences and one NAIA Conference. I'm always a bit skeptical going in because I worry that there won't be enough offered for an artist but I always leave with a lot of new knowledge and am happy that I took the time to attend. I enjoy the ZAPP Conference because, for the most part, the topics are familiar and relevant and most importantly, you get to network with artists and show directors in a unique, casual setting. No longer are they "The Dragon", as I have called show directors before, but instead they are just people, like us, trying to learn something to make their shows better which also affects our lives in a positive way in the long run.
I am always amazed by the low artist attendance at the ZAPP Conference. Artists will usually list the cost of attending or schedule problems as their main reason for not coming but if you think about it, the ZAPP Conference costs about the same amount as doing a mid level show, maybe less. The benefits far outweigh the costs, in my opinion, but that's me and I always try to glean some new knowledge from the sessions I attend. Let's face it, where else in our world can we sit down with the director of Cherry Creek, Artisphere, Des Moines, Art in the High Desert and Coconut Grove, drink wine and discuss the issues of art shows? The ZAPP Conference, that's where! It's priceless!
The NAIA was asked by ZAPP to present a session at the conference and I was excited to be there to talk to both artists and show staff together in one space. We had worked hard getting our topic together and I spent the day before the conference, scrambling around putting our presentation together and setting up the room. I had sent much of what I needed to the hotel ahead of time so I was able to take a break, enjoy some of the great sites that the city had to offer and do some networking before the conference started.
Once our setup was complete I was able to pick and choose which session I would attend in the next two days. There are a lot of topics to choose from at the ZAPP Conference and I wanted to make the most of my time there.
ZAPP CON 2014 TOPICS:
America the Beautiful: A Business Case for Diversity:
This session discussed the changing diversity of the country's population and how it is going to affect the way we thrive in the art show business.
The Revolution Will be Digitized: Websites That Make Sense:
This session was informative to artists because it covered how to re- design and improve a websites to reach desired audiences and tips for making them more audience friendly.
The Growth is in the "Maybes":
This session covered how to grow your business in small ways that can yield big results through capitalizing on opportunities to increase income and thereby gaining precious studio time.
Problem Solving for Events:
This session was directed toward show directors and involved strategies for practical problem solving of the various challenges that a show may encounter during their festival.
How to Charge More Money for Your Artwork (And Get It!):
This session revolved around real ideas about creating lasting value for your work and maintaining and growing that value to create more income.
Public Portfolio Critique:
This is the most popular session for artists at the ZAPP conference. Artists were invited to submit their slides and an open panel of jurors discussed their presentation, critiqued the images and provided valuable feedback.
Strategic Media Planning and Implementation for Events:
This session discussed the many new and improved marketing opportunities (social media, web based communities, hosted services, radio, TV, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube) and offered insights into how to create a media strategy that will work for your show or your studio from planning and programming to execution.
ZAPP Symposium: Shifting Audiences: Building Bridges and Making New Connections:
This years Symposium was a high energy session where the participants discussed the changing audience, business growth strategies and the overlap between marketing, economics and other factors that affect the art festival industry.
Content Matters: The Art of Pitching Messages
The art of pitching messages was stressed in different ways and through different outlets to build a real buzz around an event, an artists work or an artist.
Talk the Talk: Effective Interpersonal Communication
This session was about engaging audiences while selling art in your booth, in a gallery setting or while networking. How real stories resonate with your buyers and how important the way you present yourself and connect with your audience is.
Creating an Art Fair Experience
This session presented perspectives from artists and show directors on strategies for creating a memorable and successful experience for artists and buyers alike. Working together to find ways to encourage patron attendance without hindering an artist's ability to sell is crucial for art festivals.
WHAT THE NAIA IS DOING FOR YOU!
NAIA Presents: Open Communication and the Art Show Industry:
The NAIA session at the ZAPP Conference was very well received. It was standing room only and the question and answer period afterwards was lively and informative. Four NAIA Board Members participated: Ben Frey, Stephen King, Sara Shambarger, and myself. The message of the session was open communication is the key to making the art show industry better for everyone in communities across the nation.
The session presented three distinct facets of communication within the art show industry:
1. Communication in the Artist Community: Artist to Artist
Communication within the Artist community is a very vital, thriving, behind the scenes network where artists are able to communicate about everything show related and how it affects the industry. This is where artists vent and hash out problems and issues they run into on the street. This is where artists talk about buy/sell and production studios that they are seeing and learn how to investigate and hopefully help to root out the imposters. The artists are on the street, they are in "the know" per se, much more so than show directors who work basically on one show each year and do not have the opportunity to see what the artists see. Artists talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly as it relates to art shows. This makes the artists and their knowledge a good resource for show directors.
2. Communication in the Art Show Community: Show Director to Show Directors to their staffs and committees.
This section was directed to the communication between the show director and their staff and committees. We talked about how they solve problems that arise along the way and what they do to resolve their various issues. The NAIA showcased the new publication, "How to Run a Great Art Show." The publication is designed as the ultimate guide to assist show directors and their committees and boards improve and tweak their art shows and festivals, both new and old.
3. Communication between Artists and Shows Directors.
In this part of our session we tried to quell the myth about show directors NOT being fire-breathing dragons! Discussion was lively between artists and show directors discussing the many good ways to approach each other and the many negative ways of approach that might affect the outcome of a situation. The famous mythical "Black Ball List" was even discussed.
Preview of the new NAIA Publication: How to Run a Great Art Show
Ideas From The National Association of Independent Artists
Introduction: In today’s world there seem to be art shows in every small town in America. Some are large festivals run by professional staffs; some are small and intimate, organized by passionate volunteers. Regardless of the size or shape of the event, all art shows have something in common. They are a venue that involves a symbiotic relationship between artists and communities, both working toward a common goal: success!
The National Endowment for the Arts found in their recent survey that “Outdoor arts festivals contribute to local communities in important ways…. They provide opportunities for arts education, employment, and civic engagement. The festivals bring people from suburbs and surrounding areas into city centers. Every year, festivals attract segments of the community that might not normally spend time together or celebrate with each other. Festivals contribute to local economies and foster a sense of pride within communities… community members report a strong sense of civic pride associated with festivals.”
There are new art shows and new show directors each year and there are many different challenges to running a successful art show. The details can often be complex. The better the show is, the more the community will benefit from its existence. This informative guide is designed to help sort out some of these complexities and to aid in creating an event that will be successful for the organization, community, and artists who travel long distances at great cost to participate.
How To Run A Great Art Show is being distributed throughout the country to art festivals, large and small, in the hopes that it will give those individuals in charge new ideas that they can incorporate into their events to help create a better, more successful art show for their communities and their artists alike.
The compilation of information contained in this book was gathered and written in a four year period by the Board of Directors of the NAIA (Terry Corcoran, Benjamin Frey, Stephen King, Richard Lobenthal, Lisanne Robinson, Teresa Saborsky, Sara Shambarger, Carroll Swayze), NAIA Members, and Artists and Show Directors from across the country. The project was directed by Carroll Swayze.
How To Run A Great Art Show covers a wide range of topics and presents the “best practices” for a successful event. Contents of the book include: Why Buy Original Art?, Where to Start, Show Size, Show Location and Layout, Community Involvement, Introduction Letter to Artists About Your Show, The Prospectus: The Rules of your Show, Ideas to Take Into Consideration When Preparing Your Prospects, The Application, How To Attract Artists to Your Show, What Artists Expect From A Show, Things to Make Artists Love Your Show, Problems that Discourage Artists from Applying In The Future, The Jury, How Does The Jury Run, Advertising & Publicity, Show Director Tips to Check for Buy/Sell, How to Identify Buy/Sell, Reproductions or Original Art Only?, The Difference Between Original Prints and Reproductions, Communication to Committees & Volunteers, Communication to your Community, Communication to your Artists, Show Set Up and Tear Down, Show Parking. Show Security, Safety, Enforcing Rules, Artist Amenities, Show Director and Committee Hotlines, Contingency Plans for Emergencies, Show Director's Checklist, and References.
If you know of a show out there that could use our book and the information that it offers to improve their event, please contact me at [email protected] with their name and contact information and I will send them all the information.
~ Carroll Swayze
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BY KATHLEEN EATON
PAINTER, FOUNDER OF NAIA
Editor's Note: The following is the Forward from Kathleen Eaton's recently published, Clotheslines to Canopies: A History of Outdoor Art Fairs in America. Kathleen is a painter and founding member of NAIA.
The outdoor art fair is a peculiarly American phenomenon, an art market unique to this country. Its participants are in an industry that is an art world of its own, one in which millions of dollars worth of art has changed hands. These fairs evolved from small venues featuring only local artists to huge festivals attracting exhibitors and buyers from all over the nation. They are based on a long tradition of outdoor markets where people sell or barter what they produce. While today it is fairly common to find artists selling paintings or crafts on the streets in many countries, what differentiates the American outdoor art fair is the existence of an organized fair with advanced publication of dates, times and location. In order to thrive within this structure, exhibitors must travel to market their work. It is free market enterprise at its most basic level. Artists compete for places to exhibit at the shows that yield the best sales, and art fairs compete for artists—the best artists if possible. Once at a show an artist must have work that appeals to the fair’s audience and is priced appropriately, and sales must be executed easily.
A typical art fair solicits artists to take part in their event, which is usually held during weekends on streets or in a park. After the roster of exhibitors has been established and the necessary plans have been made by the shows and the artists, the fair is then set up, usually in the morning on the first day. A convoy of vans will emerge from the pre-dawn darkness, winding its way through empty streets to a distant destination. As light begins to streak across the horizon, the vans arrive at a pre-determined site and engines are turned off. Drivers and sometimes helpers begin to unload displays, cases, pedestals, chairs, and containers of every shape and dimension. The vans’ contents almost magically begin to appear and form into odd-shaped hills and mountains of boxes and gear. Construction dollies and wheeled carts are enlisted to transport these mountains to their proper, numbered locations.
These are no ordinary van drivers. Rather, they are artists, and artists they must be to transform small empty spaces into galleries, using only canopies, display panels, pedestals, cases, drapes, and fabric. In a matter of a few hours (often less) the artists have set up their work within their allotted spaces, ready to impress the crowds that will hopefully begin streaming through the aisles.
Over the next days, some artists will tally sales in five figures. Others will have no sales and will wonder quietly why they attended this particular fair. Most artists have sales ranging between the two extremes, and almost all artists will spend at least some time comparing notes with their neighbors to either side. The end of the weekend reverses the process and brings the fair to a close, as vehicles are loaded with displays, and, in theory at least, fewer pieces of art. Some drivers will head home, elated or depressed, to produce more work, while others remain on the road, heading towards the next exhibition. Once the booths are taken down, and the posters announcing the fair have been removed, the streets will become quiet once again, as if hundreds of America’s artists had never actually gathered at all.
Typically artists begin exhibiting at shows close to home to test the waters. If they meet with any success at all, they venture further, seeking the possibility of income in greener pastures across the state and across the country. This type of travel has been greatly enhanced by the U.S. Interstate Highway System, plentiful and reasonably cheap gas, and, in the past few years, the ability to advertise easily online.
Some of the artists and craftspeople that populate this business have incomes high enough that they must work to maintain the illusion that they are “starving artists” rather than extremely successful ones. Many such artists have been able to maintain a middle class life style, raise families, send their children to college and put aside money for retirement. On the other end of the spectrum, other exhibitors are less than successful and there is no deception at all when it comes to labeling themselves starving artists, because starving, or very close to it, is exactly what they do. Yet all of these artists, both successful and not, flout the clichéd warning that “it is impossible to make money as an artist.”
Art exhibited at these shows has often been dismissed as unimpressive in quality and sometimes rightly so. While it is true that a few artists who attend art fairs have work in museum collections, that is the exception rather than the rule. The work that is seen at street fairs ranges from the sublime to the just plain awful. The overriding characteristic is that the work is appealing to attendees on some level, and thereby salable, which can lead to catering to the lowest common denominator.
Art fairs that are heavily juried with many artists vying for a limited number of openings tend to offer what is perceived as higher quality and subsequently more expensive works. Non-juried shows or those that have difficulty filling their spaces, by contrast, are sometimes very similar to flea markets. The vast number of art fairs fall between these extremes and offer some very good pieces as well as others that are of marginal quality.
The draw for the public of outdoor art fairs is that they are accessible places to view art, and to meet and even have conversations with artists; that many pieces come with a back story enhances their appeal if a decision to buy is made. For other visitors, part of the appeal is that artists and craftspeople keep their prices moderate by necessity, and because of this, buyers of average income have the opportunity to collect original art. Whatever category they fall into, the audience can get to know the exhibitors whether or not they are interested in making a purchase. People who come to a particular show year after year often follow individual artists and their work. There are even art fair aficionados who attend several shows each year and seem to keep a pulse on the industry. There is an ongoing two-way conversation between the viewers and the artists, usually supportive but occasionally quite critical.
Artists and craftspeople who exhibit at these shows are a varied lot. The need to produce an income while maintaining a measure of control is the common factor that defines artists who participate in art fairs, rather than background, age, or education. Many have formal art training with BFAs or MFAs. Some start participating in fairs after finishing art school. Others come into the business at a point in their life where their desire to create has overridden their participation in other careers. One of the beauties of the art fair is that credentials are not important: it’s all about the work.
The earliest art fairs of record in America that are still in operation began during the start of the Great Depression. The first, founded in 1930, was the Nantucket Sidewalk Art Show—a small local event based on similar street fairs found in Europe. The next was the Washington Square Outdoor Art Exhibit,
which started in New York in 1931. Two more followed in 1932: the Rittenhouse Square Fine Art Show in Philadelphia and the Plaza Art Fair in Kansas City. These three fairs developed in large cities with established art schools and museums.
The shows started out as small, casual events by artists, art students, and art lovers, but evolved over the years to include many more artists, larger attendance, ancillary booths offering food and drink, and became places to see and be seen.
After World War II, new shows appeared all over the country, as if the population was ready to turn away from the realities of war and artists were eager to offer a creative response to the tumult of recent years. Often the art fairs were called clothesline festivals because artists hung pictures from lines strung between any objects that could hold them. Colorful pictures would flap in the breeze, beckoning the throngs to stop and admire a thoughtful portrait or a compelling landscape.
Most entries were limited to painting and sculpture—the traditional fine arts—because they predated the acceptance of craft and photography as valid art forms. Some fairs died a slow economic death, while others grew to be major events. Still others decided to use positive advertising techniques and label themselves “big events” from the outset. Later, displays and marketing became more sophisticated, and digital technology became and continues to be an enormous influence. Notably, credit card processing was introduced and became commonplace. The internet has also afforded artists the opportunity to showcase their work via websites, and made online applications to participate in the fairs possible.
The book presents an informal history of this uniquely American business. They describe the artists and the ways they operate in this arena, outline the organization of the art fairs and festivals, and explain how they developed. The shows profiled in the coming chapters were chosen because of their historical importance, their influence on the business as a whole, or because of their reputation as good—and thus competitive— markets for art.
Clotheslines to Canopies by Kathleen Eaton is available today on Amazon. By using the Amazon link from the NAIA website a portion of each purchase will go to support NAIA at no additonal cost. NAIA-Artists.org/resources/marketplace - scroll down to Amazon and click more.
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BY CARROLL SWAYZE
PRINTMAKER, PAINTER ABND NAIA BOARD MEMBER
I’ve been a painter all my life. I started painting when I was eight on a Saturday morning when I made the mistake of telling my Father that I couldn’t think of anything to do. Before I knew it my Dad had ripped up a chunk of canvas, grabbed a staple gun and stapled pieces to the wall of our living room. Then he handed my mother and sisters each a brush and a palette of bright colored paint and we all painted. I still have that tattered old painting of a lion and I always share it with school children when I do demo’s and art classes for kids because it inspires and excites them.
While I realize that this is not the normal behavior of the average family, it was normal in our house and it was fun! It became a tradition. Johnny (my Dad) would bring paints and brushes wherever we went and we would paint together on vacations, at family outings, at the beach, in any season, at any time. If he didn’t have canvas we would paint on rocks, or pieces of driftwood, or the backs of soap boxes, or buildings, it didn’t matter, we were painting. That’s where it started I think.
There are artists who will only paint on certain surfaces but that’s not me. I love painting on paper with watered down acrylics, that’s my forte, but I have been known to paint on almost anything if asked in the right way. It’s Johnny’s fault, he told us that if you had paint and brushes then it didn’t matter what you painted on, it was still fun to paint. At least that’s what I was told when I was 15 and I painted my first stage backdrop.
I was invited to the local theater to interview for a job. I wasn’t sure what I was in for when my mother dropped me at the front door of our local little theater, I went in to find a large stage with six homemade canvas panels at the rear. I knew they were built by amateurs because my father was a theater director and I had already painted a backdrop or two at his theater. His were white, clean and flat. The panels before me were lumpy and irregular in shape with wooden crossbars sticking out in the front. When I tried to say that it was going to be hard to make those panels look like anything, I heard the line that has haunted me ever since. “You can do it Carroll, it’s just painting!”
I managed to paint a complicated scene on those backdrops that week but to this day I wonder if I should ever have started the trend because I have gone on to paint some really ridiculous things in my career. Surfaces and objects that most well known artists would turn their backs on, but not me, I always seem to see it as a challenge or an opportunity of some sort.
I have painted walls, floors, tables and chairs. I have painted boats, signs, houses and cars. I have painted faces and bodies, well covers, man hole covers, T-shirts and real fish. I have painted Adirondack chairs, coconuts, giant fiberglass turtles & pigs, album covers, gopher tortoise shells, ceilings, bicycles, motorcycle gas tanks and fences. In order to do those jobs I have stood on scaffolding, ladders, roofs, boats and rafts. I’ve stood in water and mud, floated in a swamp and once hung from rafters like Michelangelo which let me tell you, was not very fun. Every time I think I’ve seen it all, I am surprised by something new, which for some reason, I can’t resist.
I was once hired to paint a scene on a wall with elevators. It seemed pretty simple until I got the instruction package. I had to fly to a big city where I was transported to a mental hospital where my job was to basically camouflage the elevators so the patients couldn’t see the doors and would hopefully stop trying to escape. It should have been easy but the area that I was painting in was very busy, I had to watch for opening elevators doors constantly and although I had a full time bodyguard keeping the patients away from me, he turned out to be more of a nuisance than a help because he wanted me to give him painting lessons.
One of my favorite jobs started out with painting the tables in the dining room of the Southern Cross Club on Little Cayman Island in the Caribbean, and has turned into a lifelong friendship and collaboration with the owner of the resort. Our latest enterprise is the Bacon, Blues and Art Festival that we organize every August on his farm in Indiana. You really never know where a painting job will take you.
I’ll never forget that first job in the Caymans. They flew me down, paid for my work permit, shipped my equipment in and escorted me to the most beautiful little cabana on the beach you ever saw. When I was presented with the tables I was going to paint, I was so excited about the location that I didn’t even notice the paint they had bought for the job. Marine Enamel. It still gives me nightmares just thinking about that paint. If you have never painted in your life, marine enamel is the evilest of all paints. While it creates a long lasting, smooth, scratch resistant, beautiful surface, it is one of the nastiest paints in the world to work with. It is gooey, and sticky, and doesn’t flow or mix well. It takes forever to dry and if you make the mistake of getting any on you or anywhere you don’t want it, you will never get it off. For some insane reason I decided to impress everyone and set the bar high with that first table and I painted a school of 37 yellow grunt on it. What was I thinking? The paint wouldn’t flow, the colors wouldn’t mix well, but once you start you have to finish. In the next two weeks I painted 14 tables and various little murals on 10 cottage walls. I painted Nassau grouper on over a dozen sea beans and left Little Cayman laughing, exhausted, and covered in paint, with lots of new friends.
Another time I was requested to paint a series depicting life on Hog Island, an island near Boston. The man, who I had met once at a show, sent me sets of photographs once a week for a month. The photos would always come by courier and as soon as the delivery person left he’d call me and ask me what I thought. Every time I told him the same thing. The photos were fine but I couldn’t paint from them. I was worried that I would disappoint him with the results so I told him to keep trying. The final package arrived by courier and in it was one picture of a large car ferry, a plane ticket to Boston and a box of Godiva chocolates. I was intrigued! I spent almost a week in a gorgeous home on Hog Island, Rhode Island, riding around in a golf cart, meeting strangers, eating lobster and clams and painting. It’s still one of my favorite commissions!
You wouldn’t want to have a career in painting without at least painting one vehicle so I painted my van. It’s not really the first time I painted a car but it might have been the silliest. It wasn’t a conscious thought; it just occurred one night while I was sipping wine in my woods and saw the side of my bright yellow van in the light of my studio. Most people would just look away and think of something else to occupy their mind, but not me. I looked out there and thought, hmm, I should paint my van. There I was in the middle of the night, table full of paints, barefoot and all alone in my jammies with Jimmy Buffett and Bob Marley blaring on the satellite. It took about 7 hours total but I got it done around the time daylight started streaming through the trees. It’s covered with brightly colored fish and makes it easy to find me no matter where I go.
One of the hardest things I’ve ever painted was an octopus on a large market umbrella for a high school fundraiser supporting the scholarship program. An octopus is hard to paint on paper let alone on the contorted surfaces of an umbrella. I opened the umbrella to start the job and ended up walking around it for two days before I started. I went to work on the top, painting the biggest red octopus you could imagine. It went so smoothly I laughed at myself for being nervous about it. I worked for three days and finished the top of the umbrella. Then it happened. I turned it over. I hadn’t really thought the job through apparently because when I turned it over I realized that I would have to paint the bottom as well because of course the paint had bled through. I panicked for about half a day and then I went to work again. This time I painted the bottom of the tentacles complete with the little round suckers that the creatures have and all the details of a real live octopus. The umbrella took a total of seven days to paint. It was beautiful when it was done and sold. I hazard a guess that it probably is the most expensive umbrella that anyone will ever own.
I took my entire family on a vacation to the Abaco’s a few years ago. In “Chevy Chase Vacation” fashion our family always has good reason to laugh when we travel together. This trip was certainly no different. The Bahamas are usually calm and beautiful and we planned to snorkel and dive and fish every day but of course, as luck would have it, a tropical storm headed our way as soon as we got to the island, trapping eight human beings inside a small cottage on the edge of paradise for a few days. Luckily I always bring my paints so at least two rainy days were spent collecting hermit crabs, painting the shells of those hermit crabs, being pinched by hermit crabs and then racing our crabs in the 2013 Hermit Crab Challenge. I have painted on hermit crabs before of course, but the real fun was watching my grand kids and my sons’ paint their crabs starting what I know will become a family tradition for generations to come.
At present, besides the original acrylic paintings on paper that I’m working on in my studio for my show schedule, I am also painting two huge 8’ x 8’ road signs for a local florist. You might wonder why I’m painting signs for a store. It’s a “trade”. My youngest son is getting married in a month and I traded the flowers for his wedding for one of my collectors new shop signs. I’m working up and down on ladders and scaffolding, my hands ache and I’m covered in paint but let’s remember: “You can do it Carroll, it’s just painting!”
~ Carroll Swayze
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