"The Independent Artist"
Issue IV, October 2008
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The National Association of Independent Artists resolved that it was time to move beyond talk on the street and conduct a systematic study of exhibitors attitudes with respect to trends and the marketplace. In 2007 the NAIA Survey Committee constructed a comprehensive survey titled: Trends Among Artists: The Changing Artistic Landscape, comprised of 67 questions dedicated to gathering the following information from exhibitors:
-- Demographic (including Educational)
-- Perceptions about the Show Marketplace
-- Future Plans
The Survey Committee utilized a description research design as outlined by Issac and Michaels in the Handbook in Research and Evaluation, which states that a survey-type approach can be used in order to:
1. Collect detailed factual information that describes existing phenomena.
2. Make comparisons and evaluations.
3. Identify problems or justify current conditions and practices.
4. Determine what others are doing with similar problems or situations.
5. Benefit from their experience in making future plans and decisions.
An announcement about this online survey was made in several trade publications, in a newspaper put out by the NAIA that was distributed at dozens of shows throughout the country, through mass e-mail, and on the NAIA forum. The committee responsible for this assignment settled on an online survey-type approach to gathering the data. Membership in the NAIA was not a stipulation for participation in this survey. Participants were not required to provide their names. It was thought that anonymity would lead to more forthright responses, particularly in the areas which had to do with health issues and finances.
Interest in this survey was reflected in the fact that nearly 550 people participated in it. This represented a 365% increase in the number of respondents over any other survey that the NAIA has conducted.
This report represents an extended and much more thorough analysis of the data that was presented to over 50 show directors at the 2007 Directors Conference which was held in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. That report was titled, Exhibitors, Art, & the Changing Landscape.
Trends that Emerged from the Data
In examining the data the following three major trends were seen to emerge:
-- Vanishing Resource #1: The Artist/Craftsperson
-- Vanishing Resource #2: Customer Interest in American Art and Craft
-- A Trend Back to Exhibiting in Local Shows
Here is a brief analysis of the data that supports these trend observations.
Vanishing Resource #1: The Artist/Craftsperson
This survey found that art show exhibitors are an aging population. Of all respondents, 82% are over the age of 46 while 14% are over the age of 62. No one filled out this survey that was under the age of 25, and only 4% of the responses came from people who were between the age of 26 and 35. Age as an issue is clearly demonstrated in the fact that 77% of the respondents no longer have dependent children.
Vanishing Resource #2: Customer Interest in American Art and Craft
The perception that the customer is no longer attending art/craft shows in the numbers of yesteryear had an impact on the way exhibitors responded to questions related to economics, debt load, and future plans.
When asked what age bracket their work sells to, 31% say the 33 to 45 year old bracket, while 63% report that the 46 to 59 year old bracket buys their work. Only 4% of respondents said that their work was appealing to people over the age of 60.
The obvious conclusion is that if a preponderance of the crowd is over the age of 60, sales will suffer accordingly.
Regarding the buying habits of those in the age brackets listed above, 58% see a change in the crowd attending art/craft shows, while 42% see no change. Of those who believe the crowd has changed, 76% report that they saw it
coming on five years ago, while 24% recognized it going back at least ten years. There is a significant relationship (74%) between those who are convinced that the population attending art/craft shows has changed and how they regard sales. This group believes that sales have been negatively impacted.
When asked to describe this change in greater detail, 46% say that the number one motivation for people coming to the shows is for every reason except that of purchasing artwork. Other very strong response indicators were that the crowd is older and/or the crowd does not seem to be
as interested in American art and craft.
Whether or not exhibitors agree that a change has occurred in the crowd that attends art/craft showsor that any change that has occurred has negatively impacted sales52% of all respondents state that net income in the past three years has declined. Twenty-six percent report an increase, while net income for 21% has remained about the same.
Of those who affirmed that shows are in a state of decline, the opinions as to why varied. However, several reasons stood out. The number one reason given was that there are simply too many shows. Second was the belief that many show directors either do not understand or do not care enough to understand how to market and promote authentic American art and craft.
Several other issues which ranked high were the infusion of buy/sell products into the art show marketplace and the decline in public interest in genuine American Art and Craft. Another concern had to do with the disappearing pool of purported collectors. The varied responses to this question suggest that pinning down the reasons for problems in the marketplace remains a moving target.
A Trend Back to Exhibiting in Local Shows
There seems to be a sea change with respect to decisions about how and where exhibitors will market their work. How was this trend extracted from the data?
Forty-one percent of all shows attended by exhibitors are less than 60 miles from home base. Sixteen percent of all shows are between 60_280 miles from home, while only 15% of all shows are more than 280 miles away from home.
It appears that many shows are on a short tether in as much as only 26% of respondents are committed to doing shows that were once reliable but in the past several years have been on the decline. Very few exhibitors (14%) do shows primarily because they enjoy traveling and sight-seeing. Forty-three percent state that they can no longer afford to apply to shows which are not profitable because of disappointing sales and/or rising costs. A scant 17% report that they are comfortable returning to a show that varies in profitability from year to year. In aggregate, these responses suggest that loyalty to and constancy with specific shows is weakening.
Other answers reflect the uncertainty exhibitors have regarding future travel plans. Only 20% of respondents state that they are more optimistic about making a living doing art shows then they were three years ago while 50% are less optimistic.
In addition, 29% of all exhibitors state that in the last three years health issues are an important factor with respect to how many shows they do and how far they are willing to travel in order to do a show. Significantly, 40% of all respondents are moving toward doing fewer shows annually.
The results of this survey based on the perceptions of nearly 550 artists/craftspeople indicate that the art show industry is in a state of flux and that problems began to appear at least five years ago, and perhaps were first observed in the mid 1990s. What the data revealed was:
1. Age, Health, & Physical Issues
What is it that can be said about this community of arts show artists with any degree of certainty? It is an aging population.
It should be no surprise that a signficant percentage of this group (90%) state that participating in art shows is becoming an increasingly physical challenge. Revealing as well is the fact that 53% still have to do shows by themselves.
This is a population in which a good percentage feels that it has reached a point in life where a shift is occurring from seeing the future in terms of ones potential and beginning to see it in terms of ones limitations.
2. Income and Expenses
Total income derived from art shows is one key to understanding some of the problems artists have been encountering in recent years. Forty percent of people who responded to this survey stated that art & craft shows represent 75% of total domestic income. An additional 17% declared that between 50%_75% of total domestic income was derived from art shows.
The remaining 42% of respondents rely as much if not more on other sources of revenue in order to make ends meet. Eighty-one percent of all exhibitors depend on other revenue streams beyond sales from art shows. Sales from galleries and spousal support ranked highest in contributing to household income.
Thirty-eight percent of all exhibitors claim that gross sales were less than $25,000 in 2006. And an additional 25% made between $26,000 and $50,000.
In the last three years 52% of respondents participating in art shows report that their net income has decreased. Twenty-one percent say it is about the same, while 26% claim that sales have gone up.
The other key to understanding what many artists are facing also has to do with rising debt load. The two most prevalent reasons debt load has risen in the past five years are the cost of doing shows and the commensurate decline in gross sales.
Rising debt load might also be impacting the way people save for the future. With respect to a retirement account, 45% of respondents put money away on a regular basis while 32% do so only sporadically. Twenty-four percent of exhibitors do not have a retirement account or plan.
3. The Future
When asked to describe whether or not there might be a tipping point where one will be forced to make a change if sales do not get better, 25% say that a decision is imminent or due to come within the next three years. Thirty-five percent of exhibitors said that Honestly, I do not know what to think. The market place is changing and I am trying to figure out what is going on.
With respect to the issue of volatility or uncertainty the question was asked, Are you beginning to develop an alternative plan for making a living in the event that you simply are unable to consistently sell your work at art & craft shows? Thirty-two percent who answered this question have a specific plan and are in the process of executing it; 30% have several ideas, but no one plan in particular has been selected; 20% declared that they are either avoiding this issue altogether, or do not have a clue what they would do if they actually quit doing art & craft shows.
The tipping point for some artists is evidently related to other issues besides sales, health, and age. When asked about debt load, 47% of respondents state that in the last five years, their debt load has gone up either substantially or moderately; 16% say that incurred debt has only gone up slightly, while 19% report no change. Only 18% report that they have decreased their debt load.
Forty-five percent of exhibitors report that over 30% of their income goes toward servicing debt load; 33% of this population must utilize 40% of income in order to satisfy debt obligations. Debt load was defined as any combination of mortgages, credit cards, car payments, medical bills, or other outstanding loans.
The increase in debt load in the past five years was mainly attributed to the combination of the rising costs of doing shows, and the decline in net income. Other, less significant issues reported were an up-tick in domestic, medical, and personal expenses.
Regarding debt load, this group reports that over the last five years, their reliance on the credit card in order to pay exhibition fees has gone up 71%. The reasons however, vary. 50% report that it is simply a matter of convenience to pay by credit card. The term convenience of course is open to interpretation.
Another 30% of all respondents state that it is a necessity to pay by credit card in as much as the funds are not available in a checking account.
At least the American dream of home ownership has been realized by this group in that 62% state that they are carrying a mortgage, while 28% own their homes outright. To what degree homeowners are reacting to diminishing sales and rising costs by taking out home equity loans was not targeted in this survey and remains an open question.
Regarding savings, 75% of the respondents report that they have some type of retirement account with 46% claiming that this account was established more than 15 years ago. Of the exhibitors who responded to this survey, 85% have health insurance.
What is less sure due to the limitations of the survey is whether or not a retirement account, health insurance, home ownership, even traveling long distances to do shows would
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