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"The Independent Artist"
Issue IV, October 2008

NAIA Survey
continued from page 11


have been possible without spousal help or some other revenue stream. For example, 81% of exhibitors said that they rely on additional income beyond art shows while 27% have either a full-time or a part-time job. Forty-one percent rely on spousal help. Clearly, without spousal help many exhibitors would either have to curtail their show itinerary or quit altogether.

Finally, the question was asked, If you have expressed an opinion that there is a waning interest in American art/craft what in your view can be done about the situation? Far and away, the most prevalent response had to do with developing a national marketing campaign in order to educate the population about American Art & Craft. Another solution had to do with organizing an Art Show Director/Artist-Craftsperson summit.

The reasoning appears to be that collective brainstorming might yield a solution about the slumping market and mediocre sales. Twenty-eight percent of respondents indicated that there is a need to entirely revamp the way art/craft is marketed, while 15% felt that nothing can be done because the issues are too complex.

Limitations of this Study

All surveys pose problems with respect to the data. Some surveys attempt to target a single issue in order to isolate and cotrol the questions. Others, such as this one, apply a modified shotgun approach in order to study a population. In the former situation, focusing on single issues can result in conclusions which are short-sighted. Conversely, the problem with taking a shotgun-style approach to fact-gathering is that the questionnaire may become confusing or lose sight of its objectives. There is the risk that conclusions, which are drawn from the study, will fly off in too many directions. A decision had to be made, and since so little is actually known about the attitudes, situations, and future plans of exhibitors, the authors chose the latter approach.

One problem with this survey was that several of the questions were perhaps awkwardly phrased and some respondents may have passed over them as a result. For the same reason, several questions offered a confusing array of responses that seem to frustrate a small percentage of the participants and these questions were set aside as well. It is estimated that 7% of the questions fit this description.

An important demographic question, which was overlooked, has to do with where a respondent lived. It would have been very helpful to know what percentages of the responses were coming from the west as opposed to the midwest or east.

This information in turn could have been cross-referenced with questions in other categories and the resulting data would have rested on more solid ground. An example of connecting data points would involve looking at respondents that lived in the midwest with information such as gross income or price point of objects for sale. In short, there is no practicable way of knowing whether the results of this survey are, say, skewed by a preponderance of the responses coming from exhibitors living in the south, or the south and midwest.

Another problem with this study is that many of the questions ask for an opinion, so what is really gathered here are subjective interpretations about conditions as they are perceived by the respondent. An example of an opinion-based question is #53, regarding prospects for making a living doing shows looking forward. Thirty-five percent of artists who are pessimistic about the marketplace believe that the reason for this is because competition is squeezing them out of the marketplace. In truth, there are no hard facts to support this assessment.

It would have been very helpful if a way had been found to do a follow up studysay in 5 yearsin order to see whether or not the attitudes or intentions of the participants had significantly changed. That opportunity was lost because it was thought respondents might be reluctant to answer in-depth questions about debt load and health issues if they had to provide their names.

Finally, a truly scientific approach would have involved the utilization of a statistical test or tests in order to more accurately determine whether or not there were real (mathematical) relationships between various categories that were targeted. The authors had intended originally to use a statistical approach to analyzing the data. The idea was to use something like a Pearson Product Moment Correlation test; however, for a number of methodological reasons and time constraints, this evaluative approach had to be put aside.

Nevertheless, definite indications do emerge from the data.

Synopsis of Concerns as Indicated by the Survey

Here is a brief review of the major issues which are of concern to the group that participated in this survey:

-- The erosion of the interest in what is identified as American Art/Craft in light of other influences.

-- An aging population of prospective buyers and a commensurate loss of dedicated art/craft collectors.

-- The increase in art/craft shows that have other agendas besides bringing a buying pubic together with quality producers of art/craft.






-- The melting pot effect of the introduction of art/craft from other cultural sources.

-- The increasing appearance of buy/sell into the marketplace.

-- The movement toward the contraction of shows (i.e. shows returning to their roots as local events as artists begin to change their travel itineraries and stay closer to home).

-- The lack of new, younger artist/craftspeople to help reinvigorate the marketplace.

-- The absence of a new, younger population of buyers to supplant the aging population of Baby Boomers who no longer purchase art/craft.


-- An aging population of artists/craftspeople who are planning exit strategies out of this business due to physical, lifestyle, and economic reasons.

Looking into a Crystal Ball

Although the future can never be known since, by definition it cannot be predicted (Eric Voegelin in The New Science of Politics), a few ruminations regarding the disposition of the art/show marketplace looking forward might not be an entirely futile exercise. What follows are the opinions of the authors of this study.

1. Assuming that art/craft, which does not fall into the currently recognizable American craft genre is more than a passing fancy, one might expect to see more shows accepting work from other countries or other cultures into their shows. Many participants in this study believe that is a fait accompli.

2. A concern expressed by some exhibitors is that the introduction of applied and fine art that does not appear to have a direct connection to what is perceived as authentic American art/craft will simply end up being another nail in the coffin of artists/craftspeople who are already struggling to make ends meet. This assumption is not substantiated by fact and seems to be based on unknown fears and other subconscious issues. The problem is that no one identifiable factor can be pinpointed when it comes to declining sales in the marketplace.

3. The contrary view might be that the introduction of new work, which applies different concepts, materials, and techniques, would actually reshape and reinvigorate a marketplace that is seen by a substantial majority of the respondents to this survey as stagnant, if not in full decline.

4. Interest, or lack thereof, in fine and applied art mediums may be related to the consumers fascination with other things such as the electronic gadget industry. For example, PC World magazine was giddy with expectations leading up to the 2008 MacWorld Expo. Descriptions like, Theres something in the air anticipated Steve Jobs keynote address introducing the MacBook Air. This initial excitement lost some of its flame when it was found that the MacBook Air was missing most of the peripherals that notebook aficionados are used to having with other machines. Expectation led to joy in some quarters and disappointment in others

Anticipation leading up to the introduction of the Apple iPhone last year prompted long lines of eager buyers to brave freezing temperatures and stand outside all night in order to purchase one of these devces. Yet, as it has been born out many times in the past, todays hot electronic gadget becomes tomorrows obsolete piece of junk.

This is not intended to be an indictment of a particular companys products or marketing strategies. However, it is a legitimate question to ask whether or not this impetuous fascination and preoccupation with change and glitter has had a negative effect on the art/craft industry.

5. The very thing that distinguishes art/craft from some of these other venues is its timeless quality and the gratification that can be obtained from viewing hand-made creations from different perspectives. A focused marketing campaign directed toward spotlighting these differences might help to infuse the art show marketplace with some of the buzz that is elicited when the latest electronic gadget comes out.

6. How connected to reality is the concern reflected by many in this survey that off shore or culturally different work will end up competing, even crowding out American-made work. Is American-made art/craft a commodity that needs to be protected some way and if so how would one go about doing this?

In an article titled Twelve Ways to Know the Past Athanasios Moulakis writes, A culture is a unique kind of inheritance. It represents a hoard that can be preserved, nurtured, imaginatively enhanced, and sometimes even invented. It can be wasted, neglected, or allowed to fall to ruin, but it cannot be spent. (2008, Winter) The Wilson Quarterly.

A cultural legacy is not something that can be taken for granted. It is a living thing, not a fossil. In order to remain alive it needs to be continually scrutinized and interpreted. And what messages and meaning can be extracted depend to a great degree how one looks at it. Because of this, it may be a mistake to claim that American Art/Craft truly has an identifiable center.

continued on page 14

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