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"The Independent Artist"
Issue VII, Spring 2010

The Independent Artist

Culture Exchange: The Yokohama International Open-Air Art Fair

by Cynthia Davis,
Photographer, NAIA Staff, www.CynthiaDavis.com

October 31- November 1, 2009 Japan hosted its first open-air art fair in Yamashita Park near Yokohama Bay, Yokohama. The show was patterned off the U.S. art fair format. Up to this point fine art in Japan was available to the public only through more formal settings such as galleries or exhibitions at museums so artists had few opportunities to sell their work. Likewise, the publics exposure to a variety of visual arts and artists was limited.



The Yokohama International Open-Air Art Fair 2009 was the brain- child of Midori Uede-Okahana. Ms. Uede-Okahana studied fine art at Glassboro State University in New Jersey. While living in the U.S., she became familiar with the art fair venue. The spark was ignited to bring the art fair concept to Japan. She partnered with Takashi Yamashita. International Arts and Crafts Promotion, a nonprofit association was formed with the goal to bring art to everyday life and foster the society that cherishes development of creativity. The shows promotional by-line: Bring Art to Your Everyday Life.

Shary Brown, who recently retired as director of the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, the Original was in essence the U.S. mentor of the event. Shary said, Midori contacted me via email in the spring of 2008 to ask if we could meet during the July 2008 Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, the Original. We (the three representatives of the Yokohama International Open-Air Art Fair and me) spent a couple of hours together discussing their project, answering each others questions and walking our site. Midori and I kept in touh throughout the next year. We talked about logistics, essential arrangements, and artist selection process systems and alternatives. I showed them the educational and community activities that make events attractive to a broad audience and support the artists by providing engaging and educational experiences. We also discussed necessary audience services, artist support and marketing. In addition to the nitty-gritty of running an outdoor show, our conversations were about the fundamental mission of art fairs and their desire to provide an opportunity for independent Japanese artists to connect directly with Japanese patrons.

The Yokohama International Open-Air Art Fair consisted of 32 artists from both Japan and the United States/Canada. The North American artists were invited from artists who participated in the 2008 Ann Arbor art fairs. A few members of the Street Art Fair Jury Group also helped with the jury process for selecting Japanese artists.

I interviewed several of the artists who participated in the Yokohama International Open-Air Art Fair 2009 to find out about their experiences: Jenny Mendez (sculpture), Mathias Muleme (paintings, etchings), Larry Oliverson (photography), Vincent Pernicano (glass), and Carroll Swayze (paintings, etchings).


Japanese Response to Art


Each artist I interviewed felt that the response to their work by the Japanese was very positive with sales ranging from good to excellent. Though public attendance was not huge, they seemed to be engaged and interested in the work. I was pleased with the response to my work by the Japanese people, taking time to actually study the work and ask intelligent questions. They also were both polite and appreciative that the we came to their country, said Larry Oliverson.


Larry also said that one customer gave him a small hand-crafted gift when she came to pick up the art work she had purchased from him. Virtually every sale that I made involved a pleasant interaction with the customer. I felt that each person knew quite a bit about me and my work when they left the booth.


Mathias Muleme said that even though he felt that the attendance was poor, the response to his work by the Japanese public was fantastic. Vince Pernicano, on the other hand, felt that the attendance was very good and visitors who came into in my booth seemed very interested in my work, my material, and techniques.

Carroll Swayze told me that she writes small poems for the titles of her work which she had translated
into Japanese and these were a hit. They liked the images and they loved the words so I did very well.

Jenny Mendez indicated that her small scale work was very appealing to the Japanese especially since they have small homes. She also felt that the subject matter of her work was relevant especially to the women.


Show Logistics

I was particularly interested in the logistics the artists had to undertake to get their work to Japan, transport it once there, and then back again. I found that the show organizers handled almost everything for the North American artists making it a very easy, seamless experience for these invited artists.

Each North American artist prepared an inventory list of the work they were bringing to the show complete with photos, description, materials price, and the weight of each piece of work. The inventory list was sent to the designated Japanese shipping company who then submitted the it to Japanese customs. A few weeks later the artists packed and shipped or delivered their work to the same shipping company. Preparing the inventory was time consuming but necessary to clear Japanese customs.
The organizers bought our plane tickets and sent them to us. We paid for shipping our work to Chicago, packing it very well, then they had the work crated and shipped to Japan, said Carroll.

The organizers rented the tents and the booths for us and had them delivered and set up. The work came through customs two days before the show setup and was delivered to the show site on Thursday the day before the show. I mean delivered right to each of our individual booths. All we had to do was unpack the art and hang it. It was beautiful!

Larry told me that they were each responsible for the return of their work to the U.S./Canada. We checked into some shipping options like FedEx but it turned out that the least expensive method was to take the work back with us on the plane. Something that is used quite often in Japan is a company that delivers luggage and parcels to the airport from hotels, residences, or other buildings. I was able to use this service to deliver the boxes of my work to the airport where they remained in storage for over a week at no additional charge until I was ready to return to the U.S.


At the Show


Vince and Larry described the booths for me: The booths that were provided were under tents with hard surfaced side panels and a table. They were about nine feet deep by about eighteen feet wide and were each divided into two separate artist spaces. Each booth was equipped with two tables, two chairs, and wall panels for hanging two dimensional work, electricity and a light. Gallery style hangers (wires that fastened at the top of the panels with adjustable hooks) were provided.

Using the gallery hangers was new to most of us and we commented on how long set up took compared to our own systems, said Larry. However, after a little improvisation and trading of things like tables and hangers we all completed the set up. The show staff was very helpful in assisting us with anything we needed and even procured some material to cover tables to help us improve our overall presentation.

The show took place in a large park. There were only 32 artists, but the park could have held many more. The layout was in more or less a V-shape with Japanese artists on one arm and Japanese and North American artists on the other. I think that it would have worked better for the art fair patrons if the two rows of booths had been closer together but there was really no good way to lay out the show in a space that large with so few booths, said Vince.

Carroll felt otherwise. The layout was an adequate use of the park considering the number of artists they had to deal with. It was a first year show so it was very small. With that in mind, and the knowledge of the traffic flow in the park on a regular day, I think their choice to spread us out was good. It was a beautiful park on the water in the City for Art, Yokohama.

Regarding food and entertainment there was one mobile food service vehicle there on Sunday after some of the artists suggested it to the organizers. The artists were the entertainment. People actually came just to see the artists and their work and it was really nice not to have to compete with anything else for a change, said Carroll. Certainly the public did not have any preconceived expectations about what should be there and what shouldnt.

Once the work was set up, artists were able to close up their booths and leave them with the work inside as security was provided by thepromoters for the duration of the show. After the show on Sunday night, each artist was responsible for packing up their unsold work which was then delivered by the organizers to the artists at their hotels.

All sales were handled by a central sales area that accepted cash, checks, and credit cards. When the artists made a sale, they made out a sales slip with the price of the purchase in yen and with the price tag attached, which the customer then took to the sales table, paid for the purchase, and then brought the paid sales slip back to the artist to pick up the piece. The paid receipt was the record of sale.

No percentage of the sales was taken by the organizers, but this procedure facilitated the payment of the 5% import taxes levied on all work that remained in Japan. The promoters took out and paid the import duty and handled all of the paperwork. Technically, the show, International Arts and Crafts Promotion, imported the work and sold it. At the end of the show the artists were given an accounting of their sales and paid in cash yen.
There was a delivery service at the show which customers used to deliver purchases to their respective residences or business. This was especially useful since so many people travel by train or other mass transit.

Links:
Yokohama International Open-Air Art Fair 2009 http://iacp.jp/yokohama_art_fair_2009_(English).html

Jenny Mendezhttp://www.jennymendes.com/

Mathias Mulemehttp://www.mathiasmuleme.com/

Larry Oliversonhttp://larryoliverson.com/

Vincent Pernicanohttp://blueskyglass.com/

Carroll Swayzehttp://carrollswayze.com/






West Meets East


Western and Japanese culture are so different as well as the obvious language differences. I was curious about the artists interactions with their Japanese counterparts as well as their Japanese customers. Japanese translators, most of whom were American literature students at the University of Yokohama, were assigned to each booth.

The cultural exchange was stimulating. I found the customers very polite and somewhat reserved. They expressed genuine interest in the work and asked intelligent questions. I had a number of very in depth discussions and all my interactions were pleasant and enjoyable, said Larry.

Mathias found the Japanese artists and public to be very warm, friendly, and very welcoming. But the interaction with customers was really hard. A lot of Japanese I met speak only a few words of English, thats all. The show organizers generously provided interpreters but they too hardly spoke any English.

Carroll said, At the show I introduced them to our custom of trading and I came home with some beautiful art. The first day was hilarious though because I got the only interpreter who did not speak English. I realized pretty quick that it wasnt going to help me much so I just went into my booth and talked to everyone whether they understood me or not. Everyone loved that and they responded to it very well.

Larry reported that all of the translators assigned to him spoke English quite well and at times he had more than one translator.
Jenny told me that she especially connected with another ceramics artist. Language was at times a problem. Everyone was extremely gracious.

Vince took this unique opportunity to learn some Japanese. I studied Japanese for about ten months before the trip and learned some basic words and phrases but not nearly enough to carry on a coherent conversation in Japanese. I would explain the basics of my materials and technique to my translators and in turn they would explain to the visitors in my booth. If a customer asked a question that they could not answer they would ask me and then translate the answer to the customer so the system worked very well. The customers were very friendly and they seemed to be interested in learning about my work. The translators were what made the art fair work smoothly, without them it would have been very difficult to explain processes but I think that the art itself crossed the language barrier.

On the first night of the event, Larry made a speech to the organizers, guests, and Japanese artists. My speech covered life as an independent artist - the challenges and rewards as well as a brief explanation of the meaning and effect of art festivals on the artists, the customers, the producers of the events, the sponsors, and the communities in which these events are held. When the floor opened for questions, there was input from the other North American artists and Shary Brown. This session was an integral component of the overall cultural exchange and experience. It was a direct interaction with the primary stakeholders of their event.

Japanese Art Fair Future

Each artist indicated to me that they felt that the art fair industry has potential in Japan. There are many similarities to the U.S. scene about 50 years ago when art fairs first started here. Galleries shun the art fair concept, the public doesnt quite know what it is all about, yet are curious. It is a market that will have to be developed not only for this particular event but for the country in general.

There is a lot of optimism and enthusiasm, however. Vince said that he would not be at all surprised if this event was the beginning of an art fair bloom for Japan. When I asked Shary Brown if she thought there would be more art festivals in Japan she responded, I certainly hope so. Larry Oliverson and I have been in touch about continuing to build on the foundation that was laid in Japan. There have been a few very preliminary emails to discuss continuing our mutual efforts in creating a cultural exchange. I thought the Yokohama International Open-Air Art Fair members vision was impressive. The mission and goals of their planned event were clear and the projects they chose to put their resources and effort into were the right choices. They
had support from the City of Yokohama and the basic planning and timeframe were well underway by the time they visited Ann Arbor in 2008. They also had marketing contributions from a magazine publisher which reached a large and broad audience.
Post Art Fair Glow

As for the participating North American Artists, all would enthusiastically take part in a similar invitation, most- expenses-paid, opportunity to exhibit and sell their work, travel, and experience and participate in a cultural exchange. All were particularly honored and grateful to have been chosen to exhibit at the Yokohama International Open-Air Art Fair 2009. In return, Carroll invited one of the Japanese artists, Takashi Yamashita to participate in a small (60 artist) invitational show that she runs, The Englewood Bank Invitational Art Show. Four of the North American artistswere invited to be included in a group show at Gallery-B in Tokyo, which took place in January 2010.

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