Sunday, December 16, 2012

Been There and Done That

Red River Fine Arts and Wine Festival

I did arts and crafts fairs from their heyday to two years ago. I had refined my booth and my exhibits and was winning prizes and doing well if not spectacular on sales. And long before I quit fairs I could see their downhill slide. You can blame Giclee prints or reproductions from China or pretend artists that were just into resale or the downward spiral of the economy. Or just that they become more and more entertainment than shopping opportunities.

I gradually cut down from 10 fairs a year to only two or three. And each fair I was disappointed more and more often by the lack of quality or the jury process that let in items mass produced in Mexico. And I got more and more bored with producing those items between $90 and $300 that sold well at previous fairs. I got so bored I was talking of quitting painting altogether. But because of my investment in van, booth furniture and lights and an established reputation at big fairs I kept going. Than the van broke. Really broke.

Sometimes events take control and demand an agonizing reappraisal. The demise of the Blizzard Lizard was such an event. As I looked around for a vehicle large enough to transport me to fairs but still that I could afford I began to question the wisdom of leaving my studio which is open to the public and traveling to fairs that cost entry fees, travel expenses, etc. to chase an ever increasingly rare buyer that didn't ask if I made prints, while watching the "artist" in the next booth unpack things from Made in China boxes.

Artsfest 2010 was my last art fair. Sales were good but I had to beg help from friends to get all my stuff there and back. Fortunately it was local. And two weeks later a regular customer popped into my studio and in two hours beat my sales at the fair. I sold my fair furniture and bought a Corolla with double the gas mileage of the van and have not looked back. And I get to paint what I want though it took almost six months to pick up a brush again. I kept my artistic spirit alive with photography and my name before the public with Facebook and entering exhibits and winning prizes.

Yesterday I went to a fair with a friend who also quit fairs at the same time. The two years had made me a true fair goer rather than a fair participant taking a break. I was frankly shocked at the continuing downward spiral of the venue. There were some very fine artisans at this particular fair but artists were dwindling. And their booths were side by side with made in Thailand beaded necklaces and Christmas baked goods from the local church. It is hard to sell a $1999.00 hand woven blanket coat when beside you a "photographer" is selling $30.00 printed at Walmart photographs hot matted on foam core.

Most of the out of town artists had not traveled huge distances but they had braved a snow storm and some of the artists slated to be there didn't show up. And a lot of the potential buyers had stayed home. When I walked in with my friend I felt like a tuna entering a circle of hungry sharks. Or my youth visiting Juarez with my parents fending off vendors. And some of the artists were downright rude. This is typically the last fair of the season and no more chances for income are on the horizon until March or June. Been there.

The same argument can probably be made with my studio. The open studio event got shut down by the same storm. But I will not have to come up with over a thousand dollars worth of entry fees and booth deposits before spring. And the studio is a great venue for giving classes. Or regular buyers calling up and making an appointment.

It is sad to see an era pass but it is nice to know that you are still flexible enough to endure. I am not sure how many fairs I will attend as a buyer. I found it depressing. But I really had fun during the time I did them.

Binford-Bell Studio in Black Lake, New Mexico

1 comment:

  1. Smart move. Always a treat to see your work. Interesting comments on the decline of the fairs: I will no longer do Farmers markets. Not at all the same thing, I know. But we too noticed that 2010 was the best year. It went down last year and my market buddies this year had a really hard time. partly it was the weather, cold and wet till the second week of July. And partly it was the economy. I will no longer try to earn cash with bedding plants, but will focus on growing food.


I appreciate all kind comments on my art and poetry.