Friday, June 29, 2012

Lessons from Fountain Square Art Festival (Part 2)

Why? (2012) - Ramona Lindsey  (12" x  24")
Fountain Square Art Festival (FSAF) marks my first experience in the festival circuit.   FSAF taught me 3 key lessons - fortitude, camaraderie, and purpose.

Fortitude is the courage to continue in the face of uncertanity. There is a great deal of uncertainty associated with participation in juried shows.  Generally the selection process begins by submitting 3 - 4 photographs of your best art along with a non-refundable application fee.  It is difficult choosing photos that will impress an unknown jury while representing my best art. Furthermore, my photos must convince festival promoters that my work has mass appeal.

The same photos I used for the FSAF were used for the 57th Street Art Fair (Chicago, IL)  and Baltimore Artscape (Baltimore, MD).   Fountain Square said yes while the latter two responded no.  One size doesn't fit all, so what may work for one show might not be right for another.  Perseverance and understanding is the key.  You must not let the no's stop you from trying, but understanding your audience will give you a better shot at a yes.

Before leaving for the FSAF I spent hours creating new works with various price points.  My items ranged in price from $30-$1,800.  I created enough inventory so selling a third would net me $3,333.  My sales team - husband and 2 children -  are invested in the plan, because they receive compensation from my business once these goals are accomplished.  By the end of day one of the two day event, I had made no sales and obtained 26 new contacts.  I knew day two would be better, but I was wrong. At the close of FSAF, my sales totaled $0 and my contacts were 30.  I took a risk that didn't pay-off in dollars, but intangible rewards. My bank account was broke, but my spirit soared. Why? Because God gave me the fortitude, family, and friends to see the blessings in the experience.  He used the power of camaraderie to push me through challenges to realize His opportunity.

Where does camaraderie come from on the festival circuit?  It comes from the participating artists.  My two day experience brought me new friendships and connections.   I heard the mantra of veteran circuit artists including glass artists,Irene Sherman and Cari Johnson, "Don't be discouraged."  Many told me to continue attending shows until I find my market.  Several also advised that FSAF was not the right venue for high end fine art.  Every festival has a personality and  a following.  I learned I must do my research to discover each show's personality before applying. Painter, Chris Whitaker, gave me a copy of Sunshine Artist Magazine as a source to begin my research.

Michel Delgado, an artist from the Florida Keys and winner of Best in Show - 2D Media, taught me an important lesson.  He said the main purpose of participating in the festival circuit is to get more eyes on my high end fine art.  According to Michel, most fine art collectors don't buy from open air markets, but  high quality fine art with a message will eventually attract galleries and collectors.  The key is to expose the work to the market.  The festival circuit is one way to introduce the work and your story to a living audience.

William Kwamena-Poh, a painter out of Savannah, Georgia and winner of Best in Show - Painting, encouraged me to rethink my price points and presentation of my entry level work.   In my effort to offer festival goers with meager budgets my mixed media fine art, I presented mixed media textile art on a blank greeting card. William suggested that the work was too high quality to present in such a way.  In addition, the art's presentation didn't agree with the collector's perceived use of it.  He offered that fine artists must not run the risk of devaluing a complete and quality work of art in order to generate sales.

Finally FSAF reinforced my purpose for creating fine art.   My mission is to inspire, represent, and nourish the human spirit with art.  FSAF allowed me to interact with real people drawn to my creations.   I shared my story with over one hundred people.  Many of them expressed appreciation for what I was doing, but several showed genuine emotion.   One woman, a casual artist, told me my art gave her the inspiration to step outside her box. That it wasn't necessary for her to create in the same way as other artists, but to be her unique self.   A counselor from a battered women's shelter commented that my work had a powerful story to encourage her clients through their dark times. Finally, a single mom shed tears after hearing my story of releasing the past to embrace my future as an artist.

Creating art for me is more than earning dollars.  It's about elevating spirits and fulfilling my divine purpose.  God asks, if he takes care of the birds, why would He do any less for me? I must continue on the path He has placed before me assured in the promise that He will help me victoriously through it.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Lessons from Fountain Square Art Festival (Part 1)

Leap of Courage (2012) - Mixed Media Textile 50'x33"x2"
Every artist, visual or performing, who seeks to earn a living looks for ways to share their work with the buying public.   The festival show circuit is a viable option for many visual artist.   I stepped into this arena for the very first time with my participation in the Fountain Square Art Festival (FSAF) in Evanston, Illinois.   For those of you not familiar with the festival circuit, in a nut shell it is all the spring, summer, fall, and winter opportunities were vendors display their wares for purchase.  My husband likened the experience to the medieval merchants traveling the countryside in horse and wagon selling their goodies from the roadside.

The Festival Show circuit is a thriving industry in the creative world.   Festival promoters make money through artist application fees, vendor booth rentals, corporate sponsorships, and entry fees.  Artists are paid through their booth sales and ,in some cases, cash awards for outstanding fine  art or craftsmanship.  Participation in the festival show circuit comes with both benefits and risks, but many artist see it as a way to expand their opportunities beyond gallery representation.

As an emerging artist, I choose to enter the festival circuit as a way to self-promote my work.  I view my art as a business venture.  The festival circuit gives me a platform to begin branding my work and introducing it to the public.  I have total control over the presentation and marketing of my art.  I decide where my art is viewed and how it is seen.   Many galleries are reluctant to represent an artist with limited exposure.  I am absorbing some risks in order to gain exposure in anticipation of future sales and gallery representation.  What are my risks? The most costly risk is infrastructure investment to promote my work.  Then comes festival circuit expenses.  And finally unpredictable consumers.

My goal for 2012 is to participate in at least 3 juried fine art shows, with one of these being outside of Illinois, my home state. I only apply to juried shows with projected attendance of over 20,000.  Shows of this size give me a broader audience resulting in increased opportunities for sales.  But sales are not my only goal, I wish to add 120 potential clients to my mailing list during each event.
FSAF was my first opportunity to test my plan.  Part 2 of this post will describe my results.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Art is God Answering

My church offers a separate worship service for our children and young people.  Yesterday I attended as a guest.  The children's minister, Rev. E. C. Cunningham, spoke to the children about God's ability to answer questions.  He shared with the kids that all they needed to do was ask and God would answer.  Sometime the answer is immediate but some answers require waiting. At times my journey as an emerging artist is daunting, and that's when I wonder how other artists made it.

Woodrow Nash is one of my favorite sculptors.  Recently, my mother-in-law gave us an early Woodrow Nash piece.  Last week while reflecting on my journey as an artist I was admiring Mr. Nash's piece.  I thought, "When he made that piece he was like me - unknown and trying to make it."  I asked God to show me how Mr. Nash was able to persist.  My prayer was that God show me how I could learn Woodrow Nash's story. Yesterday, around 4:45 pm God answered my prayer. 

June 3rd was the last day of the 57th Street Art Fair  and Hyde Park Community Art Fair in Chicago's Hyde Park Neighborhood.  I had promised Pearlie Taylor, one of my mother's in art, that I would visit her at the fair.  After a Saturday packed full with meetings and a busy Sunday at church, my daughter and I reluctantly left the house at 3:00 pm to visit Pearlie before the art fair ended at 5:00 pm.  We hung out with Pearlie until around 4:30 and decided to stroll around the fair booths.  To my surprise, we discovered Woodrow Nash just 15 minutes before all artists began to close shop.  This was his first year participating in the art fair. 

While admiring his work and waiting to meet him, I shared the story of how my mother-in-law recently gifted us with a Woodrow Nash bust that she purchased in the early 1990's.  Unbeknownst to me, one of the ladies in the group was his wife, Wanda Nash.  She began to tell me about that time in his career.  She shared with me his journey from a painter, to graphic designer, to acclaimed sculptor. She talked about their struggles and successes.  But most importantly she told me that her husband's talent, just like mine, was a gift from God that God is requiring us to share with the world.  She encouraged me to remain faithful and focused on achieving what God has put in me to accomplish. 
Who knew that God would answer my question so quickly while giving me exactly what I needed to continue the journey.  All I had to do was ask!