May 12, 2008

All Work and No Pay Makes For Festival Days

Last weekend I decided to investigate life on the craft circuit by sharing a booth with a purveyor of art prints at the Orangeburg Rose Festival. Although this was a small town arts and crafts festival, the booth set up was a fairly reliable indicator of what goes into setting up a display for an outdoor crafts festival. The easy part of this small town festival was the fee for a space. The fee was $75.00 for a spot on the street for three days and anyone who wanted to participate could do so. Contrast that to the Philadelphia Museum juried craft show that I applied to earlier this year. Philadelphia had a stringent jurying system that required high resolution digital photos, a jury fee of $50.00 and an artist’s statement. That was just the application requirement. If lucky enough to be one of the country’s chosen exhibitors, the booth fee will be $1000.00. Calculate gas to drive a van full of goods there, insurance, hotel and meals and you have a fairly hefty expenditure with no guarantee for a return. I soon saw first hand why craftspeople either love or hate the traveling craft show circuit.
Since I had only fleeting experience with setting up a booth at an arts and crafts fair when I had rented an indoor booth for the South Carolina Arts and Crafts festival in Columbia back in 1995/96, I thought I would re-examine this arts venue in anticipation of the crafts festival I will be taking part in this summer in Westminster, Maryland. The Maryland craft show at McDaniel College will be outdoors under a large canopy so fortunately I will not have to buy a tent.
The tent that my artist friend at the Rose Festival had purchased cost about $1500.00 fifteen years ago. The Friday night before the Festival it took three people and two police officers four hours to set the elaborate thing up. Metal pipes were assembled on the ground. They had to be twisted and turned with mighty hands and hard grips to align the holes for the rods to hang the tent on. After the framework was assembled, a roof was created out of flexible PVC pipe. Then the roof had to be attached to the metal framework and hoisted with telescoping pipes inside the framework pipes. Then the plastic tent form was stretched over the whole skeleton like skin on a reconstructed dinosaur. The zippers were killers. The flaps had to be pulled together tightly while simultaneously zipping them up - which was hard on the hands.
The tent assembly was just stage one of the set up process. The six-foot high screens for hanging the artwork on had to taken inside the tent and put together once inside. We took them out of the trailer and hauled them one by one into the tent. We jostled them like pieces of a giant puzzle to maximize the square footage of exhibition space inside the tent. Once their resting place was established, the projecting feet of the screens had to be inserted into special rubber holders to keep them in place. It was awkward to say the least to balance the screens while getting their “shoes” on. Then plastic key ties were put into place to anchor the screens to the framework of the tent - three for every pole. They had to be passed from a person outside the tent and threaded through to someone inside the tent. Then a series of cement cylinders had to be tied to the corners of the booth to anchor it against what one would assume to be gale force winds by the size and weight of these things. They had to be lifted and tied at the same time. It was challenging to say the least and I would invariably drop one on my foot. When everything was finally stabilized, the pictures were hung on the screens with the use of drapery hooks. I found that the sawtooth hooks on my framed drawings didn’t work particularly well under this arrangement and it required several tries apiece before they were finally affixed to the screens.
Day 2: The Rose Festival
We got to the tent well before the Saturday morning crowds because there was not enough light to hang art work by the night before. After putting the final coverings on the tables and adjusting the pictures and various craft items we sat down exhausted but putting on the best perky faces we could muster for the festivities. I had brought business cards, makeshift fliers and a sign-up sheet for potential students. Should all else fail to produce anything remunerative, then at least I would have made my presence known in Orangeburg for some future opportunity perhaps. Crowds came and crowds went. Most of seemed to glide on by our booth with nary a sidelong glance our way. By the glazed looks on their faces I assumed that visions of corn dogs and turkey legs danced in their heads. Even people who knew me didn’t recognize me. Whether it was poor feng shui in our booth, the current recession, or the laid back atmosphere of Orangeburg, I cannot say, but it seemed that small edible items held sway over collectible art works. Small clothes pins with paint and glitter on them seemed to all the rage as well. My friend who shared the booth with me made $25.00 that day. I made nothing but did pass out business cards and signed people up for mailing lists for future seminars.
Day 3: The Sunday Slowdown at the Rose Festival
The crowds sauntered on by. In the heat of the afternoon, many a festival goer would pause under the outcropping from our tent to chat and drink with friends - their backs to us and their fronts obscuring us from the sight of potential onlookers. Maybe this extra canopy wasn’t the most sound idea. What seemed like every five minutes, a migraine-inducing mini people-hauling trailer would stop by our tent to pick up and deposit festival goers. Why seemingly healthy young adults and teenagers opted to ride this fuming van with a loud lawn mower engine instead of walking the quarter mile stretch of festival road amazed me. For one thing, the noise of the engine made it impossible to speak to anyone within a thirty foot radius of it. But on occasion someone would stop in our booth and look around. By the end of the two day affair I had acquired thirteen names for a mailing. My friend sold about a total of $225.00 of work. I had sold nothing but supposedly had recruited people for my weekend mosaic seminar in Bamburg. But more on that in the next blog.

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