23 August 2010

Lessons From an Art Festival: Talking to Other Vendors


Other artists -- especially if you are a relative newbie like me -- can be valuable resources in your quest on the art festival circuit. You can learn from them and most of them -- once they see your “Artist” badge -- are happy to offer suggestions and advice. 

From a pure courtesy standpoint, I got to know our neighbors. One had been attending the festival since the 90’s, so he certainly had the logistics locked down. But, beyond the near-by rock-workers, potters, jewelers, and organo-metallic mixed-media artists, I sought out other photographers. What did I what to know?

For one, I am always appraising the way others set up their booths. I want to see how traffic flows, what kinds of materials and display products they are using and beyond that, the sizes and types of images they are framing and how, and what they are offering as matted work. (In another post I’ll have some comments on booth set-up and location.) In short, I’m looking for ideas on how to improve my presence. Questions such as “how do you like those display panels?” or “ where did you get that bin?” are standard I-need-to-upgrade-my-booth queries.

I am also interested in other people’s work and will consequently engage the photographer, asking questions about location, time of day, camera format and perhaps focal length (though rarely camera make, as it matters little to me), framing (if unique), and other types of questions. It’s a conversation not an interrogation and most artists are happy to discuss various aspects of their work.

I can speak from experience when I say that photographers want to know that their work is appreciated, even if the comments are coming from another photographer that has no intention of buying anything. So I will find pieces that really appeal to me -- normally not a difficult task -- and complement him/her on them. Not just, “that’s nice” but WHAT is nice about it. It means a lot to me when others engage me like that, so I must assume it matters to them as well.

If it hasn’t already, inevitably the conversation will turn to how the show is going. This is good and you will be able to validate -- or not -- your own sense of the festival. What is not cool is getting into specifics. I frankly don’t want to know that Mr. A has moved x number of framed images or that Ms. B has netted y number of dollars. You open yourself up to either disappointment or elation at someone else’s’ expense. Neither is good. It is important for me to have a good show, not a better show than Mr. A or Ms. B.

From my mere three days at the show, I sense that the art festival circuit is a community: cooperative, not competitive. Of course in a way we are all competing for a finite pool of dollars and even more so within categories of art. But my sense is that generally the artists understand that while there will be relative differences between people’s receipts, a good show will benefit all. This fosters a sense of trust and community that we could perhaps look for in other areas of our life, I do believe.

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