May 26, 2015

A Case for Indoor Art Shows (Rant Warning)

20150523_133720Hail piling up next to my booth at the Downtown Denver Arts Festival

20150523_133551One of the few brave (foolish?) souls who came out to the show

A picture is worth a thousand words, but in case these two photos don’t get the point across, let me add a few actual words.

These photos were taken early on in rainy Denver this last weekend, before water started collecting in three or four inch deep pools among the booths, before the mud got so sloppy I got splatters up past my knees just walking to my booth. We set up in the rain, took down in the rain, and dealt with rain more often than not in the time in between. It felt like Woodstock without the rock and roll and LSD to make it all seem just part of the fun–not to mention there probably wasn’t even one percent of the half-million folks who showed up at Woodstock.

Sales were of course as dismal as the weather. This is why I’d prefer to do indoor art shows, if there were any. My sales for the weekend were about 10% of what I can expect at a good summer show, and many artists around me did not sell anything at all all weekend. Being smarter than the artists, the buying crowds were just not there.

Ten percent of most artist’s sales a any given show is not enough to cover the booth fee, much less travel, hotel, and food costs. I’m told indoor art shows would typically come with higher booth fees but paying a certain amount more with a better guarantee of a crowd would seem to make sense in the long run. The loses an artist sustains at even one show due to really bad weather would offset higher booth fees at shows for a whole season.

When I bring up the idea of indoor art shows rather than outdoor ones during the summer, promoters and even other artists always mention the same point–there’s just a special ambiance and excitement about an outdoor art show that is  missing in indoor shows. But what kind of desirable ambiance includes mud, rain, hail, thunder and lightning? The ambiance was certainly lacking this weekend when I found myself wondering, not particularly theoretically, if an artist was standing in the middle of their metal-framed booth in rubber soled shoes not touching anything, would lightning hitting their booth travel down the metal frame to the ground leaving them safe inside? The answer, I’m certain is no, and hell-no if you happen to be standing an inch or two of water on soggy ground.

Think about the advisability of an oil-painter, sculptor, photographer or other artist laboring long hours in the studio deciding to set up an outdoor booth in Tornado Alley where on a bad weekend they stand a decent chance of losing all their work? Yet there are many art shows in Tornado Alley every spring. I used to participate in some myself until I gained a modicum of wisdom and decided to stay out west.

This weekend in Denver made me realize it’s probably better to be a farmer than an artist at an outdoor art show. Farmers are also very much at the mercy of the weather, but at least they can get crop insurance to cover potential loses.

End of rant. I feel better already. 🙂

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