Early this morning my husband and I drove downtown from the lake to be one of the first through the gate to attend the Old Town Art Fair. I love this fair because they often have many new artists exhibiting each year, and the fair is in one of my favorite parts of Chicago.Â We spent the better half of the day wandering around from booth to booth. Much to my surprise, out of maybe 70 booths we poked around in, and perhaps 40 that we actually spent significant time in, only 2 artists took the time to come and speak to us.Â ONLY 2!!!! Simply shocking. How can you sell something as personal as your art and not even try to make a connection with your potential audience? Many of the artists were reading books, or talking to their booth mate instead of their potential clients. They were right there and not investing in their audience at all…
While the artists featured in the 2010 Old Town Art Fair are chosen by an independent jury of professional artists, gallery owners and museum curators, who looks at their professionalism and how they interact with the public?Â I think the answer is no one because it’s art right? It should sell itself, right?Â I can also tell you there were far too many booths that offered no artist statement, or ONLY offered a hand written statement on a scrap of paper that was pinned to their booth… I kid you not.Â Even worse many had no story about them or their artwork woven into their display. There was no “Why” to latch on to… And the really sick part was that the majority of the art at the fair was indeed pretty good. But yet, no one was inside these faceless art filled booths could tell their potential customers a compelling story about why they do what they do. NO wonder everyone walked right by them and instead mobbed those that could.
Out of the roughly 20 artists Chuck and I were seriously interest in, less than 1/2 of them had functioning websites. The common excuse was it was being updated or had only been down for a short period of time for some reason or another. In fact, one artist proudly told me she had been featured in “the” ceramic magazine and had 6 galleries representing her and did not need a website because all anyone ever did was go and look at “the pretty pictures”. This particular artist even won a prize at this years fair which was juried for the first time.Â Her work indeed was good but clearly she does not care to be connected to her audience or know who they really are- I found this, and her attitude, totally scary. I know another visual artists just like her who has had a great deal of success selling the same way- until the bottom fell out on the economy and now she has no idea who her clients are because she directly sells to so few of them…And what about trusting your brand to a gallery? While they may represent your work do you really want to leave your image and “brand” up to them? Yikes.Â How do you build Why? with no direct connection to your tribe?Â No wonder there are SO MANY STARVING ARTISTS!!
But what is THE MOST troubling about this experience today is this is a well established, higher end fair. Most of the art is at least a couple of hundred dollars and a significant portion of it falls in the $2000 to $8000 range.Â It costs $500 to $575 for a 10X12 and is considered 37th out of 200 best art fairs around the country.
But, my husband and I went to enjoy our day and indeed we did. My 46th birthday was yesterday and in celebration we bought “Joy” from clay sculpture artist Steven Olszewski from Pinckney, MI. (734.878.6439Â firstname.lastname@example.org)Â When I entered Steve’s booth his sculptures really spoke to me through their serenity. Steve was, coincidentally, indeed, one of the two artists who also was quick to speak to me and also quick to tell me he needed to sell some of his work and if I liked it he would make me a deal. He was sincere and not pushy in the least. Of course I took him up on his offer for a discount, but truthfully if he had not offered first, I would have paid full price.
Steve’s booth did not tell me Why? at all. His sculptures did with their serenity, peace and joy written all over their faces and poses, but there was no story in his booth had I needed more encouragement to connect to his work. Steve does not have a website and also readily admitted he needed help with his marketing and connectivity to his market. He even said he wanted to come to Boost Camp, which of course made me feel a little more Joy.
Ironically, when I first saw Joy I said to him, ” Her name must be Joy because she looks full of it..”Â and ironically and magically it turns out indeed it is her name.