Michelle to Universe: Okay, I get it!

Back from the National Black Theater Festival, somewhat recuperated from the ordeal. And an ordeal it certainly was. Show hours were 11am to 5pm, and 9pm to 1am each day, to accommodate the theatergoing audiences.
There were about 100 booths with people selling everything from $4 black soap and shea butter to original oil paintings with 4-digit prices. To say that this combination didn't work for the high-end item sellers would be an understatement. The audience by day consisted of the local people looking for respite from the 95-plus degree temperatures and "everything in the basket $5" bargains, and the night crowd was often more of the same, having paid for theater tickets, I'm not sure what they were looking for, but it was not art. I did sell some of the new Tarishi, probably because they were $20. I did sell one shadow box and two mask wall hangings, each to women who had come more than once to talk with me about my work, which was quite enjoyable. These were the only bright spots during the grueling 40 hours over 4 days.

The message from this experience for me was: I should trust my instincts, and what I already know about my work, namely that it does not appeal to the bargain-hunters, will stand out, but not in a good way against t-shirts and discount books, and does not belong in this type of show ever again.

The allure of NBTF, before we did it, was the opportunity to have my work presented to a wide audience of African-American art buyers, including the celebrities who were cast in the various plays being staged during the 4-day event. The reality was far from it. From the "I should have known better" file: the show was called the International Vendor's Market. Very telling, and quite accurate. Buy-sell items were the norm; I could count on two hands, (and have a few fingers left over) the number of artists selling hand crafted work. I spoke with most of them, who had the same sales results and opinion of the show as I did. And, the final, or actually first indication this show wasn't for me: it was not juried; and no examples of work were required for entry. A GIANT red flag which I all but ignored, in favor of hoping it would be a good showcase for my work.

You know that idea about the universe sending you messages of increasing intensity (a pebble, a rock, a boulder, and finally a mountain burying you) until you finally get it?

I do believe in that and now, okay, I've officially gotten it:

No more vendor's markets; no more shows which don't separate artists from those who don't create their own products; juried shows only, and the more stringent the requirements the better.

These are my vows for the rest of this year, and next. My next show this year is the very well-respected Festival in the Park in Charlotte, where I will be able to send out promotional postcards to my customers from Art and Soul of South End in April, and where I will be included in the "Artists' Walk" section of the show. I have high hopes, based on facts in my own experience.
My last show of the year is Festival Noir in Boston, which I co-created 15 years ago. It's a homecoming for me; I lived in Boston for over 20 years right after Wellesley, and I have a number of collectors of my work who come to the show every year, so it too is a known quantity where I've had success.

As I look to fill my show schedule for 2008, I will keep to my vows; the future of my work depends upon it.


marcia said…
Thank you for sharing your experience. It certainly helps those of us trying to figure out which direction to take. I know you will do well in your upcoming shows.