Transitions, Part 2: Festival Noir, The Decline

When we left our story, Festival Noir was a great success. Artists loved being celebrated, making good sales, and meeting the public who was eager to see and buy their work. Customers enjoyed coming back year after year to see the new artists and products we'd present. And something we'd begun in year 3 or 4 had developed into a major part of the show: we were able to give back to the Boston community by asking our customers to make donations of toys or warm clothing for children served by local non-profit organizations during the holiday season.

That's what was happening on stage. Backstage, especially in the past 2 or 3 years, the story was a bit different. It became increasingly difficult to attract artists whose work was of the quality we'd come to expect. Our costs to secure the space in the convention center rose, necessitating an increase in exhibitor fees (which we'd kept steady for over 5 years). And, although we'd held Festival Noir at the same convention center for all 14 years, since our space needs were so small (as compared with national conventions which could command the whole building), we could never be assured we'd have our first choice of show date. Add to that the increase in gas prices, the availability and ease of online shopping, and we suffered the beginnings of a major decline.

Festival Noir 2006 boasted nationally known artist Larry "Poncho" Brown, as a result of my 'relentless' pursuit of him whenever I'd see him at shows we did together. Our postcard invitation went out to our database of over 4,500 past attendees. The postcard displayed one of Poncho's images (along with my own Matuko shadow box, and the work of Woodrow Nash, who ultimately didn't do the show). Those were the positives. The negatives included having the show moved to an inadequate, poorly-lit space at the last minute, and extremely low attendance. So low that every artist's sales were affected. Of course, the artists blamed us, though we had done nothing less than we'd always done to get the word out about Festival Noir. We ended the show knowing we had work to do; 2007 was to be our 15th anniversary year, and to make it a good one, we would have to address the artist quality and declining attendance issues. Knowing this and committing to it were two different things, however, as we were about to discover.

Next: Transitions, Part 3: Festival Noir, The Decision.