Showing posts with label transitions. Show all posts
Showing posts with label transitions. Show all posts

10.15.2007

Transitions, Part 3: Festival Noir, The End

If you've sneaked a look at the Festival Noir website, you already know the end of this story, but not how we got there. After last year's disappointing turnout in both customers and number of top quality artists, I began thinking we might not make it to our 15th anniversary year. As I participated in my own shows and festivals this year, it became clear that the downturn in numbers of customers wasn't just isolated to the New England area. When I talked about Festival Noir with African American artists I met at those shows, I got mostly lukewarm responses (although most seemed interested enough to take the printed information--thinking about a December show while sweltering in June or July heat is a stretch, I realize!).

As in years past, the Festival Noir "Early Application Deadline" was the last Friday in September. On that date, we had three, count them on one hand, and have two fingers left over, three applications! This was a new low. Even worse; one of the three was someone who'd applied online the previous year, but never completed his application and never responded to our many efforts to contact him. None of the artists I'd spoken with had applied. No other new artists had applied. My partner had received no mail-in applications. The outlook was dim, to say the least.

Usually, we would have a few applications by the early deadline in September, and more would come in online and via snail mail in October. By the final deadline, which was the first Friday in November, we would reach our usual number of between 30 and 35 artists for Festival Noir. Both my partner and I would actively seek applications from new artists; I would begin web surfing for new work during the summer; sending personalized email invitations to artists whose work I thought would enhance our show (the fact that I did not do that this year tells more of the story--I think I knew the end was near).

So, early this month my partner and I had an hour long discussion, and amidst feelings of sadness, and resignation mixed with a large measure of relief, we made the decision to cancel Festival Noir 2007. We agreed there should be two emails sent out; one to the artists who'd done our show in years past, and one to the customers who'd supported the show for 14 years:
Dear Friends of Festival Noir,

After 14 years of presenting the finest in Afrocentric hand crafted products to the New England area, we have made the difficult decision to cancel Festival Noir 2007.

We have not come to this decision easily, but in recent years, we have observed the steady decline in attendance, and an overall decline in the number of artist applications we've received. These factors have led us to the conclusion that this year's Festival Noir would be less than what we envisioned when we began in 1993; a showcase for the best of African American art, presented to an appreciative buying public.

We thank you for your support of our event. We hope you found the Festival Noir experience to be a valuable one. We have enjoyed producing it, and if future conditions permit, we may bring it back, in perhaps an altered format.

We wish you the happiest of holiday seasons, and encourage you to support the work of African American artists and artisans as you do your holiday shopping, and throughout the coming year.

We've received some feedback from the artists' email, most notably from Larry Poncho Brown, who said, in part,
"We all have to make brave decisions. Regrouping and rechanneling is essential for growth. Thank you for all you have done to keep culture alive. I am honored to have worked with you and look forward to working with you in any capacity in the future. Thank you for including me in your vision. Sometimes this business is a labor of love....OUR FUTURE WILL BE BRIGHTER."

He's right, on all counts. We will go forward. We're considering taking Festival Noir south, possibly changing it to include all kinds of artwork, and a number of other ideas which haven't taken full form yet. The future will be brighter because we've had this experience--even if Festival Noir 2006 was the last.

So, the "end" could signal the transition to something even better....stay tuned.

10.12.2007

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.

10.10.2007

Transitions, Part 1: Festival Noir, The 'Back Story'

This month marks a transition for one facet of my life/work which I haven't spent much time writing about here: Festival Noir. The 'back story' is that in 1992, when I was living in Boston, I was creating jewelry (semi-precious stone beads with handcrafted porcelain, and/or polymer clay pieces), and doing home parties, but not much else in the way of sales. A chance meeting with a woman who enjoyed jewelry and supporting the work of African American artists led to a lengthy discussion about how we could provide a showcase for artists whose work needed to be "out there" for the public to see and buy.

We often say that we went full speed ahead with Festival Noir (the name came to me in the shower one morning) because we didn't know any better. Our basic idea was to hold the show in a large, centrally located, well known Boston venue; make it free to the public; and to provide that showcase for artists, some of whom had never presented their work for sale. A tall order, especially since neither of us had ever produced such an event (or any other event, for that matter) before. We approached the largest downtown venue (a convention center) with our 1-page plan, and succeeded in securing a small conference room there for our first show.

On the Saturday before Thanksgiving, we had 16 artists, about 1,000 attendees, and a resounding success that first year: 1993. In subsequent years, we added artists, moved to larger rooms in the convention center (eventually filling a 4,000 sq. ft. space), and made Festival Noir a 2-day show after the 5th year. Our show became the gold standard of Afrocentric art shows in New England, and attracted artists from as far away as California. Since it was a juried show, artists who applied knew their work had to be of a certain quality to be accepted. And, customers came to expect high quality, hand crafted products; many returned again and again to participate in this holiday season tradition; to meet the new artists we included each year. At its height, Festival Noir boasted 36 artists and craftspeople, included nationally-known Black artists, and was written about in the Boston Globe.

So, what happened? Stay tuned for Transitions, Part 2: Festival Noir, The Decline