Whenever we do art shows we are always hearing about the best shows across the country that every artist wants to be doing. In the last few years we have been so fortunate because we have been invited to participate when we have applied to these shows. Recently though we found ourselves in a situation I don't think we ever thought we would have to deal with and neither did our fellow artists. When we decide we want to participate in any art show it is an daunting effort. We start at least 6 months in advance. We send in our application along with thousands of other artists along with our application fee of between $30-60.Then we wait a few months to find out if we are one of the select few to be selected. In this case, one of the 300 for this particular show. The show I am describing is a show we have never gotten into in the past but we had heard such wonderful things, "best show ever", "unbelievable sales", "great venue'". So we were pretty excited to hear the results when we were accepted and we immediately paid our booth fee as soon as we could to insure we would get a good location at the show. The first thing we noticed was the fees were higher than in years past but we wanted to do the show so off went our $500. This was in the fall for a March show. Then in February the rumbling started. We were busy with making art and other shows but we heard the talk and we started getting concerned. This prominent show with their 300 hand selected top rated artists had decided just weeks before the show to add an additional 150 artists and expand the size of show to double the physical size to close to 2 acres with a large stage with live music, a children's area and other events. All with a $15 daily gate fee. No notice, no word to the artists, nothing.
Somehow, the show directors didn't think any of this would matter to the artists. That expanding a show so it was too big to walk around, with too many artists wouldn't somehow affect the artists who had signed a binding contract to participate in an art show with 300 artists. The last few weeks have created a hell storm of controversy in the art community. Discussions over artists rights, the needs of an art show to make money over the experience of the patron and the artist. It has been exhausting. In the end they were forced to offer refunds to the 300 who wanted them. As of they are scrambling to fill the holes made by these cancellations and still find artists for the extra 150 with only 10 days to go before the show, calling artists who never even applied. It has created bad blood between artists who stayed and those who chose to leave. The show has yet to repay any of the refunds to the artists and we are starting to worry if they will.
So what did we do? We had no presence there, no client base. So we asked for a refund and we will stay home and do our local show that weekend. We got scared frankly. I wish our fellow artists who remained the best of luck but this show should not continue past this Spring show. Their business decisions fly in the face of what it was created for. To provide an environment for people who love art to buy it from people who make art in a comfortable and equitable space.
Bonnie Harmston works side by side with her husband Steve and travels the art show circuit with him.