Interdisciplinary. Community. Advocacy. Humor.
Melanie Little, ACC Show Director, checks in with a craft show artist in St. Paul, 2016. Photo: B. Martin for crafthaus.
Continued from Baltimore attendance, Let’s Make, and Style Slam
Crafthaus: How many applications do you typically receive for the Baltimore show?
Melanie Little: Artists can apply to wholesale plus retail, or they can apply to the retail segment only. In general we have about 1,700 artists that apply to all of our shows. Typically 1,600 of those apply for Baltimore plus at least one other show. We have about 300 spaces for retail only in Baltimore, and then it's about 360 spaces in the combined wholesale-retail segment.
Crafthaus: Is there a jury fee or an application fee for the artists and how much is it?
Melanie Little: Yes there is, it's $30 per show and there is a one-time $10 processing fee. So if you apply to one show, it's $40, two shows will be $70 and so forth.
Crafthaus: How are the artists selected for participation in an ACC show? Is this a jury process? And who sits on the jury?
Melanie Little: It is a jury process and it has changed over the years. Believe it or not, many years ago it was a jury of 81 people, there was a glass jury, a ceramics jury and so on. Every media had its own jury and each jury had, I think, six people on it. Obviously, we had to change that because the cost became too high. Today we have four juries. We have one jury that’s just for jewelry. We have one that’s for fashion and other wearables. Another jury is for glass and ceramics, and then the fourth one is for home décor. Each jury consists of seven people, four of which are artists and three are professionals from the field, could be buyers or a range of other professions.
We also send out a form to artists who participated in a prior show to either self-nominate or nominate somebody else that they recommend to be on a jury. We look at all those nominations and some additional ones too, and from those names we select the four artists we want for each jury. In the past I was in charge of this process, but for the past two years, Kristine Goldy, our Show Operations Manager has been selecting the jury.
For the jurying process itself, we give the juries one week in August where they all go online. They get instructions from us to view all the images that have been submitted and they score them on a range of 1 to 7. They're told they really need to use that whole range when scoring, and then those scores are calculated and applied to each show the artist wants to be in. Next I get the applicant list sorted by media and with their scores from high to low. I have to look at each show separately and consider how many ceramic artists are there, how many glass artists and then I do the cut-offs. Next I create a wait list and then, sadly, especially in the jewelry category, I do have to decline many. That’s where it gets painful, because declining these artists doesn’t mean that their work isn’t good. I simply have to be realistic. I don’t want to put somebody on a wait list knowing that I would never get to their number. That’s just not fair.
Damian Velasquez's booth at ACC St. Paul 2016. Photo: B. Martin for crafthaus. Artist website: http://www.modernhandcrafted.com/
Crafthaus: How diverse are your jurors as far as age is concerned and as far as their taste preferences is concerned?
Melanie Little: We do try to make sure that we have some younger people on the juries. It's the full range age spectrum, and I'm sorry, I couldn't hear your second question?
Crafthaus: I asked for age and taste preferences. People often have a track record of liking more conservative work or more edgy work. How do you balance this out?
Melanie Little: I'm looking at who we are approving to be on the jury plus, on the jurying instructions, we’re asking the jury to put their personal taste aside and look at the work neutrally, zoom in on the image and look at the detail. We instruct them to be really open minded.
Video: B. Martin for crafthaus. ACC St. Paul 2016.
Crafthaus: What are the criteria for acceptance into the show?
Melanie Little: Looking at the quality of the work and a unique expression. We always aim to get some newer work in there too, something that will appeal to a younger generation.
Crafthaus: What I'm trying to get at is that one of the comments I hear is that when you go to craft shows it's always the same people who get in. The perception is that edgier or more, shall we say, unusual work does not get into the bigger shows. Do you agree with that sentiment or do you disagree?
Melanie Little: I sort of go a little bit on the disagree side here. It's actually the opposite. We are really trying to reach out and appeal to those artists to get them to understand what the show is about and then try out a show like ours. That’s even part of the Hip Pop program, to reach out to that fresh segment. We would like for more to apply to our show.
Crafthaus: And then of course the follow-up is…
Melanie Little: Being viable.
Crafthaus: Exactly. That would be the follow-up. You have to think about whether or not the work would actually sell in that environment. You’re a data person, so is the customer who typically comes to an ACC show the person who would buy work that’s on the edgier end of things? You want your artists to be financially successful as far as their sales at your show are concerned. If you have edgier work on display and it doesn’t sell, then everybody’s unhappy. That is the counter argument. Would you concur with that?
Melanie Little: Yes, I do. But the truth is we have been getting more edgier work into our shows and for the majority of those people it seems like it is working because they do keep coming back. We are doing constant outreach to that group of artists, we’re always trying to find edgier work, invite the artists to our show, ask them to give it a try.
Crafthaus: What would be helpful to you and your research process? Would you welcome people and organizations to be in touch with you and introduce you to what they consider edgier work? Would that be helpful or not?
Melanie Little: That would totally be helpful. We also have our “School to Market” program in every show city where we are trying to introduce students to the shows, but yes, totally, to have other organizations nominating names for new artists that would be welcome. We’re all in it together.
Crafthaus: That’s how I feel. So if I put this out and make this public, then people would be welcome to just send you artist information to your email?
Melanie Little: That would be fine, but let me stress that I only need the artist information and then I can take a first look. It’s not a promise that someone will get into one of our shows, they will still have to apply and there’s still a jury process to go through.
Top: Melanie Little talking with Hip Pop Artists at 2016 ACC St. Paul show.
Bottom: 3 Hip Pop Booth displays: L-R: Maggie Thompson, MAKWA Studio, Dominique Bereiter Jewelry, Mandie Smethells/Smoothills Weaving
Crafthaus: Back to the organizational side. How many artists are typically allowed to come back to the same show in the following year? Is there a built-in option to return? What's the average return rate for artists that come back every year?
Melanie Little: We have a really high rate of artists that come back every year. I'll probably put that in the 75-80% range, at least. We don't have a built-in return promise. I know artists have brought this up, it's something I hear a lot. Many have done the show for years and years and years and they would like a return option. But I always want to leave space for the new artists too. So at this point we don't do any kind of a return program. Except for people who show at the Wholesale Only segment. We do a lot of that there.
Crafthaus: That means if you have on average 75-80% return rate then a quarter of the people in each show are usually new artists. Right?
Melanie Little: I'd say that would be correct. Probably 20-22% are usually new.
Crafthaus: How many Hip Pop spots do you offer for Baltimore?
Melanie Little: In Baltimore this year, there are going to be six spots. We have 36 Hip Pop artist at that show.
Crafthaus: How do you fill your booth spaces, do you go by craft category? How do you balance the individual categories so that they are all equally represented?
Melanie Little: That's part of my work when I'm considering the cut-offs. I want to make sure that, as best as I can, I'm balancing the show between fashion/jewelry and home decor. I try to keep that an even split. Then I have to look at how many applications we have within each media. Jewelry is always a big group. I'm looking to balance it out.
Liz Gardner, Designer, who chose to view her theme, SOUTH, through a Miami lense. Make Room. ACC St. Paul 2016. Photo: B. Martin for crafthaus.
Crafthaus: Criticism has been leveled at the ACC show in Baltimore in the past by some who say the artist selection at the show is “uneven.” I'm not talking about the categories. The criticism that has been brought up is that some of the work shown is just really not that good. How do you respond to that?
Melanie Little: I honestly feel when I look at the size of the show, when I walk through, that most of the work is very, very good. Yes, there are a few times that I come across work where I am wondering, "Wow, how did that get in the show?” Then I go back and look at the images that were sent in for jurying, just to make sure.
At a show of the size of the Baltimore show there’s always going to be a few of these instances where you could wonder, but overall, that number is smaller than some people feel that it is. Just once have I had work in the show where I had to ask the artist to leave. Well, I didn’t actually make them leave the show right then. I told them that they would not be invited back.
Crafthaus: That must be a very difficult conversation to have with an artist.
Melanie Little: Yes it is. I felt awful about it. At a show the size of Baltimore there is going to be some work that might not be at that absolute highest level people think it should be. But I also want to respond to those who might be critical of some of the work, that everybody started out at some point, and then, over the years, they worked hard and improved to where they are today. I would ask for some kindness and fairness and understanding. People hopefully are going to improve and get to that higher caliber eventually.
I had one particular artist in a show and I personally thought their work wasn’t all that great and their booth display was, well... But the customers loved it and that person had a fabulous show. Also, a lot of younger people were drawn to the work.
It takes time to hone mastery, give every person a fair chance - and be kind.
Next post: (10) Layout, Booth Assignment, Handmade-Policy, Booth Set-up and Take-down.
Jera Lodge in her booth at the ACC St. Paul 2016. Photo: B. Martin for crafthaus.
Thank you Brigitte for this article. I will have to say that since I make jewelry, this is a show I should never apply to, because only 20 percent are new artists, and probably only one of them makes jewelry. I wonder if there are other shows in the area that piggy back with this show.
what would be the point of a piggy back show... that would dilute the market even more. You must have read the numbers of participants, it's a huge show.
I haven't seen the show, and I was paying more attention to the fact that there are three times as many people who are good that don't get in than the ones who do. It isn't as if artists were trying to get a book published, a writer can send out submissions all day every day, and if they are good, sooner or later, get published.
doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will
20% of 650 artists is actually a fairly high number. That's 130 new artists every time, at a minimum.
That is true, math was never my strong suit.
Hold On...I do my own book keeping and my accountant tells me that he charges me very little because I provide such thorough information. I've told him, I like to see the numbers...that's where all of the answers are.
I keep all those records also, and we could file our own taxes, but stick with a professional. But, still, out of 130 new artists, a very small number will be jewelry. For some reason I am thinking of a Big Bang Show where Penny was going to audition for a part, and she thought she would nail it, when she went into the audition the room was full of about 50 girls who looked just like her. She didn't get the part.....
Speaking of numbers, there's no denying that jewelry is the biggest segment at the ACC Baltimore:
Total # of booths: 650
Jewelry/enamel booths: 26
Jewelry/metal booths: 167
Jewelry/non-metal booths: 63 = Total # of jewelry booths: 256 (= 39.4% of total booths!)
(In addition there's also: Metal (general): 31 and Metal/enamel: 2)
Compare that to the other media:
Wood: 29 (= 4.5% of overall booths)
Wood/turned: 11 (= 1.7% of overall booths)
Furniture & Lighting: 38 (= 5.9% of overall booths)
Glass: 61 (= 9.4% of overall booths)
Ceramics: 72 (= 11% of overall booths)
Fashion Accessories: 35 (= 9.4% of overall booths)
Fashion Wearables: 85 (= 13.1% of overall booths)
And I saw jewelry makers in non-jewelry categories as well. They listed under "Fashion Wearables," the result of which is that the 39.4% of jewelry booths overall is actually even a tick higher.