PARTICIPATORY SPORT FOR CRAFT ARTISTS
Oh Iowa, I'll be home soon!
Now that I’ve been nestled in the bosom of Iowa for a few days, I’m feeling a little sturdier in my appraisal of the conference. Like SOFA, I go every year because I spend so much time in solitude making my work and relying on the internet to provide a connection to a larger community, not because either event is a perfect experience. And I am not alone in my griping about SNAG from time to time. Like any non-profit, member run organization, it often lumbers slowly toward change. Shifts come about when a certain volume of the membership starts yanking in a new direction. Repeatedly. This year’s conference was the result of no small amount of yanking, some of it official, some not so official. So I’d like to highlight both new programming and the more unofficial, but broader shifts that are taking place within our community.
The first event that conference attendees took note of was the AJF sponsored and organized exhibition Geography. This is the first exhibition of work to be featured inside of the conference that didn’t relate to students as far as I can remember. Please correct me if I’ve made an oversight here, but I think this is a subtle but major change in SNAG’s attitude toward collaboration with other comparable organizations. This was also the first show that involved outside galleries, work and catalogs for sale, and serious cooperation between SNAG and Art Jewelry Forum. As an exhibition, the work was cohesive, impeccably displayed, and representative of some of the highest caliber of art jewelry in our field. This was an unbelievable opportunity for everyone in attendance, and I was not alone in feeling that it was the strongest exhibition on view during the conference. It’s accessibility permitted multiple viewings and the work became much more absorbed as a result. Between the lack of sleep and general glut of visual information, it was wonderful to have the opportunity to study the show many times. I hope this is not the end of collaborative exhibition efforts between the two organizations.
The second major event that was new this year—the hot, sweaty spectacle that was the Trunk Show. I don’t think anyone expected it to be as well received as it was. For students and craft sale novices like myself, it was a once in a lifetime chance to see how the pros display and price work. Two hours of groping arms, red faces, and price shouting. If it sounds illicit, it sure felt that way at times. But in a good way. Finally a chance for broke artists to try and make bank rather than go in debt for the conference. I can’t be the only one happy to avoid selling plasma or pawning my possessions upon returning home. The selection process was first come, first served, the limited space and uniform tables prevented elaborate displays, and it created a level playing field where the work spoke for itself. A far cry from the elitism that has often plagued the high-end craft show circuit. I would be shocked if this didn’t become a regular feature of the conference from now on.
Another welcome change were the 15-minute lectures from emerging artists. The one-hour lecture is a staple of the conference to either have your mind blown, or skip out for a nap depending upon your mood and relationship to the speaker. These short but sweet lectures were framed as a “Spotlight On” David Clemons, Masaki Onodera, Miel-Margarita Paredes, Stacey Lee Weber, and Sarah Troper. All are strong voices, and it was a perfect way to break up the lumbering pace common to conference lectures. For students and emerging artists, hearing from makers a few years ahead rather than a few decades, can be much more relevant and reassuring at the same time.
And while the Professional Development Seminar, thanks to Harriete Estel Berman, Andy Cooperman, and our very own Brigitte Martin, has moved from being an “outside” event to being fully integrated within the conference, I felt that the content and approach this year was new. It opened on the topic of Niche Marketing with Emiko Oye, Hilary Pfeifer (aka Bunny With A Toolbelt), and Deb Stoner all moving straight into the work they make to pay their bills. All three discussed the realities of promoting multiple bodies of work, how to operate as a maker with these various facets to their production, and all three nailed it. I’ve often been frustrated by the sense that we aren’t supposed to talk about “that other work” when we’re together. Normally conference speakers talk about the one-of-a-kind work, the laboriously researched, technically experimental, or heavily historicized work that they are known for within our small group. But you can’t pay your bills with that work. And in addition to Lola Brooks, these three makers spoke candidly in a way that was a major change for the conference. More to the point, no one was apologetic about the work or attempted to talk about it as if it were something temporary or outside themselves. Concrete advice was finally given, and I think everyone was thrilled. For those of you who didn’t make it, or for those of you who operated with limited mental faculties like myself, the whole affair was liveblogged by Tara Brannigan—thank goodness because it was full of information and actually got into specifics that were much needed. Additionally, the discussion on photography was full of concrete advice with the kind of candor that is always needed. In both cases, having multiple voices directly address what works for them while explaining their point of view helps keep the advice from being strictly proscriptive. I need to know why something works for someone if I’m going to adapt it to my own practices. And having Marthe Le Van talk about photography has to be the stuff of lurid dreams for some of us…
Thanks Jullian for all the great feedback on the Professional Development Seminar! We tried really hard to provide immediately relevant information that people can take home and apply to their own art/craft business practices.
For people that missed this event, ASK Harriete and the Professional Development Seminar pages on my website and the SNAG web site offer the handouts and PowerPoints. ASK Harriete will continue to provide more details related to the issues brought up by our speakers. Stay tuned....for a BIG SURPRISE....
NICHE MARKETING AND PHOTOGRAPHY HANDOUTS PDS 2011
Up soon on the SNAG web site!
The Art of Selling and Pricing Your Work PDS 2010 Handout
i ALSO AGREE WITH YOU completely about the TRUNK SHOW. I tried to participate in the Trunk Show with no expectations since this was the first time, a completely new experiment. I am trilled that it was such a huge sucess and that I went home with money in my wallet instead of a hole in my pocket. Thank you to John Rose and Brigitte Martin and Dana Singer that pushed hard to bring this idea to reality so quickly.
NEXT YEAR in Phoenix!!!!!!!!!! should be our rallying cry!
Next year in Phoenix, indeed! This was my first SNAG and I was utterly overwhelmed. I admit to missing a great many details while trying to figure out what to see and do, so the recaps, reviews, and links are greatly appreciated. I can't wait til the next conference, when I think I'll know better how to maximize my experience!!!
And yes, the PDS was GREAT. As Jillian mentioned, it's good to hear artists talk about paying the bills. For me it takes away a great deal of fear around pursuing my art on a more full-time basis.
Thank you for your great insight and pointing out what was new at the conference. Your post has intrigued me to dig deeper into other blogs as well.
I am curious about one statement and would like to know more of what you mean about it: "A far cry from the elitism that has often plagued the high-end craft show circuit." are you referring to how hard it is to get into the best shows or that the same people get in?? or the display which it sounds like at snag it was just the work? It's an interesting discussion on it's own. As someone who does craft shows and gets plenty of rejections and some acceptances I know I can't base my business on it. However, some of the selection is meant to protect us from manufactured outsourced work along with keeping up a certain level of skill--so I am curious to dig deeper into your statement.
Alison, I would say that all of your guesses are somewhat hitting the mark. As a broke emerging artist, the cost of simply participating in many of the major craft shows is prohibitive. I have also found that they are tricky for new makers to break into, though a friend recently told me that they've been improving this and making some efforts to be more inclusive of makers who have not participated in the past. With respect to the Trunk Show, the cost to participate was extremely low, and the display options were limited in a way that I found very democratic--we didn't have to invest in fancy displays to pull it off. I don't want to send the mistaken impression that I don't respect those who have worked hard to establish themselves in that scene, or to create beautiful displays. But as someone lacking the resources to do that right, it was refreshing to have an event where everyone at every level could jump in and the work was presented in the most straightforward way. To be honest, there wasn't even time to schmooze which is one of my few advantages. We were just shouting prices and materials into peoples faces while they snatched at things.
I also want to make it clear that I'm not against the jurying process. But for this event, I think it was necessary. Of course major exhibitions and sales have to operate this way because of manufactured work, and to establish a certain standard that fits with the institution sponsoring the event. I just think that jurying should be about the work, and not the name behind it. Sometimes that practice can be exclusive in a way that prevents fresh work from reaching the public.
At the SNAG Trunk show, I think that the "rule of no display furniture" was an effort at simplicity.
I appreciate that simplicity, thank goodness there were no display cases just because the room was already very crowded... but the uniform black tablecloths were very dark.
The black tablecloths made every table look too much alike.. but half a table could have been improved with a piece of fabric or beautiful paper.
just a thought.