Community. Engagement. Advocacy. Humor.
The Buyers Market of American Craft – The Sky Is Falling!
February 18-21, 2011 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia
(a wholesale show, not open to the public)
Steven Brian Samuels (aka Stevie B.)
Tabitha L. Mitchell
“The Show Is Dying! The Show Is Dying!”
These were the first words we heard from the first artist we interviewed, and if we had stopped there, packed up, went home, and wrote this article, it would have been really, really, short. Sure it would have made it much easier to write but we would have been doing a great disservice to not only the BMAC, but to you readers who really want to know if the BMAC is right for you.
So we stayed a bit longer, let Chicken Little be damned.
An Onion Mouse
The Buyers Market of American Craft is like an onion at Disney World. So many layers and so many sights to experience that you can't do it justice in just one day. We did it in four days and would have loved to stay longer but the janitorial staff asked us politely to leave as they wanted to get home for dinner.
There is a lot to see. And all of it looks to be of very high quality, Made In America, craftsmanship.
Luckily the BMAC is arranged in sections: Jewelry & Suppliers, Glass & Ceramics, Mixed Media & Wearable Fiber, each managed incredibly well (that's something that even Chicken Little agreed with). While this arrangement may seem a bit odd for those of us accustomed to doing smaller venues (aka local craft shows) it makes perfect sense for buyers. This way a buyer for a glass gallery can check out what interests him without having to wade through the rest.
One may think that grouping artist's together like this would cause some friction. Eyeballing each others wares with a critical eye. Trying to entice buyers from a competitor's booth with a well-placed hip or turn of an ankle. The occasional full on snub.
We found quite the opposite. The artists actually liked each other. Not only that, they helped each other. We heard many stories of artists banding together to help another artist whose display had not been shipped or when one artist had a sickness in the family. Very uplifting.
“The Economy Is Getting Better”
Almost everyday we here in the US, and we are sure other places as well, keep hearing from the powers that be that the economy is improving. That it is a “slow process”, but things are on the rise. No matter if you actually believe that or not, it's true that everyone and everything has been affected by “The Crisis”.
Buyers and sellers at the BMAC both told us that the show has shrunk from where it was before “The Crisis”. There are less buyers because there are less galleries in business. There are less artists selling because there are less buyers able to support them. This loss, of course, is not restricted to only the BMAC.
Most buyers and sellers that we spoke with however believe that things are turning around for the BMAC. Many of the artists that were a bit downtrodden at the start of the show were surprised how well they ended up doing. In fact, almost all of the sellers we spoke to did very well. We were going to throw out a % but we dislike numbers, and someone was going to be missing a body part.
This was our first time at the BMAC so we have no real way of comparing the past and the present. There must be numbers somewhere but, like fudge, can be fudged. We would rather rely on people's personal experiences. After all, what does high attendance matter if there aren't sales behind it? What are record high sales when, as an individual artist/seller, you did poorly? We also firmly believe in looking forward, not back.
There seemed to be a lot of sellers. And we didn't get to see everyone. The crowd seemed pretty constant. It wasn't packed like at a local craft show, but the BMAC is not a local craft show. In a craft show, most of the people walking by are doing just that, walking by. It's a nice family outing. A nice way to burn off the hours in a day. Most people aren't going to a craft show to specifically buy something. Sure a something might catch their eye, and after a short argument with the loved one they may actually buy the something, but more often than not, a seller is told “I'll be back,” and that person is never seen or heard from again.
At the BMAC “I'll be back,” usually means just that. The people there are there for a purpose; To buy American craft. And buy they do.
When we were interviewing artists we were almost constantly interrupted by people wanting to buy stuff. We, of course, backed off and made our way down the aisle waiting for the buyer to depart. Most of the time this wait was longer then expected as order forms sprang up from nowhere and pens seemed to write of their own volition. Often times we would wait so long that we would start to interview another artist intending to get back to the other interview, and of course get interrupted again...It was sort of like being caught in some fantastical science-fiction time-loop thingy. Sort of.
If You Build It They May Come...Eventually
Being the new kid on the block is never easy. For the new artist at the BMAC, it's no different. We heard from long time veterans that a new artist shouldn't expect much their first year and that it would take two or three years to get things going.
When interviewing new artists at the show this elder wisdom seemed to hold true. There was one or two new artists that said they did much better then they expected (we forgot to ask how much they expected to begin with and what “much better” means), but the majority of new sellers didn't have much in the way of orders. They did make new contacts, both buyers and other sellers, and hoped the networking would pan-out over time.
It makes sense that buyers would be a bit weary of any new artist. We can only imagine the questions going around in the buyers head. Does the artist's work fit in my gallery? Will it sell? Will the seller be able to deliver on promises? Is the art / artist worth the risk?
The bottom line seems to be that an artist considering doing the BMAC show needs to factor in the cost of two or three shows before seeing a return on their investment. It may take longer for some. It may be shorter for others. Our crystal ball is broken.
You Are Not Alone
Time and time again when speaking to artists we were amazed at the amount of support that is in place to help them.
Not one person had a bad word to say about the manager of their section. Many artists spoke very highly about them, so much that we had to direct them back to speaking about themselves. Yes, you read that right.
Not only are the section managers there to help, but there are volunteer artists that help as well. Sort of like a Big Brother or Big Sister (we refrain to call them Big Artists), these artists take new artists under their wing and help guide them. From how to make a booth more inviting to suggestions on how to close a deal, and everything in between.
These volunteers use their own experiences and expertise to help artists take their first steps into a much larger world.
It always seems to some that the sky is perpetually falling. We like to think that if the sky did fall, it would just bring the stars that much closer.
Well, that was a long, long article now wasn't it? You knew it had to end at some point, so here we are. (We are so posh using “Fin” aren't we?)
Thanks to all the buyers & artists that allowed us to interview them and thus helped to write this article.
It may take some time but we will be doing Artist Profiles in future FOCUS articles so keep an eye out for yours!
About the Authors:
Steven Brian Samuels – Writer, photographer, mouser, and the outrageous made up name of
artist Stevie B.
His photography can be seen here: www.artjewelryphotography.com
Tabitha L. Mitchell – Writer, artist, Princess, rapper. Strangers thank her on the street for dating Steven so they don't have to. Her site (which Steven has yet to update!) can be seen here: www.compulsivejewelry.com
The Buyers Market of American Craft - www.buyersmarketofamericancraft.com
Art For Your Frame - www.artforyourframe.com
Jazart - www.jeanettepayne.com
Deb Karash Jewelry - www.debkarash-jewelry.com
So Young Park Studio - www.soyoungparkstudio.com
amuckdesign - www.amuckdesign.com
Angels With Attitude - www.angelswithattitude.net
Chicken Little on Wikipedia
Just in case this classic & timeless masterpiece of a fable is new to you.
Thanks Deb! Was great meeting you too!
<Runs to tell everyone that Deb Karash "Loves my style!">