PARTICIPATORY SPORT FOR CRAFT ARTISTS
I've spent the last few days deliberating on what I'd like my final post to address. There are many other bloggers out their who covered exhibitions, lectures, and events very well. From the onset I knew that Anthony Tammaro in particular would be addressing events in a more overarching way, and he's now posted many video interviews and exhibition images for those of you who would like to see more. Flickr and facebook are also now bursting with posted images for those of you who waste as much of your time as I do online.
Because this project was intended to address the conference experience for those of us in our first 5 years post-degree or for those who are simply removed from academia in general, I would like to go into what the conference offers and could offer for us. Anyone who has attended as a student and then continued after will find the differences painfully obviously. I've mentioned this before, but I think it needs restating--there are very limited exhibition opportunities once you cease to be a student. This year I was rejected from the handful of applicable exhibitions I did enter. I don't feel like speculating on why this happened because the variables in acceptance v. rejection are innumerable, but I want everyone to know I didn't just throw in the towel. And I would suggest all other practicing artists do the same--if you weren't in exhibitions this year, so what. Try again next year. You could not have a better captive audience than the SNAG Conference. And if you are summarily rejected, you should be bringing work anyway! I've consistently brought and worn work for the five years I've attended the conference. Every year some opportunity came out of having my work on hand which is why I've been so upset to find MFA students and recent graduates not doing this! I cannot stress enough that being proactive about your work is a necessity.
The conference happens to take place every year in a city that has been thinking about our organization, looking at art jewelry and precious objects, and getting generally riled up in advance of our arrival. This will give you an opening you would never have otherwise. Take advantage of this climate when you go and have a plan.
Thanks to some prodding from Brigitte, I scheduled a meeting with Suzanne Sippel, Asher Gallery Retail Supervisor at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft. Several exhibitions took place at HCCC this year, and the Asher Gallery located within is a very active retail store for craft in general. They have the guidelines for their review process here. For the sake of brevity I'll just mention that it is a fairly typical review process that requires a packet with quality images, a statement, and what may be a fairly long wait due to the process and mailing delays. I would also like to point out that HCCC is rare in that it is so upfront with this information. Many institutions are less transparent and you may be looking for a backdoor if you want to approach them. I decided to follow Brigitte's advice to contact them, and the result was that the entire process was waived due to circumstance--show up in person, bring the work and information, and let's have a face-to-face talk. I found myself wondering why we weren't all doing this every year at every conference! Why aren't we busting the doors down of every venue (and I mean in the most polite and professional of ways.)
In meeting with Suzanne I learned that she had expected us to be storming the gates when in truth, I was one of two artists who met with her. And Suzanne seemed genuinely saddened by this. They had decided to waive their normal review policy and take advantage of what would surely be available--a constant stream of makers. She also echoed my concern that so many people were not wearing work on the gallery night which made it confusing to her and the rest of the staff at HCCC. They had not been at other conference events throughout the weekend so they couldn't go by who they recognized. They were not even sure if they were seeing SNAG people or others from out on the town given that our even overlapped a nationally renowned photography convention. I don't want to impose a needless guilt trip, but I hope hearing this will cause everyone to rethink how they approach next year's conference. If you have work and you want to exhibit it, why not approach venues when you are already traveling?
The end result is that I will be sending work to the Asher Gallery at HCCC in late August or early September, and we were in agreement that my work differed from much of what was available which can be of benefit for both of us. I was given a rare opportunity to discuss specific work by material, scale, and price point with the manager who knows her customers well. If only others had been able to take advantage of this opportunity. No, they did not broadcast an open call because they aren't crazy and didn't want to bring chaos on themselves. But I think they were reasonable in assuming conversations would come up organically as they should have. There is no hand-holding once you finish your degree, and the paradigm of "managers" who will do this for you doesn't fit our field and is already an anachronism in others. If you're lucky you will find generous people like Brigitte on occasion who give you well timed and gentle prodding, but ultimately you are the best asset your work can have. Take initiative. Wear it at home and when you travel, but especially when you are attending a conference for what you do! Be prepared with images, a statement, and a current resume when you find yourself setting out on this kind of trip.
Or you may find yourself with boxes of work sitting around with no place to go.