Monday, September 21, 2020

A new art fair model for the Post Covidian Age

I first proposed a version of this model about a decade ago, when there was (even then) a sense of art fatigue brewing in the art world. 

In a post Covidian world, I suspect that a lot of people will still be a little leery of large group gatherings, and art fairs based on pre-Covidian standards may be a bit antiquated in the Brave Chickenized New World.

Herewith a revised Campello Art Fair Model


The important thing to remember, as I mull, chew, and refine a "new" art post-Covidian fair model to replace the existing pre-Covidian art fair model, which in its American incarnations seemed to work well only in Miami and New York, but not so well in the West coast (and as we DMV-based folks have seen with (e)merge and artDC, not at all in the capital region), is the marriage of a legitimate art entity (a museum) with an art-for-sale process as a means to raise funds. 

The seeds for this model already exist in the DC region with the Smithsonian Craft Show, now in its third decade. 

Considered by many to be the finest craft fair in the world -- and from the many artists that I have spoken to over the years -- one of the best places to sell fine crafts as well, this prestigious and highly competitive juried exhibition and sale of contemporary American craft usually takes place each April for four days. It takes place at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC and it includes one-of-a-kind and limited edition craft objects in 12 different media: basketry, ceramics, decorative fiber, furniture, glass, jewelry, leather, metal, mixed media, paper, wearable art and wood. 

There were 120 exhibitors in last year's show, including emerging artists and master craftsmen, over 30 of whom were first-time participants. Twelve of those selected were also first-time applicants to the show. All were chosen by a panel of expert jurors from a highly competitive field of close to 1,400 applicants.  

So we have a model for crafts in DC which has been working for over 30 years. 

See where I'm going? 

Can we envision the Smithsonian American Art Fair? 

Or... The Smithsonian American International Art Fair?

The SAIAF would dramatically expand the business model of the Smithsonian Craft Fair to a National Mall-wide - outdoors - or even a citywide art fair anchored and guided by the Smithsonian Institution, and possibly either:

(a) spread throughout the various accommodating outdoor spaces at the various SI locales around the National Mall or even

(b) in temporary art spaces, booth, or containers on the open spaces of the National Mall itself! 

The latter is not as big of a deal as it sounds. 

The National Mall already hosts a spectacular variety of outdoor events on the Mall spaces where complex display spaces are temporarily built, secured and just as quickly dismantled, grass re-seeded, and by Monday the Mall is back to normal. 

For art, all we need is protection from the weather and security. Perhaps even a combination of "free" (to the public) set of exhibitors (maybe out on the Mall) coupled with a paid admission set of exhibitors inside SI spaces -- or just make them all free to the public? 

Details... details... 

This new fair model would be open to both commercial art galleries and art dealers, as well as to art schools, and (and here's the key "and") to individual artists and cooperative artist-owned galleries. 

Size matters. 

Would 1200 galleries, dealers, schools and artists in a mega, new-model art fair raise some interests from art collectors to come to DC for a long weekend in May? 

It would if it attracted 100,000 visitors to the fair instead of 10,000 (like the long gone art fair artDC attracted). 

Are you aware that in May the Bethesda Fine Arts Festival in nearby Bethesda attracts 30-40,000 people to the streets of Bethesda for this artist-only street fine arts fair? or that also in May the Northern Virginia Fine Arts Festival attracts the same number of people to the streets of the Reston Town Center to buy art from individual artists? 

Both Bethesda and Reston have two of the highest median household incomes in the US. And I am told that the Greater Washington, DC region has the second highest concentration of multi-millionaires in the world. 

The money is here - the key is to get the disposable income crowd in touch with the art. 

Both Bethesda and Reston manage to accomplish this one weekend each year. Do not, under any circumstances assume that these are "street fairs" where teddy bears, country crafts, and dried flowers are sold. These are both highly competitive fine arts outdoor fairs where artists from all over the nation come to and compete for spots because artwork sells well. 

I have seen $80,000 worth of sculptures sell to one collector in Bethesda and a painter with a price point of $17,000 sell out in Reston. 

Do not let the snobby attitude of the high art world affect your preconception of what these two street art fairs are like; go visit one this coming (and hopefully post Covidian) May and open your eyes. 

And because of them, and because of the success of Art Basel Miami Beach, we know that given a certain critical mass, people will come out to an art fair. The primary key for art dealers to have interest in an art fair is sales (and also exposure to new collectors, museum curators, etc.), but mainly sales. 

If you are a British gallery, by the time you get yourself and your artwork to Miami Beach, you're in the hole a whole bunch of Euros and British pounds; if you don't sell anything (like it happened to a British gallery in artDC and an Israeli gallery at another fair), chances are that you won't return to that fair. 

But increase the public attendance numbers exponentially, and Economics 101 tells you that sales will also increase exponentially. And unlike the hotel-deprived artDC location at the Convention Center, I am told by DC's tourist gurus that the National Mall is already a magnet location where visitors, regardless of where they are staying around the Greater DC region, flock to during their visits to the capital. 

Since two major Greater DC area street art fairs already exist in May in the Greater DC area, we can even consider aligning the weekends so that both Reston, Bethesda, and the The Smithsonian American International Art Fair all take place on the same weekend! 

Offer free bus service between Reston and Bethesda and the National Mall for collectors to hop around during the fair weekend, and a public buzz alignment will begin to happen. The Smithsonian American International Art Fair starts on a Thursday through Sunday and both Reston and Bethesda continue to run on Saturday and Sunday. And the Smithsonian American International Art Fair is focused as a major fundraiser for the cash-hungry SI. 

A formula of booth prices + perhaps a 5% commission on all sales (both tax deductible for American galleries) would take care of temporary Mall booth construction, re-seeding of grass, and booth construction inside SI venues and still yield a nice chunk of cash for the SI. 

If there's commercial success and high public attendance, soon we'd see some satellite hotel fairs popping up all over DC and its easy-to-get-to suburbs; the Phillips will jump on the bandwagon right away. 

ABMB had 26 fairs all over Greater Miami last December.  Another DC-unique element to the above model, and an important element that only a Washington art fair weekend can add: include the Embassies! 

In addition to all the above events taking place, the fair could also align with shows at 15-20 embassy galleries around DC. The embassies would showcase one (or a group) of their national artists, and then the fair would really have an international flavor, and the beginning seeds of an American Venice in the DMV. 

DC is a small city; it's fairly easy to set up transportation between the embassies and the Mall. In fact, some embassies could probably set that up themselves.

I think that this "new" super model could (and eventually when someone delivers and implements it -- it will) challenge Miami Beach -- and yes, I am aware that DC in May is not Miami in December -- but I also think that the District's own museums and public attractions trump Miami's anytime, so the DMV has something different to offer the potential collector who may be considering attending a new art fair in a city (like DC) that also offers him/her some other cultural and visual attractions besides good weather and nice beaches and sexy Cubans. 

DC art commisioners... Smithsonianos... DC city fathers and mothers.... call me! 

A strategy for saving money on framing costs...

For those with minimalist attention span, yesterday I posted the quickie version of the below.

According to some stats I read a few years ago in a framing trade magazine, the average cost of framing in the Greater DC region was $67 an hour. It’s probably more than that now.

Other than time, framing two-dimensional work is often the most expensive step in organizing an exhibition (to the artist), and it’s astounding how little most art schools prepare students (and faculty) for avoiding the trap of spending a lot of money on framing.

There are some steps that artists can take to significantly reduce the cost of framing. Here I will try to list the most common mistakes, how to avoid them, and more importantly, how to get your artwork framed for a lot less than taking it to a framing shop to get it framed.

First and foremost: Prepare! Do not leave your framing to the very last minute. Having said that, I know that most of you will leave the framing to the last minute and then panic – go to your neighborhood framing shop, and drop way too much money to get custom frames made for your artwork. If you can afford it, and the price history of you artwork can sustain it – then skip this posting. But if you want to save a lot of money on framing, then prepare!

Do not, under any circumstances let the gallery or a second party take care of your framing unless you have the full costs ahead of time and in writing. Otherwise you will get stuck at the end of your exhibition with a framing bill rather than a commission check.

First of all: If (and only if) you can, work in standard sizes. Most photographers and painters already do. But unless your compositional demands call for it (like mine do), avoid working in one of a kind sizes. American and European standard sizes are different, but US sizes cover a huge range of sizes, such as 5x7, 8x10, 11x14, 12x16, 20x24, etc. If you can work within one of those sizes – i.e. do your watercolor on a sheet in one of those sizes, or print your photo on paper that size, etc. then half the battle is won, as then you should be able to buy ready-made frames that will automatically accommodate your matted work. This is important, as a good frame from any craft store, or from any art catalog, is usually a lot less than having one built from scratch! For example, a 16x20 metal molding frame, back metal brace/clips, wire, glass, pH-balanced acid free mat, hanging wire and acid free foam core backing is anywhere from $20 - $30 in any art catalog or locally from Apex in Alexandria. Having the exact same frame hand-made in a frame shop is around $100.

If your work, because of composition or whatever, doesn’t fit into a standard size mat or frame, then another tactic is to go and shop for a ready-made frame that is larger than your artwork – at least three inches all around the diameter of the artwork. Then take that frame and your artwork to a frame shop and have them cut the mat for you. Now you are only paying for the labor and materials to cut a mat – not to build everything from scratch.

If you can’t find a frame in a shop that fits your unique sizes, then shop through art supply catalogs and have them make you one. The savings over storefront framers is still significant. I personally buy a lot of frames from this place. Once you sign up, you get their catalogs as well, and then I hit them when they have a sale going on! From any supplier you can order moldings in one inch increments, so if your work is 18x30 inches, then you'd order a set of 18 inch molding, a set of 30 inch molding and it will be delivered with the hardware needed to assemble it - all you'll need is a screwdriver. Then visit your local glass shop for a piece of glass.

Because most solo shows involve a larger number of works, you should start thinking way ahead of time as to the number of frames that you will need. If you can decide that you will need twenty frames for your show, and you know what size they will all be, then go shopping for ready-made frames in any of our local area arts and crafts stores, or other stores that stock frames, such as IKEA or Bed, Bath and Beyond. Once you find a frame that you like, turn it over and see who makes them. Write the manufacturer’s information down, and when you get home, call the manufacturer of the frame and place an order for the number of frames that you will need. You are now buying the frames wholesale and saving yourself the entire store mark-up!

Don’t let the process of establishing an account with the frame manufacturer scare you. They may require an Employee Identification Number (EIN) – you can give them your social security number-- and they will have a minimum purchase (usually $250) – but by the time that you purchase 20-25 frames, that will be easy to meet. All you are doing is ordering the frame directly from the manufacturer rather than buying them through a store – it’s perfectly legal and saves you a considerable amount of money.

If you work on canvas, you may not even need to frame them. Ask the gallery owner – a lot of galleries will be happy to hang canvasses that are “gallery dressed.” That means that the edge of the canvas wraps to the back and that’s where it is stapled – rather than the side. We actually prefer to show canvas paintings that way.

Do not cheapen your artwork by choosing cheap materials. At all costs avoid using acidic mats (use only pH-balanced, acid free mats) and do not use cardboard to back the work – use acid free foam core. Using cheap materials not only damages the work eventually (as the acid migrates to the artwork) but also tells a potential collector that you are not serious as an artist to properly display your work. I am shocked at the number of badly hand-cut mats in acidic mats that I see in galleries all over the country – a lot of time is just plain ignorance of the business side of the fine arts – and the importance of presentation of artwork in a professional environment – such as a reputable fine arts gallery should be.

If you are an artist that moves a lot of work a year, then you should seriously consider learning how to cut your own mats. A sheet of museum quality archival 32x40 inches mat board is around $6-8 and you can get four 16x20 inches mats from it. To have one 16x20 archival mat cut in a frame shop will be around $20. You can buy a decent mat cutter for around $150, and it comes with a video to teach you how to cut mats.

The bottom line is that minimizing framing costs not only reduces the amount of money that an artist has to invest in offering a show, but also reduces the price point of the artwork – a very important issue, especially for young, emerging artists without a sales history track.