Friday, March 14, 2008

buzz

There's so much exciting buzz and dialogue online these days regarding the recent ACC Baltimore show and the SNAG conference in Savannah, you would think there was a revolution on the rise! Well, in a sense, I believe there is.

First let me just site all the wonderful blogs and people that are talking about this:

So many valid points have already been raised in these posts and their comments. It's all well worth the time it takes to read. It also makes it hard to know where to begin with my post. I thought I would just focus about my personal experience at ACC, which I promised to report on anyhow. Some of you may remember my War and Peace post from last September after the Crafty Bastards show. Well, this will probably end up being round two, so bear with me… deep breath…

First, I'd like to disclose something: I was not sent an invitation to participate in the "New Wave Craft" section of the American Craft Council show. I heard about the opportunity through Caitlin of Re-bound Designs, and then again on the greenjeans blog. I was not aware that invitations had been sent to specific "indie" vendors until sometime during the show. I decided to apply at the last minute, unsure if I would even get in and not yet fully committed to the idea at the time the application was due. To my surprise and delight… I did get in.

I talked a bit about my past experience as a visitor to the ACC show on Annie's SNAG post. I'll just say here that during my time as a student in Baltimore, I attended the show twice and was deeply inspired by the talent. It helped sell me on my decision to pursue craft, despite the fact that I was attending a fine art school. I have always held the show in high regard.

My reason for applying was simple: for a $300 fee and no cost to apply? How could I pass up this insane opportunity to be involved in a show I've long admired? Finally I could afford to take a chance, a first step in testing out the waters for my work at such a reputable show. I was especially interested in the potential contrast to the indie "Crafty Bastards" fair in DC that I did in September where I basically made next to nothing in sales, the show leaving a bad retail taste in my mouth for many reasons.

It was a struggle trying to prepare for ACC in the following two 1/2 months. I had no idea what to expect. How much work should I bring? What type of work should I bring? Should I concentrate on my one-offs or more on my production pieces? What type of display will I need? I was fortunate to have Biba Schutz as a very helpful resource and she provided a lot of insight.

While the contact person assigned the task of liaison from new wave crafter to council was fairly good about returning my emails filled with a zillion questions, there still was not much in the way of information on preparations and what we could expect upon entering the convention center. We were told nothing of the layout beforehand, and even just getting table dimensions was like pulling teeth.

I was assigned a table at one of the three entrance points to the crowded triangle shaped area designated for new wave. The space had a black draped dog show-esque half-fence surrounding the perimeter. My guess is: they were attempting an outdoor, "marketplace feel" distinguishable from the rest of the show. However I think it unintentionally produced an effect not unlike that of a big neon arrow announcing, "CHEAPER ITEMS THIS WAY!" (which of course was/is completely not true by the way - to those bickering that our price points were all waaaay lower than other exhibitors, there was a WIDE range of prices among the new wave.) Although the designated space had layout issues, and was not ideally all that glamorous, I have to say, for $300 I didn't expect much more and was content with what I had been given. After all, that was the trade-off. Regular booths can cost close to $2000! It was a hell of a good deal considering. I felt fortunate that they gave us lights because they were absent when we first arrived and it was very VERY dismal without them, believe me.

My location at the side entrance also elected me a similar position to that of Tourist Center Attendant. I fielded the same questions over and over, "What's this section all about?" and "What does New Wave Craft mean?" as confused shoppers stumbled in with furrowed brows and puzzled half-glances. To be honest, I fumbled over a sloppy, half-hearted definition every time I tried to explain it. I didn't even fully understand it, how was I supposed to be the spokesman for it? I think this is in part because it was not clearly explained or defined for us, the new wavers, and partly because I'm honestly not even sure I fit into the definition anyway… if there is one. And if I thought the shoppers and myself were confused, I believe the "old guard" regular exhibitors were even more so.

New Wave was clearly the red-headed step child of the show. The general "unease" with our section was apparent from day 1. The buzz was loud and clear: there were many who DID NOT want us there. Letters in defense of the section were apparently distributed by the council to ease the tensions that had been brewing since before the show, unbeknownst to us.

The low point of the show was getting verbally berated by an established, "regular" booth exhibitor. He was proudly wearing his name tag, so I don't feel so bad about disclosing his name here: Douglas Thayer, furniture maker. This man decided to interrogate me regarding the new wave application process, criteria and fees as well as my experience (all in front of a customer no less.) It was embarrassing and upsetting and made me really disoriented and unnerved for some time afterwards. Even my customer commented on how inappropriate he was acting after he left. I did not see it coming AT ALL and had no idea how to react at first. Completely off guard I answered him to the best of my abilities until it was clear he was not actually interested in my answers so much as in indicating his anger towards me and what I and the other new wave artists represent to him: a threat. I was merely a means for venting his frustrations. Congratulations Doug, do you feel better about yourself now?

On the last morning of the show, the council had a breakfast meeting open to all exhibitors to discuss the issues of concern. We knew what that meant. So Dave (my fabulous booth partner and boyfriend) and I went to the meeting to hear what they had to say. Heather of Twigs and Heather, a fellow new waver, talked very passionately about her experience at the show and the disappointment she felt regarding the lack of support from other exhibitors. Caitlin of Re-bound designs stood up as well and gave an articulate account of her perspective on the new wave response. I think her words made an big impact in part because she had been accepted to the show as a regular booth exhibitor but identifies as a "new waver crafter" in the sense that she has a LOT of previous indie craft fair experience. To be fair, there were also plenty of 'old skoolers' who announced their support and appreciation at the meeting. It was comforting to hear since it seemed mostly poison arrows had been aimed at us prior to this. It seems to me support was split about 50/50.

So the biggest question is of course, what does the New Wave mean for the council? Many questions were raised in the meeting, however, no definitive answers were given. Where is this initiative headed? Will they offer it again next year with improvements in its layout, organization, etc? Will it be such that new wave artists can only be accepted once as is the case with the searchlight artists? There are many details and kinks to be worked out but I applaud the council in their effort toward change. I for one hope they continue to offer this opportunity as a way to introduce new energy. Hopefully this will help facilitate a change in attitude and the sense of entitlement much of the old guard has become comfortable with.

In a way, the meeting helped to solidify a sense of comradery I felt for my fellow new wavers. I never anticipated I would end up feeling so defensive at this show, about a movement I wasn't even sure I fit in to. But it has since strengthened my resolve to cultivate inclusiveness in all areas of my field, and make a concentrated effort to challenge and foster changes in the establishment to fit the growing needs of the craft community I feel fortunate to be a part of. (All aspects of.) I believe an embracing attitude is essential for growth and positive changes within the council and in the world of craft at large.

Despite the drama, I met a lot of really incredibly supportive people and I want to stress that point. Collectors, shoppers, secret admirers, random onlookers, and supportive established exhibitors… you all made me feel SOOOO loved, so thank you. I was particularly surprised at the number of people who recognized my work, and commented so. I even had several people inform me that I was the reason they CAME! Do you have any idea how good that feels? Encouraged by so much positive feedback and pretty decent sales to boot, I returned to Brooklyn with an overall feeling of success. I learned a TON, made some fantastic connections and had a great time re-visiting Baltimore, my old college stomping grounds. It was an affordable, ideal way to dip in and test the high end craft show waters after all and I would encourage people to apply if the council offers it again next year.

I did at times feel like my jewelry received the attention of a circus freak but I need to remember my work invites that to a certain degree because of my use of such an unusual material. It sounds simple, but the way to get over all the silly comments people inevitably make is: to constantly remind myself that the work is not new to me, but it IS to them. I try my best to be patient and I think I did exceedingly better at remaining zen at this show, than at Crafty Bastards. But it's still difficult when the work is not taken seriously. Of course I want it to be fun, but I also don't want to be laughed and pointed at like a joke. That was never my intention with this series.

So my first two retail craft fair experiences couldn't have been more opposite. And yet both are perfect examples of why I sometimes feel like I don't fit in either craft world seamlessly, a sentiment Megan aptly expressed in her post:
"In thinking about why I seem to straddle the fence, perhaps it's because neither community seems to fully meet my needs. I like the sense of history and tradition that I get from the "established" craft community, and admittedly, its nice to be in a group where my seven years of higher education mean something. (I'd like to think I didn't waste my time during those seven years.) But I like the energy, enthusiasm, and creativity in the indie community that comes from both the makers and the consumers. My work is the same no matter which community I am in, and so I guess at some point last year I decided just to keep making my work, and fit it in anywhere, regardless of labels."
Amen. I couldn't agree more.

8 comments:

mimi k said...

Thanks so much for writing about this experience. It is really interesting to me as someone who has been part of the craft world for many years. I think there is a price point issue at the indie craft fairs- do the artists have to be "edgy" and inexpensive? My best experience (in Boston) has been at an event connected with open studios- people are expecting to be seeing Art and higher price tags. I am going to go click all those links now and check out the other reports. And, I love your work!

Andrew Wagner said...

A great post! Thanks for chiming in...I hope that we have the "new wave" section next year. Good luck to you and hope to see more of your work soon!

Amber Leilani said...

Margaux,
I just finished reading your post regarding the ACC show in Baltimore.
I work for a metalsmith who does the Baltimore show every year, but I was not able to attend the show this year. Obviosly, I missed quite a bit! My co-workers who were there came back home with an earful of the same responses I have read here and on other blogs(annie: of imogen, megan auman,julie lake,etc): the general grumblings that the new wave section should not have been there, was cutting into the establishment's sales, and generally housed cheap work. I really wish I would have gone this year - I would have loved to see the New Wave section! And heard some of this with my own ears! I just wanted to say thank you for putting your experience out there. As a crafter who is trying to get her work out into the world ( and who as a beader can't tell you how many times she has been made to feel like something cute but dirty you wish would move away from you by other jewelry artists) it was really an eye opener. I was particularly upset by your experience with the " regular" booth exhibitor. I am not sure, if it were me, if I could have held my tongue. For him to behave that way toward you - while you had a customer- is so unprofessional I am not sure there is a word for it!!! And yet, he seemed to be threatened by something he clearly viewed as "unprofessional" - the new wave vendors. I propose this question - have these established crafters forgotten that everyone has to start out somewhere? Have they forgotten what it was like to do their first shows? It really upsets me to have read about so many of the vendors at the new wave market and at SNAG treated this way. Personally, i think that that the "old guard" is threatened by the new craft scene emerging. And I can sort of understand why- with the emergence of sites like Etsy and Trunk.org, craft has been made more accessible. In some ways, it has been very elitist for a very long time. I would love to be able to afford a piece of Todd Reed's work or one by Sarah Graham, but I can't. I am very happy that there is good craft available to me at a price I can afford. It just infuriates me AND makes me want to work even harder to be continue putting my work out there AND supporting up and coming artists. I do find that my own work is a bit pricey for people in my age group and financial bracket, but I identify with a more independent mindset than that of the established crafter/artist. I am trying to figure out where I fit as well. Anyway... sorry to have rambled on for so long. I have long admired your work on Etsy and I also really enjoyed your post regarding feminism and your work which i read a few days ago. Your work is absolutely amazing!!!
By the way... I am also represented at High Gloss in Houston. Lisa and Kim are great!
Thanks for the post!
amber
http://www.yellowflower.blogspot.com

Miss Dot said...

oh my goodness! politics at a market!!! :-) it must have been horrrible being confronted like that, ESPECIALLY in front of a customer. As has been said above, don't these people remember what it was like starting out? At least you made some decent sales, well done and I will go and have a good read of the links you gave.
My market yesterday was a disaster, I was sick so my sis had to go solo for the first 5 hours, and we only sold 5 pieces! lots of lookers, but as usual, people expecting everything to be dirt cheap because it is a "market". You just can't win, I did get lots of wholesalers asking me to stock with them, and galleries so from a marketing perspective it was great. Best of luck to you!

Margaux said...

Thanks everyone, for your thoughts and comments.

Douglas Thayer contacted me and has agreed to let me share his email here. It's a sincere and welcome apology so I thought it would be good to share it here:

"Hello Margaux,

This is Douglas, crafter from the ACC show responding to your post about the new wave section and your experiences at the show. I must apologize, as I did walk into the section with a misunderstanding and an angry attitude. You made a good point about being at the entrance to the section, and being the booth to take the frontal assaults. I in no way sought you specifically out to blast my assault on. I did not understand anything about the new wave section, and should not of used you to hastily and angrily gather information.

I also attended the ACC exhibitor meeting, and learned a lot about what the new wave section was. I think ACC did not think thru the new wave section, both in concept and execution. I think the concept is good, but a little more planning and thought need to be done by ACC. After the ACC meeting, I did not feel good about my information gather assault on you and made a point to talk to some of the new wave artist. I approached Heather, of "Twigs and Heather", to let here know what I was thinking. I was upset to hear of the feelings that the new wave artists we getting from the other artists in the building. I knew that my discussion with you was certainly contributing to this. I admitted not being welcoming the new wave group, and apologized. I should gone to the ACC office with my angry questions.

I welcome new artist and new concepts from show promoters. The threat these days is not coming from fellow artist, or new artists trying a new show. The threat is the death of the "Craft movement" and new artists and new sections are good for the industry. I welcome you and any others, and am sorry to have embarrassing and upset you at the show. It was inappropriate for me to barrade you with my angry questions and I apologize. I do not feel good about myself for how I approached you and for my behavior.

Douglas Thayer"

Judy said...

What a terrific post. I think you very articulately spoke about the quandry the craft world is in right now. It seems the ground is shifting, and no one is quite sure where it is going.
Transistions of any sort are difficult. Lets hope we can take some of the best of both energies...the old and the new, and move forward from there. The craftsmanship and discipline of the old, and the energy, vitality and experimentalism of the new. I think that may be what appeals to me about your work. It is beautifully crafted in traditional techniques, yet it is fresh and unexpected.
Thank you for sharing Douglas' response. It was great to read his own perspective and personal shift.

Margaux said...

Thank you Judy, and thanks for posting about me and my work on your blog! I so enjoyed reading your take on it all as well. :-)

Ambermayhem said...

Thanks for this post. I know you wrote it awhile ago, but I just found out I will be in the AltCraft section of the ACC show this year. Thought I would browse around and see how others have experienced the show before. Well, I hope things have changed to a certain extent and I feel more prepared. I also appreciate Megan and your perspectives about the line we ride with craft. I did not realize so many of us feel this way! Thanks and I hope all is well for you!