Life As An Itinerant Artist

Stories and anecdotes from fifteen years on the art show circuit. 

Coconut Grove — getting too commercial?

Upper Cramer Lake

I have completed two shows out of my three scheduled shows in Florida this year. My wife Karyn and I just set up the third show — the prestigious Naples National Show, in Cambier Park (more on this show next week). Two weeks ago, the Boca Museum show was a pleasant surprise — the weather was beautiful the entire weekend, and we were able to reconnect with a few old friends. We had a nice spot real close to Starbucks (always a plus), and some prior patrons went out of their way to look us up. Mizner Park is a beautiful venue, and the Museum staff and volunteers go out of their way to create a low-key atmosphere centered around some very fine art. If you stopped by, you got to see my work showcased in a double booth, which allows me to show more of my gorgeous 6′ Western panoramas.

St. Stephen’s, in Coconut Grove, by comparison, was a zoo. The load-in and load-out were chaotic. The weather turned ugly on Sunday afternoon and drove the few folks interested in art away. Monday brought more bad weather and apathetic crowds. Most artists reported that sales were down in the Grove overall this year — I had expected much more out of this show and its cousin, the Coconut Grove Art Festival. It seems to have turned into more of a circus than a fine art festival. People just didn’t seem to be there for the art, but for the corn on a stick, meat on a stick and the kettle corn. Usually I can connect with people and have some good conversations — even that seemed hard in the Grove.

The Miami Herald never even mentioned the award winners at the Coconut Grove Festival; attendance and sales were down, and judging from an article in the Miami Herald, customers and artists alike were unhappy. This is not unusual these days. There are more shows, more artists and more promoters. Since it takes good money to put together a show, promoters also must attract high level sponsors, like Lexus or Washington Mutual, to share the cost of presenting art to the public. If the sponsors become more visible than the artists, the point of the festival becomes more about advertising and less about hand-made crafts. We all need a little more hand-made art in our lives, and shows are a great way to meet and interact with the people behind the art. Artists get very discouraged when cars replace art, and bank sponsors get better spaces than painters. What shows really need is balance, and it really seemed to be missing at the Grove this year.

February 22, 2008

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