Yesterday, I spent the day at the Des Moines Art Festival in Des Moines, IA as a visitor. I went several years ago when my youngest daughter had a piece of art in the show after her elementary art teacher submitted it. I was very proud of my 5th grader and find myself thinking about the moment when I saw her watercolor painting, took her picture next to it. I remember it like it was yesterday really.
That year, I wandered around by myself. My daughter went home with her dad and his wife after the awards were handed out. I wanted to see what was there. I lived 2 hours away and never really made it to the festival in the past. We seemed to always be camping or doing other family things on that weekend. I spent most of my time in the Emerging Artists area. I came home with a raku fired bowl with this gorgeous copper color created by a student at ISU. I saw so much cool stuff, so much thought-provoking stuff, so much art that intrigued me and made me want to try some new things.
I had not gone until this year for a variety of reasons. I seemed to be busy that weekend with something else. I had also heard about the process to get into this particular festival. It was not good what I heard. I have very talented friends who SHOULD have been able to get a spot to show their incredible body of work. They did not get in though and when it was explained why, I was not sure I wanted to support that process by attending the festival. The more I heard about the inner workings, the less interested I was in attending.
I still think their decision process is flawed and a lot of local talent gets cut out because it does not fit a formula, an easily labeled category. Those "messy" or "eclectic" artists interest me the most. I thrive on variety and really hate being easily labeled or placed into a formula. I understand where the decision-makers might be coming from but I don't have to like it.
This year, though, after much thought about supporting something that seems elitist to me, I decided to go to the festival with the same daughter that had a piece of art in the festival years ago. She is now a junior in high school and loves art. She is eclectic much like her mother and thrives even more on variety. She is a perfectionist when it comes to painting and frets over little details. She is fully invested in her artwork. I wanted her to see some art she might not normally see.
I decided to overlook the labels and boxes those that run the festival put in place and decided instead to focus on the art and the artists. Isn't that what should really matter? You bet! So I went to support artists, talk to them, learn how they create what they create, where they get their ideas and see something out of the norm. There was some incredibly powerful work based around the idea of faith and religion that just blew me away as well as some technically beautiful work in all forms of media. There was some fun and whimsical art as well that really used humor just right. I discovered there were a few more local artists than seemed to be advertised. (Not sure why the media spoke to the out-of-state artists so much but they missed some kick ass local artists. They did interview one emerging artist that was local and that was good to see. I would like to see them cover more of them in the future.)
I kept analyzing the booths, breaking down the different details especially in the jewelry booths. I was checking out displays, observing how they priced their work and set up the areas people had to walk in and out. There is a small amount of real estate and you have a lot to take into consideration. I noticed who had cool walls that stood out versus the plain white walls. One artist even brought in flooring to make it easier on her legs and back after the long days at the festival. I have come to the conclusion that it takes quite an investment to have a good booth that will make it through the decision process, something I don't have right now.
I also came to the conclusion that this is just not the scene for the work I do right now. Even if I had the tent and the proper booth set up, I would not likely pass the rest of the standards. I love variety too much and could not just focus on one style or line to show. I am not specialized yet and may never be specialized like I observed today. And you know what? I am totally okay with that. I can go to the festival and others like it, support the artists with my attendance and sales when I can afford to buy their work, and let them know I truly value their work. As an artist who does events, I know how important it is to hear that your work has some kind of impact on a person. I wanted my daughter to see that those conversations with artists are really great things, to be be brave and ask artists about their work when she saw something that made her wonder. (She did get brave. Took a little nudging but she got comfortable with it after awhile...)
There is one other reason I wanted to go to the festival. An artist friend put on his Facebook page that he was going down to support a creative partner of his and would be there all day. He would appreciate anyone who would bring Red Bull to them since they were there from 7:45 am until 10 pm. (I did not bring any Red Bull but another mutual fried did earlier.) They are an amazing support network and creative team. (They have a company together and create graphic novels.) I have wanted to meet this person face-to-face for awhile since I admire what he does and his drive to create so I made it a point to get to the Emerging Artists area and find him.
What a great feeling it is when you meet someone like that! Just another reason I like meeting artists and picking their brains..... We seem to be open to meeting people and enjoy the variety of personalities in this world. (I won't say I love everyone because I am human after all but I will say that I am a very open person, willing to give just about anyone a fair shake.) He is such a positive, funny, appreciative, and driven person that I just had to meet him in person. So glad I made the time to do that!
When you go to an art festival or check out some art at an event, take time to enjoy it. Ask questions about the work. Let the artist know what you enjoy. There are lots of things we hear that can drive us crazy like "I can make that." or "That seems like a high price. Would you take $XXX (big drop in price)?" or "I only pay $X for stuff like that." Some of us have nice answers for things like that and some of us come back a bit more aggressively but when someone is having a genuine conversation with us, we are just as genuine back. I loved the conversations I had with the artists I spoke to today. I really appreciated them taking time to talk to me about their work.
Not every festival or event is for every artist and that is just fine with me. But supporting art and artists is for everyone. I hope that you take some time to enjoy a festival or two on a regular basis, whatever that is for you. You just never know what you will find. There is some incredible stuff out there just waiting to be found by YOU!