Art shows bring more than buyers

I have just firmed up two shows for this fall, after taking a break from organizing (while participating in) Canmore’s  artsPeak show in June. At any art fair, there is a lot of chat between artists about what makes one art show a success or not.

artFair street art festival Canmore, June 2011

After doing a handful of shows the last couple of years – both indoors and out – I don’t have any ready answers about what makes a show work. But, I have learned that the measure of success is not as simple as a “cash in” indicator. Perhaps this is true of many businesses.

I happen to be a very social person. I actually love the energy required that goes into being in one-to-one dialogues for seven hours in a row. Getting feedback directly, answering questions about my art, having discussions about where to source the best art supplies, hearing people’s stories about their kids who create art…all these things make it a great way to pass the day.

Sales are great, too. Don’t get me wrong. But my success rate for a show is starting to look something like this: traffic + location + sales + new fans + meeting & making friends + unexpected connections = success.  Let me explain.

Last year at my booth at Canmore’s artsPeak  festival, I was practically mobbed by someone’s grandmother as she clutched my necklace and would not let go. I had made it (just for myself to wear) and she WANTED it. She was so darling, and so determined that even when I told her this was not the kind of art I was selling, she wouldn’t leave (or let go). So, I offered to make her a similar one from supplies I had at home. I promised to deliver it to her grandson’s house in Banff before she left to go home to Ontario. My husband was wondering why I would do this – I don’t sell jewellery, and I declared I was certainly not going to CHARGE her for it. But, I loved her spirit, and she made me chuckle, so I delivered it to her.

I may have given away a necklace, but I gained something even bigger: a pen pal. A few months on, she sent me an art card, and in her beautiful spidery handwriting she thanked me for my generosity. Of course, I wrote back, and we have been writing letters to one another every few months ever since. In one letter, she sent me a gorgeous felted art piece she had made. It makes me think of the ad that goes something like this: one necklace given away: $5…one friend made for life: priceless.

Last year, during two local shows, I made the connections required to have my art shown in three Alberta galleries, as well as getting one “corporate” account. The shows themselves were “slow” but the wonderful relationships (plus sales and a bigger audience) that came from them continue to this day.

Gnome carving in police uniform now lives in Ontario

This year, my June artsPeak booth netted a good number of commissions to take me through the summer. For one fellow, I carved a gnome in a police outfit for his father who was a retired officer. When I hand delivered the wood carving, I got the treat of hearing the story of how his mom sewed pennies into his dad’s pant cuffs so he would be accepted on the force, since he was under the weight restrictions.

Another commission for a Father Christmas carving came from a woman who collects Santas, and was holidaying in Canmore. Could I do one for her collection? When I delivered it, she hugged me and enthused over the carving. She then extended a personal invitation to visit her in Houston, Texas. Then, this week, she called me to say that she was Skyping with her daughter and showed her the Santa, and could I possibly make one for her, too? Before they fly home next week?

Of course I said “yes!”, because even though it will push me, I feel I have made a connection with this lovely woman (she says she will look me up when she is back next year). And, it is connections like this that – for me – extend the value of every show I am in.

It truly is the gift that keeps on giving.

Father Christmas (the first) done for a collector in Houston, Texas

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