This past weekend I was in DC for a fine craft show, and without going into too many details, I found myself willingly slowing down, staying engaged in just the present moment, and asking myself to be patient with the world around me. For anyone who has done a trade show, you know exactly what I mean. The public zooms by your table, sometimes with a compliment, sometimes with a personal revelation..."I already have too much jewelry that I don't wear" is the one I hear most often..and occasionally with a comment so disdainful that you wonder why they are out shopping in the first place. And fine craft shows are really amazing. All the vendors are selected by a jury, and they quality of the work is excellent. I was surrounded by a sculptor who makes things in bronze, and after a weekend of being next to his booth I can recite his spiel for you if you'd like. There was a woodworker across from me that made exotic wood turned bowls that were beautiful, and a gentleman who handmakes woven leather handbags. He spent the entire show working putting the straps and magnets and finishing touches on the bags. And we were all in the same boat. The market for fine craft may not be dwindling, but the number of people who buy at shows is. There is a convergence of the average buyer just aging out of wanting to spend more money collecting more things, even small things like jewelry. There were very few people under 40 years of age at the show, and they were usually accompanying a parent or even a grandparent. So finding a younger market to support hand made items is important. Marketing the shows online and on Instagram is important. Making sure that maker-spaces and community college students get free admission is essential, they need to know how far their skills can take them. Collaborating and highlighting the work of younger emerging artists is essential. Show owners need to seek them out, include an emerging artist application with reduced fees, and create an entire show area just for emerging artists. The wholesale markets do this, the retail ones should too. Inviting them to host a kick-off party for the shows and bring their friends might start a new group of younger people interested in purchasing fine craft items. The EAST and WEST gallery shows in Austin, Texas are a great example of how to get an entire community excited about art and fine craft with studio tours, parties and publications. And show producers must look for new ways to market their shows, and being creative and looking for ways to engage new audiences should be their top priority. Or the era of fine craft shows will be over.
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