While the rest of America has been doing their thing, including snapping up the toilet paper, pasta and eggs (really people, you could have left a few eggs), artists were watching their entire spring season of festivals vanish before their eyes.
As of Tuesday, 32 art festivals had cancelled and 22 postponed their events, according to Zapplication, an online application service for artists and festivals. That is a devastatingly large number. (Update: the number has risen to 107 as of 3/19)
Here’s a simple explanation of how this works for artists on the festival circuit. Applying to multiple festivals is the norm because there are no guarantees of getting accepted, even if an artist attended before. When the artist finds out what shows they’ve been accepted to, they can begin putting their cross country festival puzzle together. Booth fees range between $500-$1,500, then add on to that travel and lodging expenses and packing that includes artwork for multiple festivals. This process starts as early as eight months in advance of an actual festival date.
In just seven days, all the preparation and planning is gone. Even if booth fees are refunded, the loss of income from sales will be devastating. What about postponements? There’s a high probability the artists already have weekends booked elsewhere through the fall.
“As someone who relies on doing fine art festivals and craft markets full-time to make a living, I am really worried as all events for the next month or so keep dropping left and right,” said Heather Wobbe, a Houston fine art jeweler. “Booth fees and hotel reservations are simply evaporating before my eyes and I worry how I will afford the extremely high holiday booth fees this year.”
Planning an event of 300-plus exhibitors, like Houston’s own Bayou City Art Festival, which was also cancelled last week, is a year-long process. There are hundreds of people and companies that lose when these big events are cancelled.
The buzz word today is “social distancing.” Being social is a very big part of being human. For artist Jennifer Lang, being around people is challenging, but a necessary part of her life to keep her mental health in good shape. Lang shares my market booths and keeps them looking organized while I run around as market managers do.
“I need your markets more than for just making money. I need them mentally,” Lang said in an email. “Being around large groups of people is hard for me, I find it very draining, so having a safe space where I can retreat is helpful. I’ve been using my time at the market for self-therapy and to force myself to be social.
“I did great for a while, venturing further and going to other events, but then I reverted last year. Now I have no desire to go out anymore and your markets have become my ‘only hope, Obi-Wan. (sic)’ I spend the majority of my time alone, I rarely get calls or messages from others and sometimes forget how to speak words. I fear that without these monthly events I will spiral down to a place of no return.”
Artists are a tenacious, relatively optimistic group and I watch for the doers, the innovators to step up and show us the way back. There will be a time when this passes and things will return to normal.
Heights artist Kiki Neumann always sees a positive side. Here’s what she had to say:
“We can create even more than ever with the outlook that things will once again return to a form of normalcy,” Neumann said. “It might be returning to a new normal, but the world needs our creativity more than ever!”
Fresh Arts (FreshArts.org), a local arts nonprofit, has announced it is going “online” for the time being, offering live streaming “conversations” on how artists can work through economic downturns. Topics include crisis communication, emergency grants available to artists, applying for Small Business Administration loans, unemployment eligibility for freelancers, healthcare for artists, etc. Tips will also be posted on its social media platforms.
Not everything can be cancelled. Robin Baker and Wood Anthony are extending the hours of their art exhibition hoping this allows more “social distancing.” It is scheduled for 3-9 p.m. April 4 at Hardy & Nance Studios, 902 Hardy St. Update: this event has been postponed – possibly to June 6 – follow Hardy & Nance Studios for updates.
Many Houston artists have the added expense of art studio rent and no shoppers. Responses to a request about what artists are doing now returned familiar answers: cleaning, catching up and doing all those things they’ve missed when their lives were so busy just a few weeks ago.
Take care of yourselves out there. Look for the opportunities in this madness.
Cohen is an artist and founder of First Saturday Arts Market and the Market at Sawyer Yards. Find him at ArtValet.com.