Why We Do Like We Do: The MAF Fundraising Runs

First, let’s get this part out of the way: Fundraising runs are to art as money is to … everything.  Art’s not free, nor should it be.  Supporting culture actually means paying artists and art professionals.  And for the portable toilet rental.  Liability insurance is nice.  When you support a cultural organization, doing so pays the bills.  That’s the point.  Am I out of italics?  I am not.  For twenty-three years, foundation grants, business sponsorships and in-kind donations have afforded the festival an outstanding level of community support.  Astounding, even.  With this backing, we (and you) have worked to create a truly rocking one-day marketplace for professional artists (and, as noted, that’s what “supporting culture” is).

Fourteen years ago, seeking to further this mission, festival-types looked at each other and said, hmm.  If we raised more money, we might be able to do even better by our _____ (fill in the blank: exhibitors, kids’ programming, art education, audience, sponsors, community).  And thus!  The MAF run (initially a 5K, with our half marathon added in 2012) was conceived.  Runner!  Beloved runner!  Your reason for participating may not be because you love, love, love art – instead, you might be running because you want to challenge yourself, and/or the course is fun, and/or the Expo is a teeming with flirts (uh-huh, that’s right), and/or you like the cash, purchase prizes and giveaways, and/or the shirt is cool.  (And, oh!  It is.)  But, even if accidentally, you are a supporter of the arts.  A patron, sweaty and in shorts … arguably, our favorite kind.

And you keep on giving.  Two thousand runners kick off our festival day with an energy we might not otherwise enjoy, and further serve to diversify our audience in a way it might not otherwise be.  Which brings us to the “why” of other commonly asked questions:

1)      For Pete’s sake, do these runs absolutely have to be staged adjacent to City Square Park?  On festival day?  Yes.  Yes.   Am I out of italics yet?  Still no.  We love all our audience members equally.  Those running are an important part of what we like to consider a perfect storm: the festival is crazy, period.  An improbable day, one during which artists, art, buyers, browsers, runners, kids, grandparents, clay, curry, edification, and education literally collide.  (Well, most, at some point – when curry sidles up to clay, watch out.)  Subtract any one of these things, and we’d all have a  lesser day.

2)      Is there a reason the MAF runs don’t incorporate assorted-powdered-colors-blown-onto-participants-as-they-run-by-who-then-later-roam-the-festival-with-the-potential-to-brush-up-against-fine-art-pieces?  Runs, with color?  A color run, even?  Wouldn’t that be, like, a thematic fit?  Maybe we just answered that one.  Likewise to anything involving mud … as fun as that would surely be.

3)      But there are … a lot … of fundraising runs in the spring, right?  So very many?  There are!  Run like the wind!  DO US ALL.  Our favorite is the Marion Rotary Marathon for Shoes, produced by our pals at the Marion-East Cedar Rapids Rotary Club (June 13-14; check them out at www.marathonforshoes.com).

So.  That’s that story.  There’s a method to the madness, mostly.  Registrations for the Marion Arts Festival Half Marathon and 5K Run & Fun Walk are open!  Possibly I should have mentioned this earlier!  Details at www.pigmantri.com/races/marion-arts!  Saturday, May 16th!  Help keep the festival free, fun and family-friendly!

There will be future posts, addressing further festival-y questions.  But on this subject, a final note: If you love the festival, then your thanks join with ours as they go out to the team at JMS Racing Services – John, Carla, Bob, and Jill, whose collective patience veers into heroism.  Our gratitude?  Beyond what italics can convey.

Four Gallery Images, a Booth Shot and French Cigarettes

(Interested in what happens to your application fees?  See 11/2/12 “Dear Artists: Greetings From the Festival Dark Side”)

Hello, artists – we’re back, with more festival secrets.  Today: why your gallery images may matter less than you think they do, and how your booth shot could matter more than you think it does.

First, if you’re new to festivals, you must have a professional photographer document your pieces.  You honestly can’t do it justice – to have your good work photographed badly is a disservice you do unto yourself.  No matter how accessible the shows to which you apply, you deserve better.  On your own, there’s a good chance you’d place your pieces on a white sheet, using overhead lighting and a flash, or arrange work on a tabletop, or hang it on a wall.  If I didn’t know better, that’s probably what I’d do.  Not our friends the professionals.  In addition to their reasonably-priced charm, they know what background and lighting will flatter each medium – glass is not clay, jewelry is not woodworking, and painting is not drawing.  Personally, I like to be photographed from slightly above – head-on, and you can clearly see I’m shaped like an apple and way too shiny.  2D mixed media is not sculpture.  I think you see my point.  The best work in all the land cannot overcome the burden of being photographed in somebody’s kitchen.

Yet.  The upshot is, if the work is documented by a pro, it’s hardly ever your image quality standing between you and a booth space.  Sometimes your offerings are simply not a good fit for the audience, as not everything plays in Peoria (or Cedar Rapids).  Most shows will provide guidance.  Ask!  Ask!  And!  Do answer every question in the application, and in the detail requested.  We ask our applicants to provide price info, including their most common price point.  (If it’s useful to know: “$30 – $3,000” does not … answer the question.  If I had a nickel, we could buy way more digital billboards.)  Further, while you’re having your best work photographed, take along a piece representing that most common price point, have it documented and include the image in your applications as one of your gallery slides.   You’d be legend.  Jurors across the land will sigh and ask for a cigarette.  They’d send you cigarettes.  French ones (maybe, not wanting to support the tobacco industrial complex), and not in the hope that you’d smoke them, but rather to frame and show off to other artists as you recount your act of faith and courage, and how it paid off.

I’m completely serious.

Moving on.  You’re ready, with professional gallery images, a blessedly incisive artist’s statement – that’s a whole other discussion – and the $25 application fee in hand.  Except … gah.  We want a booth shot.  Require.  A booth shot.

Here’s the thing.  No matter who you are, how much experience you have or how high caliber your show circuit is, please don’t fudge any aspect of your booth shot.  Photoshop-ed with only the best and priciest work you have ever produced?  We can tell.  I say this with love and sincerity – if you seem to be hedging your bet, the jurors will question your integrity.  You are trustworthy!  Do not give jurors a reason to waiver!  We know about “show the best, bring the rest” – and fully respect it as a survival strategy – but a juror’s job, above all else, is to match art to audience.  Which is exactly what you want.  Jurors are selecting with the eye of our buyers; if the images you show are not the work you bring, what you offer may not be what our crowd typically goes for and – yes – you cheat yourself.  I cannot stress this enough.  Show your real work, in its full range of glory, in your real booth, and in a real outdoor festival setting.  If you’re new to festivals, and don’t have a credible shot, display hardware or even a tent, email the show’s director.  We all want you to put your best application face forward, and can offer guidance.

There’s more.  Please, please pass this message along: jurors do not forget the occasions on which artists arrive with very little of the type and caliber of work seen in their application package.  Ditto the quality of booth set-up – to have been presented a certain elegance of display only to have an artist arrive with a card table (oh, sister – it’s happened) is an unforgettable drag on everyone’s experience.  If artists succumb to these temptations, they’re not just hurting us (meaning, our audience, who expect and support fine art) or themselves; their actions also hurt you.  We work to stay savvy, but you are part of the code of ethics mix.  It’s our industry, yes … but first and foremost, it’s your livelihood.  We encourage you to advocate.

In the end, we want to be a great festival, the event our community hopes for and a show in which you’re proud to be a part.  All of us – you, me, our volunteers and sponsors, the audience and community – are out hauling water toward the same thing, that being the perfect festival storm, where the right art is put in front of the right people with the right wallets.  There will be slurpees for everyone, and also some pretty great felafel.  Dogs will be left at home.  Kids will ask you how you made that.  The sun will shine, and our greatest hope is you’ll feel our efforts, your art and that $25 application fee have worked together in a wildly exponential way.  Thank you!  Thank you for the work you do!  We’re lucky you do it, and it’s a privilege to play a role, truly.  Let us know how we can help.

Shop Local: Giving New Meaning and Purpose to the Phrase “Twinkie Defense”

If you’ve watched TV, picked up a newspaper or checked Facebook anytime in the past two weeks, you’ve likely been encouraged – or maybe admonished – to “Shop Local” this holiday season.  An idea only a megacorporation could argue against, because, of course, we all want, at least theoretically, to support our local economy, e.g. neighbors and friends.  What’s not to love?  But it’s here where the discussion often ends.  “Why, mommy, why is the sky blue?”  Well, you know.  Because it just is.  Shop local.  Because, well.  You know.  It’s awesome, so just do it already.

I shop all postmodern-y, therefore I am.

Um, guilty.

So.  Although the rally cry resonates in us all – on a cellular level, even, I can see you vibrating – it helps me to brush up this time of year.  There’s this: a study conducted by the Shop Local First Foundation found that for every $100 spent, locally owned independent businesses generate $68 in local economic activity. National chains generate only $43. And out-of-state online sellers don’t collect sales tax – meaning, they do not, in turn, contribute to our communities.  Keeping tax dollars in the local economy facilitates improved public safety, streets and other infrastructure.  (And if this last election taught us anything, it’s that the majority of us are adamantly pro-sewers.)  Further, nonprofits – from human services to, ahem, the arts – are more likely to be supported by local owners than non-local entities.  Mom-and-Pop?  Not surprisingly, they’re way more invested in our community’s welfare and future.  The economy may be global, but your needs are still local.  Read the map (okay, at the mall, yes, but you get my point): You Are Here.

There’s more, of course.  Singular offerings create community identity.  What is it that you love about Marion?  Cedar Rapids, Hiawatha, Iowa City?  Our chain stores?  Well, yes – I, too, like the abundance and convenience of big boxes; in fact, as soon as I post this, I’m off to Target for pie crust and Chapstick.  But the question is not about like.  Love.  What do you love about Marion?  Love?  Love.

Furthermore, what do others love about your hometown?  Retail diversity creates tourism; tourism creates buzz.  Buzz attracts new residents.  (And new businesses.)  New residents support our – now their – local shops.  Local shops help create a strong sense of place; unique destinations create tourism.  Even more tourism begets even more buzz.  Locate here!  We rock!  It’s the cycle-of-life (or not), and how communities are made.

And consider the practical, both short- and long-term.  Diversity leads to more innovation and consumer choices.  Customer service … exists.  “Small” equals less shipping, especially if you’re buying hand- or locally-made.  Of here means less sprawl, resulting in a smaller loss of natural habitats.  Plus the whole anti-pollution thing (…remember that?  Our options/actions are framed as money-saving over planet-saving), what with less traffic congestion and all.  Again with ideas only a megacorporation could argue against.

Think about it, because, given the recent bankruptcy of Hostess Brands, shopping small could lend new meaning and purpose to the phrase “Twinkie Defense.”  (You may be too young to understand this reference; it’s worth looking up, as the history is tragic and appalling.)  In today’s reality, local businesses often create jobs, while large businesses have a way of cutting folks – and their families – loose.  The takeaway?  Don’t put all your delicious snack cakes into a corporate basket, maybe?  Do not let Dolly Madison Zinger-lessness (yes, Zingers, people) happen to you.  Friends don’t let friends … well, something relevant.  Possibly.  We are all Twinkies, in need of defense.  Ho Hos, round and pure of heart, defending each other.

Think about it, because shopping local foments an uncommon intimacy.  In the great way.

Think about it, because handing your money to someone you know is an influential act … and may well be the last real power we have.

Think about it.  I’m trying to, mostly.  It’s not a perfect system.

Here, I might casually mention that locally-produced art makes a great gift.  Speaking of postmodern, and dropping a hint to my family.

Happy and meaningful holidays to you and yours.


Dear Artists: Greetings From the Festival Dark Side

(Interested in our perspective on gallery images/booth shots?  See 12/2/12 “Four Gallery Images, a Booth Shot and French Cigarettes”)

Artists!  It’s application season, and we bid you greetings from the Festival Dark Side.

Gah.  Sorry, sincerely.  The process is impossible.  As an administrator, I know applying to a show can feel like throwing money at a bonfire.  The Marion Arts Festival hosts 50 spots, and typically receives 350-ish applications.  Our entry fee is $25 – one of the lowest in the realm of shows, but twenty-five bucks multiplied by the number of shows to which you apply pretty much equals your whole morale budget.  I have a very experienced artist pal who once declared, “If you’re not regularly getting rejected, you’re not applying to enough shows.” (It only took me, like, fifteen times before I figured out most artists don’t find it all that comforting a statement.)  Ego and your livelihood are both on the line.  And the line.  And the line.  It’s not ad infinitum, but still.

As your jury fees are helping to fund the festivals to which you’ve applied, here’s what else is happening behind the scenes.  Most of us are nonprofit organizations.  To produce our specific event, we work year around to raise more than $115,000 in cash support (with further in-kind contributions), almost two-thirds of which we spend on promotions, e.g. getting your customers to the park.  Grants (applications to foundations and corporations) comprise about half that $115,000, with another quarter coming from local business sponsorships.  The remaining one-fourth is income – we host a half marathon and 5K run (which serve as event fundraisers), and see revenue through t-shirt and poster sales, artist application fees and exhibitor/food vendor booth fees.

Breaking it down another way, each artist application fee contributes one-sixtieth of one percent (1/60th of 1%) toward our budget.  It’s not a lottery – your talent matters, above all else – but with an all-things-being-equal 1 in 7 chance of getting in, it’s a gamble, no question.  The payoff (we hope) for you is that we work hard to make a good show for the artists we’re able to invite.  Our festival has been ranked among the Top 25 in the nation, with every show everywhere offering its own unique jackpot.  Festivals are a business we’re all in – artists, and the events themselves.  You’re in the business of art-making.  Our business is to play some small role in keeping you alive.  If you don’t thrive, there’s no point.  We’re out to create a rockin’ one-day marketplace because you’re our labor of love; if we could raise $100,000-ish and just give it to you, we would.  As it stands, our sponsors require that we throw a party.  The good news is, it’s fun, and people bring money.

Next post: if it’s interesting, there’s more inside perspective where this came from.  (Preview: your gallery images may matter less than you think they do, and your booth shot could matter more than you think it does).  Thank you for your interest!  Best wishes to you as you navigate the season!  We’ll be back.

Clay, meet GC.

Today’s guest post is by intrepid vagabond and MAF board member GC Meridian*:

Have you ever taken a pottery class?  Me neither, but always wanted to.  Not sure why really, it just called to me.  Maybe it’s because I so enjoy drinking from and holding a hand-made teacup or coffee cup?  Maybe because I own vases, platters, pitchers and more and they are so exquisite in their beauty, many highly functional, so I can’t help but be drawn to trying to make them myself?  After all, we’re blessed with a center here in Cedar Rapids that encourages and educates us on the beauty of clay by offering classes for beginners to advanced, for children to adults.  So I enrolled in a “beginning wheel for adults” class.

Excited for my first night at class to begin, I showed up a little early! The room is buzzing with activity.  Funny looking rows of seats made up of squatty little stools, with contraptions containing a wheel in front of them; I wonder to myself if these old bones will allow me to squat that deep.  Shelves upon shelves of pottery, plastic sheets, boards and jars—most hard to know what-is-what for us first-timers, as we don’t have the understanding, the “pottery making lingo” to know and express what is before us, but we’ll all know the secrets soon enough—there is excitement in the air, as we progress further into the Ceramic Center.

As in all previous classroom situations I’ve been exposed to, we find our seats (and yes, I can easily perch myself comfortably on my squatty little stool), mumble and nod hello to each other, and look around wide-eyed in awe; soon the instructor begins.  After a brief tour of the facility, walking past four—or was it six?—different kilns he jumps right into demonstrating just how one “throws a pot”.  Providing a step-by-step example, encouraging our attention to the black-board where he’s written instructions that we may use as a reference of the pot throwing procedures once we are off and trying on our own.

It looks so simple!  Just like Demi Moore and Patrick Swazey in Ghost!  For once, something, I think to myself, looks just—just like it does in the movies!  The clay moves for the teacher and becomes a cylinder in mere minutes as he talks us through the process.

“I can do this!” I hear my inner artist child squeal excitedly.

Itching to get started, I can barely concentrate on what the instructor is saying, but soon, we’re given the mandate to dig in and get our hands dirty!  Oh how “Clay” feels!  Heavy and awkward in my hand as I slice a grapefruit sized hunk from the large tubular blob they say is mine, all mine, to use for this class.

I take my grapefruit sized disk, Clay, and “wedge” him on the table.  Wedge, a new term for us newbies, meaning I’m working him, quickly—or in my case, methodically, rather than so quickly—plunging the heels of my hands into him, folding him over and plunging again, repeating the act for as little as twenty times, but I’m told, many times this must and should be more, depending upon the type of clay, all with the goal to make him, clay, pliable, softer, and lacking of any bubbles.  I muse that this really isn’t all that different from kneading bread.  Stiffer of course, but Clay recognizes that this touch isn’t foreign to my hands.

Time to introduce myself to “The Wheel”.  I play with the foot pad, spinning the wheel, observing the speed and the sensitivity of the foot-feed.   Then I stop the wheel and sit quietly for a moment, holding the weighty ball in my hand.  “Clay”, I whisper, “it’s nice to meet you.  Shall we give it a go?”

As I toss Clay from one hand to the other, like a softball, patting it soundly with the opposite hand, trying to compact and round him a little more before not-so-gently plopping him as close to center of the wheel as I can.  He makes a satisfactory thudding sound, securely adhering to the metal plate.  I take a deep breath and begin.  Wetting my hands in the water bucket before me, allowing the water to drip off my hands, onto Clay, I nod respectfully to Wheel and he kindly, slowly at first, begins, then spinning faster, as he responds to my foot pressing on his foot-feed.

I wonder how Clay feels as my hands grip him.  Does he say to himself, “Ouch!  She’s pushing too hard!”?  Or does Wheel laugh knowingly at me—as I, more than novice, and nervous to be trying something new, especially in front of strangers, tensely push Clay together between the palms of my hands, while simultaneously pushing the sides of my hands down with as much strength as I can muster to somehow control the wobbling mound that is Clay, and I feel the spin of the metal, Wheel—as he ever so slightly rubs raw the meaty outer edges of my hands? Yes, by the end of class, I do walk out with a nice metal burn on the sides of my hands, but I digress.

There is a discussion going on inside my head as I and my inner child artist vie for control over my hands, and we agree to try relaxing, focusing, concentrating, tuning out all distractions.  You know those kinds of moments of which I speak?  Those times when you miraculously can zone into something so well!  Think of a scene on a stage, where a character steps out of the play and talks to the audience, the lights dim around all the other characters and it becomes all about the spot-lit character—so it’s all about me and Wheel and Clay; The Clay.

The centrifugal force coming together with the pressure of my hands, as Clay complies and compacts toward the center of the wheel.  Does he feel dizzy? Or perhaps he’s stationary in his core and is feeling a wonderful massage with just the right amount of tension to relax and conform to the will of, Me?  The potter?

Neophyte that I am, I accuse Clay and Wheel of having nefarious intentions with a mind of their own, working in concert to humiliate me, for they know I do not have the first clue of what I am doing.  I swear! I can hear them laughing at me and my humiliation grows as the instructor comes to my wheel—for the dozenth time since we were given instructions and told it was our turn to try—and he controls the unruly Clay, instantly!   Clay submits to his hands, with Wheel, whistling along as if he wasn’t part of the conspiracy.

They do not know me however.  The Clay, The Wheel, they believe they’ve had a great time in confounding me, that I will walk away from class, frustrated and discouraged, which I believe their goal to be, just so they can brag to their other clay and wheel friends.  At first, I consider allowing them to believe this to be true.  Better to keep my secret for a later battle that I plan on winning.

On second thought, I decide, no, this is not a war to wage, there is not, nor should not be winners and losers here.  True, there will be successes and failures, but, the winning will come from the doing and I choose instead to thrill to the experience regardless of the outcome!  I will enjoy Clay, his earthy smell, his warmth, his gooey texture, both firm and yet sloppy softness when I add too much water.  I delight at the “smack”, “glob”, “smack” Clay says in my hands as his friend Wheel spins him around.  I embrace their giggles as I continue to attempt to coax Clay to the center of the wheel, trying my best to mimic the instructor’s performance where his clay compresses in his hands.  It’s rising vertically, then horizontally and spherical as he continues to press from the sides, keeping his thumbs over the top to contain vertical growth, working in concert with physics, his clay centers on his spinning wheel.  This “centering” is the only goal of tonight’s class.  Learn to center the clay on the wheel.

By the end of the first class, I have accomplished nothing.  No cylinder, no centering; nothing but the satisfaction of feeling Clay, water and Wheel.  Evidence of this experience is all over me.  Clay juice is everywhere, even a glob on my cheek that I quickly, conspiratorially, wipe away before anyone sees that I played more than caught onto the technique we were being taught.

Ahh—but I learned, unbeknownst to anyone else, especially Clay and Wheel.  I was on the cusp of understanding, at my core, the principals of what was to take place in order to create a piece of pottery.  I left class that night, knowing I would be back.  Not just because I paid for classes, but more importantly, because a crack in the door of creativity had been opened and my inner child artist was singing, dancing the snoopy dance of creative fun, titillated at the idea of playing again, and soon!

Goodnight Ceramic Center.  Goodnight Clay.  Goodnight Wheel.  We’ll be back, my inner child artist and I, for we are not discouraged, but hopeful and excited.

*GC Meridian is known in some circles as the most amazing being in the universe, having once saved an entire family of muskrats from a sinking, fire engulfed steamboat while recovering from two broken arms relating to a botched no-chute wingsuit landing in North Korea. When not impressing people with humbling humility, GC can be found freelance writing, hanging out as a board member of the Marion Arts Festival, finding shiny objects on the internet, enjoying the company of much-appreciated friends and living out–okay, vicariously–a nomadic nature. Managing Editor, Chief Cook, Pirate Wench and Chicken Sitter at Vista Della Cava. Connect with GC through Twitter or StumbleUpon.