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.

3 thoughts on “Dear Artists: Greetings From the Festival Dark Side

  1. Hi Deb !
    I enjoyed your views on where the money goes etc . That is very helpful. Marion is very fortunate to have you as a director or whatever your title is . I guess your efforts have been expressed in the form of the rating of your show. I hope that is enough for you personally . Thanks for your response to my email .

    Enjoy Today Deb !
    Joseph Murray
    Wayuga Art Studio
    Jefferson, Iowa 50129
    “Where serenity is a way of life “

  2. I read with interest your justification for your application fees. However that wasn’t my intention for writing to your festival.

    It’s always a wonder how many folks you accept from outside the area, while not
    selecting and promoting some of the FABULOUS ARTISTS from the surrounding areas of Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Dubuque, Waterloo, etc. at your fair! There’s some outstanding artisans locally, and yet you aren’t supporting them. Surely at least some of them must be applying to your show?

    Is there a particular reason I don’t see them when I attend your festival every year?
    My family and folks I know who attend find that quite disappointing!

    Thank you for your time!
    R. Thompson

    • Greetings! Greetings! Thank you for your comment! I’m so sorry for the delay in responding – WordPress service has been intermittent. We hear this observation often: Why are there no local artists? If you were to peruse any given year, we understand that it can seem as if area folks are actively excluded. Here’s some information about our process, if it’s useful to know:

      1) We typically receive 350-ish applications for our 50 spots – assuming everyone’s talent is equal, this creates a 1-in-7 chance of getting in, no matter where an artist hails from. For 2014, we saw applications from 26 states and Canada; our festival day slate will represent 13 states (with 29 of these 50 exhibitors being from Iowa and adjacent states). Because we’re such a small show, we’re a tough nut to crack, flat-out. (Artists who are ceramicists, jewelers or photographers have the most competition of all – these are highly-populated application categories, with us having only so many spaces to offer in these media.)

      2) We have a different panel of jurors each year, and they select the show before ever knowing who the applicants are or where they’re from. The images they see are presented without any identifying info; the panel learns whom they’ve selected only after the slate has been chosen. (This is typical of how festivals select their lineups, and a process endorsed by artist advocacy and industry groups.)

      We absolutely understand that the high level of application interest can be frustrating – whether the applicant is from Cedar Rapids or Seattle – but it’s also great news for everyone working here, as it demonstrates that we live in a community that wants art. Artists compete mightily for the opportunity to drag themselves a couple thousand miles to have a shot at our audience … and once they leave, our art-loving community stays put, which creates a year around opportunity for area creatives who are willing and able to put themselves out there. As I write, I’m ticking off five locally-produced festivals in my head … nine for artists willing to venture as far as Iowa City … and maybe as many as twenty across Eastern Iowa. Add in local gallery spaces, artist open-houses (for example, when groups of artists get together and throw their homes open for a one-day or weekend sale, common around the holidays), and area businesses offering wall space to artists who want to exhibit/sell in/from their spaces (think restaurants) … local, original art-retailing is everywhere. And there’s room for more. For area artists who want to sell – and for you, your family and others, who want to buy.

      Thank you for asking! Please let me know if there’s anything else I can tell you! And, for anyone who might read this, if you’d like info on the range of area shows/opportunities, please do say!

      Deb Bailey
      Marion Arts Festival

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