I got an invitation in the mail the other day about an upcoming art show and sale. It was a show I participated in the past two years, selling my photography and copies of my book, “Art Drives on Delmarva: A guide to over 350 studios, galleries and attractions on Delmarva.” I won’t be participating this year; neither of the other times did I sell enough to even pay for my gas. Few of the other artists did, either.
It’s not that the artwork wasn’t good or that the show was not well-planned. It’s just that there are way too many of these little, local shows. Every town with an artists’ group has its own show which features maybe a dozen artists, some crafts, a few souvenir-type things, and a hamburger stand. The budget for publicity is small, so there are a few flyers put up at local shops, posts on the community website, and some word of mouth. The local residents turn out, but they are generally not buying anything. They are there to visit with their friends and provide visible support.
It’s sad, because the artists set up hoping to make a few sales and maybe start a following or get invited to bigger shows. But there is simply too much competition and too little publicity. Even if tourists want to find and support the small shows, they don’t know where or when they are. And if the shows which are geographically near each other are not scheduled at the same time, it’s another obstacle to success. People aren’t going to drive from Onancock to Denton to Lewes on one afternoon. So a lot of hard work by organizers and participants goes for nothing.
I have an idea that might help. Take a cue from Kent County and Southern Delaware. They have ‘studio tours’ – weekends which are dedicated to self-guided driving tours to the studios of artists throughout their areas. They are well-publicized and draw over a thousand people each weekend who enjoy viewing art and are happy to trek through the area to visit the studios.
Why not do something similar for the small art shows and festivals? If the organizers of the little events get together and choose a common weekend, they can pool their resources, get a little more coverage, and maybe draw in other businesses who might participate (special deals at local restaurants; packages at a B&B). It might be smart to set it up geographically: this weekend Talbot and Dorchester Counties; next weekend, Kent and Caroline. It could evolve into planning a month of ‘Arts Weekends’ on the Shore.
It’s disappointing to see a lot of good art go unnoticed. Maybe re-thinking the way the art shows are scheduled and run may bring in more visitors and help the artists and their communities.