I spent 4 action packed days in New York, attending three trade shows dedicated to both art and artists and the stationery market. I also managed to sandwich in two museum visits, caught up with old friends, met business contacts live and in person and walked 27.5 miles. I know I tend to exaggerate, but if you don’t believe me I will gladly send you my FitBit stats.
Here’s are some of the things I learned:
If you ever get the notion to try and see the Abstract Expressionist permanent collection at The Museum of Modern Art on an extremely rainy Saturday afternoon, please re-think your plans. I have done the legwork for you and it’s a bad idea. Too many soggy people crammed into the galleries, too many people sliding in between you and the paintings you really want to see and way, way, way too many people crowding around Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” taking selfies.
I do, however, recommend slipping away from the trade shows on a sunny Monday afternoon to head to the Whitney with a fellow hooky-player to see the Grant Wood exhibit. Very satisfying, especially the delightful hike to the museum on the High Line and a “slice” the size of my head afterwards.
And if you get an invitation (no matter how sideways) to attend a thing at the Skillshare offices, you should go. Great program and super nice people.
So, besides those things, what else did you learn, Ronnie?
Let’s start with Surtex, shall we?
Okay, there was lots of discussion about how small it was compared to previous years and that is a fact. There were basically 3 rows of art licensing booths in increments of 10 X 10 feet (individual artists and agencies) plus one more row of similar booths in the “Atelier” section. The remaining booths (roughly 30) were the smaller booths reserved for first time exhibitors known as The Design District.
One row of these smaller booths faced the Stationery Show (with their backs to Surtex) and did not share the orange carpet with the rest of Surtex, so it was a little confusing whether they were part of Surtex, the Stationery Show or something else entirely; leaving it up to the newest exhibitors to take on the task of explaining to passers-by who they were. That simply did not serve those exhibitors well and frankly, the artists I talked to were disappointed in the placement—and the response from show management to their issue.
The rest of the Design District booths were tucked away at the very back past the Atelier section and they too were not served particularly well. I hope they had enough interaction with potential clients so it ended up being worth it to them and I would encourage those artists make the most of all of the connections they made.
The other topic of conversation is whether or not Surtex will be moving from it’s historic time slot in mid-May to early February to coincide with NYNow (the Winter New York Gift Show) and the National Stationery Show’s new date and location. So far that seems likely.
Everyone hates the idea of a show in NYC in February weather-wise, but it may get a new life if all three shows are happening at the same time. There are pros, cons and everything in between so it will be interesting to see how that plays out, especially as how it relates to Blueprint Shows (which I will get to in a minute).
So, beyond the size of Surtex and the discussion about timing, I heard all kinds of reports from some of the long-time exhibitors, particularly the agents. I heard comments that ranged from “this show sucked” to “this is the show I’ve been waiting for for ten years”. That’s a big gap. Casual observer that I am, I did notice that despite the complaints going in, it felt like a pretty active show by the end; energy and noise levels were up, and more than one exhibitor expressed lots of positivity, but I can’t say it was an outstanding show, more like “not awful”.
I also had an opportunity to pop into both Blueprint Shows (they ran two 3 day shows back to back, the second one concurrent with Surtex) and chatted with a variety of artists both new to exhibiting and old hands. Again, comments ranged from, “This was the worst show I’ve ever done” to “I’m rethinking any show next year” to “this is the best show I’ve ever done” and of course lots of comments that landed on various points on the map.
I hadn’t heard a concrete decision about whether Blueprint has any interest in moving to February to align with the other folks (I’m thinking not, from a few conversations— but who am I to say?) although I heard a few artists at Surtex say, “Well, I’m planning to do Blueprint next year” so if that is true, I’d suggest they get a space now as there is a limit to how many artists they can accommodate. But trust me, there will always be room at Surtex.
So, what have we learned here, anyway?
- Some people will have great shows.
- Some people will have disappointing shows.
- Either of those scenarios do not always correlate with the quality of the art, the artist or the attendees— it just is.
- At any given show whether you are selling auto parts, bee pollen or pot holders, some exhibitors are not successful because they either think being at a show is the only way to “make it”, they are premature for any show, or they were simply misguided along the way. Those people need to chalk it up as “a learning experience” * and dig deep into anything they can to salvage their time and expense. There’s always something positive to be gleaned from the experience.
- It’s easy to fall into a “compare and despair” mindset at a show. You observe other exhibitors having the time of their lives while you feel like you have rearranged your business cards approximately 348 times just to look busy. You know the drill; you can’t compare your early shows with someone else’s 3rd or 7th or 17th. It takes time to develop relationships and there is a weird psychology to shows (and I’ll explore that idea in another post). Just remember that everyone starts somewhere. And there are lots of reasons why they are having a different show than you are. Plus, you have no idea if any of that enthusiasm or hilarity across the hall will result in any deals.
- Everyone always says, “it’s all about the follow-up” and it’s true. But it’s not just following up on what potential clients told you to do (send me that baby design and that one snowman) but by nurturing the relationship over the next 6-12 months. And don’t forget to pay attention to the people you met who didn’t ask for anything specific as well; it could be a whole other story in a few months.
- Good or bad show, you need to digest and evaluate what just happened.
- Was your work in line with the companies you saw?
- Was the whole experience too expensive for the results you are expecting? (you may not be able to answer this one for a while)
- Did you feel comfortable in that scenario or would you prefer more one on one with a client— or hand the whole thing over to an agent?
- Try to separate the emotional ups and downs, the tricky personal interactions, the preconceived ideas you may have had going in and get real about what happened (positive and negative) and what you want in the future.
So just like the new year, it’s time to buckle down and make progress with your plans. You are off the “but I have to get ready for the shows” treadmill, now’s the time to show what you’ve got!
I’d love to know what your reaction was to either of these events, just jump on to the comments here or you can always chat about it on my Facebook Page here.
*which tend to be expensive.
PS. Opinions and observations are my own.