This entire ‘pay for a booth and be in an art festival’ experience was breaking new ground for us, and with only ten days to prepare it felt pretty intimidating as well. What and where was the Old fourth Ward? What and where was the
Studioplex complex that was host to StudioFest? And what was StudioFest itself all about? What would the booths look like? How many photos should we bring and how would they be displayed? Well it was an experience of ‘learn by doing’ all the way, and here are some of the things we learned.
So what exactly is The Old Fourth Ward, and where in the world is it?
Commonly referred to as O4W, the Old Fourth Ward is best known as the location of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site. The building that now houses Studioplex Lofts, a complex of residential lofts and retail shops & galleries within O4W, is part of the gentrification effort in this community. It’s a picturesque collage of historic structures…original brick, fire doors, and exposed overhead beams with peeling paint curls like the bark of a birch tree…meeting contemporary needs. Something of a vintage grunge feel to it. Built in 1906 the building was originally part of the South East Atlantic Cotton Compress Warehouses. A water tower across the street, which is part of the complex, served as the water source for these warehouses.
And what the heck is StudioFest, and how did it fit in?
We were contacted through our Etsy shop by Geoff & Christina Lee, owners of the gallery Modern Now, to participate in an art festival called StudioFest, this first of which is to become a biannual event. We would have a 6 foot table and two 4 x 8 peg boards as display space…no chairs, and no hooks for the boards. How could one hang mounted photos from s-hooks on peg board, we wondered, when Craig had an ‘aha’ moment and saw that we needed squared hooks on which the photos would sit at just the right slant. He found and bought those, and they were perfect, but we certainly weren’t going to stand all day in 100 degree temperatures, so we made a quick trip to Walmart to buy two folding chairs…possibly the best decision of the day.
We set up our booth with photos, business cards, and an email sign-up book laid out on the table with more photos displayed on the peg boards behind. We unfolded our brand new red chairs, stocked them with water and wet cloths, and dug in for business.
Alas, we never did make any sales that day, but that isn’t to say we didn’t do any business. Although the lack of sales was disappointing (the expense, all the prep, all the hours sitting in the heat, not to mention the fact that we quite love our work), we found ourselves in excellent company. All the booths were eye-catching, and many of the items for sale were stunning, but from what we gleaned walking around and talking to other artists and crafts(wo)men, no one fared much better than we did. Especially hard hit were we print artists…the painters & photographers.
No one of us could find just one convincing explanation for this global lack of sales. Speculations ran from the oppressive heat to wondering if the turnout was fewer than expected. Maybe people didn’t have money to spend and were instead looking for a unique setting to pass a few hours on a Saturday afternoon. Or possibly those who did turn out were were looking for something trendier. We considered the fact that the beer table was placed at the entrance, enticing people to hang out there socializing and listening to the music, only to stroll around the venue as a second thought. Maybe it was the table of Serpas Restaurant where people were more than willing to pay for a taste of Louisiana & the American Southwest. We simply don’t know and never will…the difficulty being that we can’t know if we could have done something different.
Here’s a gander at the venue:
We most definitely did ‘do business,’ though, as I said. We experienced our first art fest as a part of the artist community, and we met many fine artists, crafters, and jewelry-makers. We made a lot of contacts, including a couple of galleries that may be willing to host our photos, and we were delighted at the opportunity to hear the many accolades spoken by those who stopped at our table to admire (if not purchase) our work. And, finally, we were invited back in September.
Many thanks to Geoffrey & Christina of Modern Now, Walt Woodall of Metro Gallery and Framing, and to all the volunteers for StudioFest. I never saw people work any harder than these folks…under pressure, with little sleep, and in sweltering temperatures. Awesome job, guys!