Book Review by Aletha Jones
Writing a book that provides a recipe for producing a successful art and craft show is a very ambitious undertaking. Cari Dewall-Obst carries out such a task in her new book, How to Produce an Arts & Crafts Festival (1998). In a logical sequence and an easy-to-read style, she presents the major steps in putting such an event together.
The first chapter stresses the critical value of establishing the mission, and clarifying a clear set
of goals for the proposed festival. In addition to a section on selecting the artists, other topics include recruiting volunteers, building and analyzing a festival’s budget, and including additional festival activities. Three chapters focus on creating, selling and succeeding with sponsorships, with examples
of sponsorship proposals and marketing surveys. The workbook format provides examples of adapt- able fill-in sheets for many key tasks. It also includes an appendix of helpful resources.
Ms. Dewall-Obst underscores the amount of lead-time required to plan an art fair, and lays out an operating calendar of one full year prior to the event. The fact that many artists begin planning their show schedules a year in advance suggests that the one-year timetable may not be enough lead time. This is especially true for new shows. This book
is written to encompass a wide spectrum, from
small community festivals to shows larger in size
and scope. Therefore, it is understandable that the sections addressing the artists’ application and the jurying process are painted with a rather broad brush. However, these sections most directly affect the quality of the artwork selected, and therefore need to be carefully detailed.
Increased attention to the following points would strengthen the book’s focus:
1) The issue of rule enforcement is not adequately addressed. A more complete description of artwork not permitted in the show is imperative, and the allowance of reproductions needs to be detailed. A clear policy about these matters is a critical aspect of enforcing show rules. Three specific requirements of participating artists that could strengthen rule
enforcement are: a photo ID at artists’ registration to curtail proxy exhibitors; a booth slide to serve as a visual contract of what the artist intends to display; and an artist’s information statement posted in the booth clearly stating the artistic process involved and the role of any assistants. These requirements should be stated on the artists’ application.
2) The suggestion is made that smaller shows may find that photographs work better than slides for jurying artists because of the ease of comparing styles and the difficulties in obtaining projectors. This suggestion would result in more first-time applicants or ‘dabblers’ and fewer experienced artists, a point stated later in the text.
3) The importance of selecting a suitable show location needs to be emphasized. Because the show site itself can be such a key determiner of a show’s success, the involvement of artists and other show experts in this decision is critical.
Throughout the book, Ms. Dewall-Obst continually points out the advantages of learning from others with expertise in the field. She suggests visiting other art fairs, involving specialized consultants, and seek- ing help and information from the NAIA. She sites the NAIA as a valuable resource in many key areas, from selecting a show site, to providing a list of qualified jurors. However, the author mistakenly encourages show directors to obtain an endorsement from the NAIA. Currently our organization does not endorse specific shows. She supports the refunding of booth fees for artists who are forced to cancel shows. She also demonstrates her knowledge as an art fair producer (Cari was the executive director of the Uptown Art Fair for fourteen years) by including a creative list of ways to promote a festival, and innovative methods to attract art fair buyers. Creating a successful arts and crafts festival is a for- midable task. This manual presents the fundamental building blocks to begin such an undertaking.