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Friday, July 15, 2011

A Tale of Two Festivals

Well, we've been back for a while but, as usual, summer is our busiest time, so posting will remain light.

One of the reasons for being so busy lately is all the festivals we try to take part in.  This includes an art festival where Eldest will be setting up a booth to sell her paintings.

There are two yearly art festivals in the summer, and they couldn't be more different.

One is a major enterprise.  It last something like 10 days, during which about 290,000 people attended in one year (I don't know if that's the average).  A section of downtown street is cordoned off for it.  It has a year round staff with internships, plus makes use of many volunteers.  It receives funding from all levels of government, from Federal all the way down to municipal and city, plus corporate funding.  It has an outdoor stage for musical performances, roving artists, a big tent for several larger displays, and numerous vendor kiosks.  There were a total of almost 30 gallery displays in the last few years, scattered around at various indoor locations, featuring a wide range of visual artists.  We usually manage about a quarter of them, mostly because we can't find the rest, or they're too far out of our way to make them worth seeking out.

This year, I was able to briefly check it out on opening night, then missed the rest while out of province.  This year's theme seemed to be a First Nations thing, though I'm not sure how a guy in fishnet stockings, cowboy boots and a bison skin works out (and it's bison, not buffalo, people!  You'd think they'd at least get that right).

Most of the stuff wasn't up and running when Youngest and I passed through, partly due to the foul weather, so I didn't see many of the vendors.  Some artists do have pavilions and displays of their work for sale.  Eldest had looked into getting one, but the cost was so incredibly high, it was unreachable.  Many of the vendors are actually people who stay for most, if not all, of the festivals, selling mass produced jewelry, "exotic" clothing and accessories.  Then there are the food kiosks, of course. And a beer garden.  There's almost always a beer garden at all the festivals. *L*

It's an interesting festival, but we've been liking it less each time we go.  The first thing we got tired of was the themes of previous years, which were universally anti-human.  People are evil; let me show you how by filling old cars with dirt and planting things in them.  Or sticking a bunch of garbage recycling found objects whatever onto this tall poll.  I think I would have liked the resulting displays a lot more if they didn't include preaching at me.

I think they do try to focus on local artists, though I am not sure, since we've seen so few of the gallery displays.  The live entertainment is usually quite good and very diverse.  I find it enjoyable to wander around, looking at the vendor displays, taking in the live entertainment, and enjoying certain food vendors for an annual treat of specific dishes we don't see any other time of the year.

It's an enjoyable festival, but there's one thing that doesn't happen.  People don't really buy any art.  It's there to look at, and those who can pay the exorbitant fees to put up a kiosk do hopefully sell enough to at least pay for their spot.  It is not, however, an event that is conducive to actually acquiring art.

Then there's the other festival.

This one is so completely different, it's hard to compare them. 

First off, there is no government funding of any kind.  The organizers did try that in the early days, but between the red tape and hoop jumping to qualify for grants - not to mention the strings that came attached to the money - made it more hassle than it was worth.  Especially since the cost of hiring someone to do all that used up most of the grant money they received.

There are no streets blocked off for it.  Instead, local merchants sponsor the festival and allow the festival organizers to use their frontage.  There is an application process for artists who want to take part, and they pay a nominal fee for their spots, based on the size.  Many of these spots are strips of sidewalks in front of stores.  Others are large enough to set up a small shelter (we have a 9'x9' folding gazebo, some string up tarps, while others just hope the weather is good).  The artists are required to actually be working on something while at their display, whether it's painting or sculpting, or whatever.  The artists are spread out along both sides of a major street, with a couple of side areas on some green spaces where there's a bit of extra room.  The artists can't block the sidewalks or store entrances, since pedestrian traffic has to be able to go through unimpeded, but otherwise can set up however they wish.  The organisers offer a lot of support for the artists, including giving advice on how to best market their wares, set up their displays, and prepare for being at the festival itself for 3 days (such as having sun hats or sunscreen, water bottles, etc.).

This year, there are about 400 artists taking part - the number has steadily increased over the years - plus a secondary location was found for crafters to sell their wares as well.  The festival lasts only three days, and about 300,000 people attend it.  For some artists, such as a co-worker of my husband's, this annual festival is the only time they put their art up for sale.  Over the years it's been found that, for many people, this festival is where they bought art for the first time.  It's also been found that these same first time art buyers often become life-long collectors of art, coming back year after year specifically to add to their collections.  People going to the festival have a chance to watch the artists at work and talk to them about their pieces.  For many of the artists, this festival is where they made their break into being a professional, as Eldest did, and is a major kick-start to their careers. 

The entire mood of this festival is completely different from the first one I described.  It is open, accessible and utterly unpretentious.  The artists and patrons interact with each other directly.  Fellow artists strike up conversations with each other, with experienced artists gladly giving advice to new artists, trading tips, stories and getting to know each other.  They even watch out for each others booths for bio-breaks.  It's also a fine example of free market capitalism!

In fact, other than both festivals being centred on art, they are pretty much complete opposites.

I know which one I prefer!

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