It's About Money: Third Wave Artisans     13 November, 2008, 03:48 pm
The Third Wave of crafts exhibitors came in the early 1990s. Unlike First Wavers who came to arts & crafts organically and the Second Wavers who were obsessed by it, folks making up the Third Wave could just as easily have sold real estate as hand-made articles. In fact several that I have spoken to did formerly sell real estate. They came from many backgrounds but they shared a vision of arts & crafts – they were in for the lifestyle and the money.

Imagine the scene when the first of the Thirds entered the existing countercultural arts & craft tribe with their logo-embroidered golf shirts and PowerPoint sales presentations. Their shiny monster RVs dominated the parking lots, sporting Republican bumper stickers in the fiercely Blue State arts community. I watched, or mostly got out of the way of, perfectly-designed shipping containers that carted their goods noiselessly to sleek booths designed by former Macy employees.

I was initially skeptical about their products because they seemed more interested in what would sell rather than what was created to satisfy artistic impulses. In many cases they brought new products, but often the items were derivative – leading to the rows of jewelers, photographers, and specialty foods vendors that have come to characterize many shows.

As an example, when Susan started out in the early 1980s, there were still small local shows full of homegrown artists. Flower painters abounded, predominately female, many inspired by Georgia O’Keefe who reached pop star status in the 1970s. I had compiled a list of over 25 “female flower painters” by the mid-1990s that I personally knew.

Photography has now taken over much of the market for art show flower pictures. I walked past a booth in May in New Paltz, NY and did a double take at the large canvases of beautiful flowers. They were so realistic! Then I learned that they were digitally altered photographs, printed on canvas.

As competition stiffened outside and inside shows, I found myself being organized into Third Waver-lead clubs. I sat through presentations on sales techniques and financial planning. I was told that I was doing something wrong if sales didn’t grow by 10% per show. But at the same time I learned how to manage a mailing list, start a website, and a hundred other good business ideas that helped this old hippie survive the initial Wal-Mart forays into our markets.

In balance, the arts & crafts community absorbed the Third Wavers as we learned from each other. We need each other in these days of shrinking show crowds and artists dropping out for reasons ranging from poor sales to poor health. As one First Waver show promoter, Charley Dooley of Craftproducers, told us years ago, “There will always be an interest in hand-made items.” Couple that advice with Third Wave admonitions to, “Keep your costs down,” and you just might have the formula to get us through the financial meltdown of 2008.

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