After months of preparing to sell her work at art festivals throughout Western New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania again this season, local mixed media artist Alison E. Kurek is seeing a growing number of those shows cancel.
"I don't do as many as I used to. I think I did seven or eight last year, and I was scheduled to do roughly the same this year. So far, I have had three cancel," she said.
Locally those cancellations include the 50th annual 100 American Craftsmen at the Kenan Center in Lockport, which was to have taken place in late May, and the Allentown Art Festival, scheduled for June 13-14. Kurek has been at the Allentown festival for more than 25 years.
"It is fairly devastating financially," she said.
In addition, Canal Fest of the Tonawandas, which was scheduled for July 19-26 and included a two-day craft show, has been canceled. So has the Lewiston GardenFest, June 20-21, which features vendors selling handcrafted art and jewelry as well as garden decor.
Not all the local and regional art and craft shows have been canceled or postponed; some organizers of summer festivals are holding off to see what happens in the coming weeks and months with government edicts.
But it’s a very difficult time for the vendors who rely on the events for income and exposure.
"I don't think people understand the incredible amount of work that goes into an art festival because they are fun to attend," said Kurek.
Artists not only have to ramp up their inventory leading up to the shows but there are also fees and travel expenses involved. The shows are hard work physically, and there are always weather concerns, Kurek said.
Catherine Gillespie, who runs Chatham Pottery, said that the art festivals and shows are the bread and butter for artists.
It’s a small business, even for those who aren’t making their whole living from it, said Gillespie, chairwoman of the Buffalo Arts Commission and president of Artists in Buffalo.
Gillespie usually participates each July in the Art on the Rocks event in Cognashene, Georgian Bay, Ont. But this year the event is likely canceled.
“It’s a big show for me. Half of my annual retail sales I do in that one-day show,” she said.
Instead she is working on her Christmas handmade stoneware pottery pieces and is grateful she has her private studio where she can still work. Many artists do not, she said.
“I just decided I need for my own mental health to be working in my studio. So I decided I’ll do Christmas stuff,” said Gillespie, who also hopes to increase her web page presence.
“Who knows what we’re going to do in the fall? I think a lot of artists are trying to up their websites, at least that’s what I hear from people I’m talking to,” she said.
A virtual trunk show
“A lot of our members are really nervous,” said Holly Metz Doyle, co-founder along with Jennifer Stockman of the Buffalo Women’s Consortium of about 40 local artisans. Many count on the art festivals for a bulk of their sales.
Stockman and Doyle opened the BWC Member Showroom & Gallery on Feb. 1 on the first floor of the Market Arcade on Main Street downtown. They closed the shop March 16 due to Covid-19.
But they, like others in the art community, are not resting with a virtual trunk show planned from 4 to 7 p.m. May 1 via Facebook.
The BWC Shares Meaningful Gifts Trunk Show will feature handmade artisan goods by about 20 consortium members including pottery, jewelry, artwork, hand-poured candles, furniture and magnesium balms.
Sitarist Naryan Padmanabha will open and close the event with a live performance.
Along with the virtual trunk show, the consortium also plans to keep building its website, to keep members’ work out there. New items include handmade face masks.
“We are hoping that this will be successful for both our members and our community in that this will continue to be an effective way of doing business, even when we open up,” Doyle said.
Kurek also continues to sell her work. She has an Etsy store and is a member of ShopCraft, an artisan collective of local artists with a shop on Elmwood Avenue. The shop is temporarily closed but has an online store.
"Over the past couple years, a good portion of my income has come from the shop which is why I have been doing fewer shows," Kurek said.
Now there's another reason to rethink shows: "You go to an art show and you have an entire booth full of people and art. When people walk into your booth, they are immersed and it's an entire experience. I just don't see that happening anytime soon," she said.
Also happening virtually: While the 100 American Craftsmen event at the Kenan Center in Lockport is canceled for this year, people can visit the exhibitors’ page on the website to browse the artisans’ shops online. Featured are works in clay, wood, metal, glass, paper, mixed media, leather, fiber and jewelry.
Organizers of the Allentown Art Festival plan to post links to its artists’ websites as well.