Art Festivals – Feeding the Starving Artists

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Posted At: September 24, 2010 8:56 AM
by Hillary Stroud

It’s hard to make a unique mark in this world with so many artists competing for recognition. One way artists can expose themselves is through art festivals. TheKentuck Museum Association, located in Northport, Ala., holds a yearly art festival to promote more than 280 artists from around the nation. In turn, the artists also help bring awareness to the Kentuck Festival. The Kentuck Museum has a mission to perpetuate the arts, engage the community and empower artists, and it is carried out daily through the events and activities that it holds for the artists and the community.

The Kentuck Museum is a nonprofit organization that works with artists to help them promote their art. The venue provides a place to show their work to a variety of people who attend the festival. This diverse audience not only generates networking opportunities for the artists, but also creates a buzz-worthy atmosphere for the almost 40-year-old festival.

Being so near to The University of Alabama, the Kentuck Museum does not find it difficult to generate an audience for the festival. Alabama alumni are very involved and supportive of the Kentuck Festival.

However, Jan Pruitt, executive director at the Kentuck Museum Association, said that she wishes there were as many people who are as passionate about art as football. Still, no matter the season, Kentuck manages to draw a significant crowd.

“You can holler a ‘Roll Tide’ and still appreciate the arts at Kentuck,” Pruitt said.

She views the relationship with The University of Alabama not as a competition, but as a chance to collaborate with one another and to create something that’s beneficial for the community, as well as artists from all over the nation.

Being a nonprofit organization, Kentuck does not use much advertising to market its festival. Although Kentuck originally developed its museum and festival with just the help of a small budget and a host of volunteers, it is starting to take advantage of new (and free) technologies like social media. As of now, Kentuck staff participate in Facebook, Twitter and Flickr, which all serve as useful tools to their organization as they utilize each to its full potential.

Kentuck supports three kinds of artists who are each promoted in a variety of ways. The first kind is guest artists. These are independent artists who, without folk artist curator and Kentuck founder, Georgine Clarke, would have made their own art for themselves without anyone knowing about them. Kentuck gives them a place to showcase their work, while getting name recognition.

The second category is demonstrating artists, who are paid to come to the festivals with their work and show the public how they create it, giving them an alternative way to sell and explain their work to their audience. Demonstrating artists add value to the festival experience for the Kentuck visitors.

The final type of artists are exhibiting artists. The Kentuck Festival provides an application process for select artists who want to participate in the event. Applicants are rated by a jury of art professionals from around the country. Those with the highest scores are selected to fill the available booths at the Festival. After being a part of the jury for three consecutive years, they are considered, “invited artists.” As long as they maintain the same quality of work, they are invited, by Kentuck, to return without going through the jury process again. However, if they do not return the following year, the artists must go through and apply again to participate in the jury. It shows a mark of quality of who can attend and show their work at Kentuck. Each of these categories has different promotional techniques that publicize the artists’ work to people attending the festival.

Aaron Keen (pictured above with his artwork), a student getting a bachelor’s degree in ceramic pottery at the University of North Alabama, has submitted his work to similar venues, and hopes to one day participate in the Kentuck Festival.

“[Festivals] definitely help out,“ Keen said. “Even if you don’t sell anything, you can meet somebody that can influence you or that you can collaborate with in some way in the future.”

Curtis Benzle, an exceptionally rare artist who is known for his delicate porcelain sculpting, gave advice for emerging artists based on his own experience. He said when you are beginning as an artist, festivals and similar events are effective ways to get your name out to the public if you take advantage of them.

Stay in contact with the people you meet, otherwise “you’re just another item on a store shelf; there’s a very little chance they will remember who you are,” he said. Give them your information through a postcard, for example, and put them on an e-mail list informing them of upcoming shows and event. This maximizes the benefits of people remembering who you are and separating yourself from the rest of the artists. He emphasized that it all depends on how you expose yourself.

“Some artists treat themselves as the product; they may get the income, but no exposure,” Benzle said. “If you treat it as a public relations and marketing process, then it will be the most beneficial.”

Kentuck believes in the artists’ full potential to publicize themselves. It provides many events to help artists become successful, while also aiding the community in better understanding the arts.

The Full Moon Emerging Artists Program provides business techniques for artists such as photographing their work, learning the professional craft of being an artist and how to effectively market themselves. It’s a special opportunity for artists to learn how to communicate with the public about their work.

The third Saturday of every month, the museum holds an event called “a la cARTe.” It’s held for artists and people to engage in activities together. Artists can demonstrate their work, kids participate in art activities, and people can enjoy all-around good food, provided by local artists, and converse with people who share a common interest.

Art Night is offered every first Thursday of the month. It’s an event promoting the opening of Kentuck Museum’s new exhibition, accompanied by free pizza, music and sometimes artist demonstrations. Jan Pruitt joked, “We like to advertise ourselves as a good cheap date.”

The Kentuck Museum also supports the Northport Fine Arts Commission. With the current economy, it can be hard for elementary schools to provide the funds for art classes for children. Kentuck aids in finding art teachers for the Northport schools, while the city helps pay for them. Kentuck believes in engaging kids in the arts — it gives them a way to express themselves and feel good about something that they physically produced.

Originally, the word “kentuck” came from the 19th century slang term meaning “paradise.” And to some, it may be a paradise of the arts, as Kentuck strives every day to keep the arts alive and thriving through its diverse group of programs.

What promotional activities have you been involved with in your local art community? How you have seen art organizations promote artists and their work?

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