Oh Re: Craft & Relic, I’m very disappointed in you.
So when this show was pitched to me by the original second in command (they’re on their third one of those, btw. They’ve also changed their layout twice and raised their fees twice. Portentious, or merely noteworthy? For me, it’s starting to sound like people in way over their heads and scrambling. But what do I know.) it was pitched as a fine junk meets fine craft meets fine art arrangement. Which sounded AWESOME. And everyone I tell that to says it sounds awesome. And my neighbors 3 Wren Street, the pickers that I was back to back with for most of the times I’ve done the show, and I found such sales mojo in that idea. People asked me “Where do you find all this stuff?” and I would turn and point to them, and people would ask them “What do you do with this kind of stuff?” and they would turn and point to me. It was wonderfully symbiotic and profitable for both of us.
The first couple of shows there was a good mix of the aforementioned species of vendor. Fewer fine artists than crafters or junkers but that was ok. It was still a category well represented. And I did alright there. Not bangarang by any means, but certainly worth going and worth committing early to the next date, even though it was a lower profit show because thanks to travel costs it was as expensive to do as Lakeview. But I had total faith in the vision of uniting under one roof all of the Things.
There are two main ways of running a show, broadly speaking. You can be strict about what sorts of vendors you have, trusting that the vibe you create will draw the crowd you want for the kind of event you want to have. And it will. It won’t pay off as quickly, and you have to do a lot more legwork, but if you build it, they will come. Or, you can just let a sort of Darwinism rule and the kinds of vendors who apply to your show will naturally slant towards whatever the crowd that’s handy wants, because that’s who does well there and keeps coming back. But you end up with more of a flea market than an art/craft show. Which is exactly what’s happened with Re:Craft & Relic. I was one of four fine artists this go around. There were few fine crafters (fine craft includes things like jewelry and body products/home products too), and everybody else was either a junker or people who quite clearly were doing the least amount of work possible for their products. So your event starts looking like a Hobby Lobby or a Cracker Barrel Old Country Store crossed with a flea market. The average demographic of your crowd starts moving towards older women and moms who are not looking to spend any more than $20 on anything. And the natural result is that the actual makers who can’t compete with people who aren’t making a damn thing stop doing your show.
So. Here we are, RC&R. I had me some real talk with your number 2, and it was not reassuring. She told me you never billed yourself as a fine arts venue, which isn’t entirely true, but isn’t entirely false either. She also gave me the, “Well, that’s what this area wants” kind of thing. Which is true, but doesn’t have to affect the show if you’re willing to put in the time. Franklin is a very churchy, conservative area. But Milwaukee is right next door, and Wisconsinites are extremely willing to drive to get to things, unlike Chicagoans. Traffic and parking in a city this size makes everyone want to stay within a few El stops of their homes, but Milwaukee and its environs is totally different. You can get a city crowd to come to BFE in Wisconsin, and they did at first. When they were actually trying.
Bottom line is, if this isn’t my crowd anymore, it’s not my crowd and that’s just something I have to deal with. But the total lack of discrimination when it comes to who they’re allowing to vend there is disappointing in the extreme. I would never in a million years knock a good flea market. If this were turning into one then I don’t belong there as a vendor but I would part with no regrets. That’s not what’s happening though. What’s happening is what happened to ren faire and so many other solid shows. They’re going profit over content, not being picky if the “handmade” is done in China, but still billing themselves as a show that promotes unique handmade goods. Those that are actually making such things are left to struggle to get their prices with people who are definitely not. And the majority of the crowd really doesn’t know the difference. All they see is something priced at $20 versus something priced at $40. Those who know and appreciate the difference stop coming to the show because there’s nothing they want. And so it goes.
Part of me thought it was too tasty a concept to work in the long run. I guess my skepticism was well warranted. Though it was groovy while it lasted. I’m still on the fence as to whether to give it one more go in November. I had been doing fine there right up until this time around. Though the vendor profile has changed rather abruptly.
But this kind of thing, in case anyone was curious, is why all of us makers of things are always hollerin’ shit like “buy local” and “pay the artists” from the rooftops. Because resellers will infiltrate the best of shows, and it’s important to know the difference between something someone made and something someone bought wholesale.
If you believe in handmade, walk your talk. Don’t patronize the shows that let a buncha mass produced crapola pass as art. Don’t be lied to. Support the arts by going to the shows that support the artists (slash crafters, slash fine junkers, slash upcyclers, slash insert word for not made in China here.)