At the Rainbow Market
Recently, I received an email from an organization that sponsors a yearly art and music festival. Last year, I participated in their event and deeply regretted every moment of that day.
The mission of the organization is something I deeply believe in and support, but the event broke several of the rules that I've established for myself over the past ten years of doing markets and festivals.
1) I don't sign up for single-day festivals that are more than 1 1/2 hours from my home (I will do multi-days events that are a little further away but I always include hotel accommodations into the budget.)
2) No non-juried events. I've learned from trial and failure that my art does best at fine art venues. If the event is accepting commercial businesses and MLMs, I will not do well.
Still, this is in the middle of the pandemic. All my big festivals and shows for the fall and winter festival season had been canceled on me. I was looking at a dismally empty schedule. Like a lot of southern festival artists, I make most of my money during the spring and fall festival seasons. Summertime is just too hot to be out in the afternoon sun for multiple hours.
Traditionally and locally, I do well at events that promote pride and equality (which is the mission of this organization). The event was only a little bit further than my allowed distance.
I wavered as the sheer emptiness of my work schedule stared back at me.
The vendor fee was reasonable so eventually, I clicked the "sign me up" button and committed to the event.
The day of the event dawned clear and warm, but seasonably so I drove out with a sense of cautious optimism, but after I arrived in my destination city and drove on the final road to the event, traffic in the far right lane was backed up for about three-quarters of a mile. Not wanting to believe that this was the line for unloading for the event, I found a side road that seemed to lead to a restaurant located near the back of the festival grounds because I saw the bright colors of set up canopies and some people unloading trucks.
Maybe I had the location for unloading slightly wrong?
I pulled into the parking lot, found an out-of-the-way place to park, and went in search of an authority figure. Within a few moments, I located a person with a clipboard and a walkie talkie which seemed promising.
I asked about vendor unloading and they pointed at the three-quarter mile-long line of cars. (In my head, I was thinking it was time to turn around and head for home). Fortunately, they had compassion for me and explained that this was the area for unloading the food booths but there weren't many people currently unloading so they told me that I could unload from there.
Gratefully, I hurried over to the set-up canopies and found another person with a clipboard and walkie-talkie. I asked them where I needed to set up and asked for some clarification as to which direction the booths were supposed to face.
The aisles the organizers had set up were strangely narrow and the vendors seemed to be setting up the opening of their booths in all sorts of random directions. Everything looked very disorganized and unplanned (even discounting the mess that was their artist unloading system).
The person with the clipboard told me that it didn't matter, but they supposed I could face whatever directions my neighbors had selected.
If you don't do markets or festivals, this may seem unimportant, but in my years of working festivals, the booths are generally set up in an organized grid pattern with two rows of booths facing one another, with the back of the next row facing the back of the first row.
Patrons can walk up one side and then back down the other so every booth has equal visibility which works best for the majority of artists.
At this point, all the red flags are waving, but I'd driven two hours. I'd managed to slip in the cracks of their disorganized unloading system so I could unload more quickly and easily than most of my fellow vendors so I took a deep steadying breath and followed their directions. I set up in the same direction as the booths nearest me and started setting up.
Hours passed. The unloading was sluggish for most of the vendors. Some of the vendors were still pulling into the unloading zone as much as an hour after the scheduled opening of the event.
I could hear the scheduled performers from where I was set up. I could even hear the odd bit of ragged applause, but we sat for hours. I think I saw maybe twenty customers all day. By the end of the day, I was so ready to go.
After I broke down, I fetched my car from the vendor parking section. I pulled back into the food vendor loading/unloading zone. (I was loaded up and on my way out while the food vendors were still breaking down.)
I'm not sure how the loading experience went for the rest of the vendors but I hope it was not like the nightmare that I'd witnessed that morning.
On the way home, I reflected that I'd broken all my rules for events so I really had no one to blame but myself (and the organizers!)
I belong to a group on Facebook called "Air Fair Reviews" where members can review festivals and markets that they attended as well as to find reviews for events so if an event is a clunker, we can avoid signing up for it. I sat in front of my computer on the day after this dismal festival and contemplated writing up an honest review, but ultimately, I didn't.
It was a poorly run and organized event. (I did contact the organizers after the event and shared my experience and made suggestions as to how I think it could be better, but I never heard back from them.)
This is the main fundraiser for this group. I still believe in their mission. I still support their goals so I couldn't bring myself to leave an honest review.
Where should my loyalty ultimately lie? To my fellow artists who wouldn't want to participate in an event like this one? Or to a greater community that suffers from mistreatment at the hands of society?
I did promise myself that I would stand by the rules that I'd established for myself. There is a reason that I developed a set of criteria and I need to respect myself and my time enough to follow them.