-By Arnie Fenner
Did you miss having a Spring show this year? We sure did!
Cathy, I, or John Fleskes have explained elsewhere, but there seems to be some ongoing confusion about the what, when, and why of Spectrum Fantastic Art Live's (SFAL for short) dates and location so I thought I'd talk about it a bit here on Muddy Colors today to help clear things up.
When the local comicon sniped our traditional May dates—theirs had always been in March—and made an already compacted and crowded convention season in Kansas City even more crushing, we felt compelled to plan a move to San Francisco (the neighborhood of Flesk Publications) in association with the Academy of Art University…but early on it never felt quite right.
The location that was offered to us by the school was far from ideal: it was in an industrial part of the city far away from hotels and restaurants and access would have been via the university's extensive shuttle bus service from downtown. Parking was virtually nonexistent for attendees, the October dates that the school insisted we use for the show unfortunately conflicted with other events, and the expense to stay, drink, and eat for everyone would have been seriously higher. Alternatives to the school’s venues, both in SF and San Jose posed serious challenges as well (ask us about the deal The Woz struck with San Jose to squeeze out perceived competition to his convention sometime).
Anything is possible if the desire is there, but everything comes with a price tag and the subsequent tough decision to back away from plans to hold the show in San Francisco in association with the AAU was not made lightly. Spectrum Fantastic Art Live has always been about benefiting the entire art community—the creators, the patrons, and the fans—and everything with the show has to make sense, including the dates, the costs, and the venue. We had heard from a great many exhibitors and attendees who enjoyed the convenient, casual and friendly atmosphere of Kansas City and were actually disappointed by the move out of the midwest, which pleasantly surprised us.
We've always known that doing a convention isn't just about our bottom line, but about everyone else's, too, and we pay attention to what's happening in the marketplace. Some might remember that we had originally planned to start the Spectrum Live convention way back in 2008 but delayed it as the recession hit with a vengeance and held on. Customers aren't lining up to buy anything, much less art, when they've either lost their jobs or are worried about losing them. As the economy improved, as consumer confidence returned, we felt the time was right to try to increase the appreciation for our field. The attendance to SFAL has grown each year since we began in 2012, despite our having to address various obstacles that would always spring up unexpectedly, so we know that we have not yet fully achieved the potential of growing the audience for the fantastic art community. Spectrum, after all, has always been about opening doors, not closing them—and we’ve always believed the health of our field depends on reaching new people, not just in preaching to the choir.
Above: The Gallery Gerard set up at SFAL4 in 2015. Boy oh boy I wanted Annie Stegg's
painting (third from the left), but was too far back in the line of collectors competing for it.
As with past shows, sales of originals and prints at SFAL in May 2015 were great for some, good for others, and not so hot for a few—that's pretty much the way it always is for every convention, big or small.
Last Autumn sales were reportedly very disappointing for exhibitors of Fantasy-themed art at several conventions. Many felt that the poor sales might have been due to a recent Heritage auction which included another portion of Jane and Howard Frank's immense art collection. Personally, I don't believe that one really had anything to do with the other.
Speaking bluntly (as is my wont), original art is a luxury item and sales are often tied to the cycle of confidence and stability. The current political climate and tone of the Presidential campaigns (the Brexit hasn't helped) have had a significantly negative impact on art purchases as people worry about the economy and the future in general. Shoot, even the 1% have cut back on their buying. With a convention there is always the temptation to "keep going full steam" and ignore the lookout's warning that there's ice ahead, but rather than bull through and make SFAL happen someplace sometime in 2016 regardless, we opted to take a breather, let the dust settle, and optimistically hope things get back to normal after November.
All though it might seem like we’ve taken a year off we’ve actually been talking and planning nonstop on how to better make Spectrum Fantastic Art Live serve the community. The Spectrum 23 awards ceremony May 7 at the Society of Illustrators in New York was a modest way to stay connected and was most definitely fun, but…there’s no place like home.
Spectrum Fantastic Art Live will take place April 21-23, 2017 in Kansas City, MO.
We will be utilizing the Municipal Exhibition Hall—301 W. 13th St—a grand and unique space that is part of the Kansas City Convention Center. There will be two primary entrances to the exhibit floor on 13th Street and 14th Street; all exhibitors will be in the same room with the Artist Alley tables encircling the booths on an open Mezzanine; the 13th St. entrance opens directly into Artist Alley while the 14th St. entrance opens directly onto the main floor. As in years past the venue is within 1 block of the hotels, the theater, restaurants, and bars. There has been a lot of construction going on downtown and the amenities continue to increase (including the addition of free streetcars). Wendy Prather and the crew at Liberty Exhibition Services will once again set the floor and provide support for exhibitors throughout the show. Free WiFi is available in the hall; Greenwave will again provide additional electrical and high-speed internet options for those who need it (at a fee) and Harvest will provide AV options.
The Spectrum 24 awards ceremony will take place Saturday April 22 at the historic Folly Theater. If you've attended past ceremonies, you'll know it's a special night at a special venue and you'll like what we have in store for 2017. Lazarus Potter will once again be the stage manager.
While providing a positive atmosphere for creatives to learn, socialize, and network, our primary goal is to get as many art customers for exhibitors through the door as possible and with that in mind we’re exploring all options to attract them. Despite increased attendance, Spectrum Fantastic Art Live still maintains an intimate and friendly atmosphere; we know there’s room for growth without sacrificing everything that makes SFAL inclusive and special.
Above: Kansas City has added streetcars that run downtown from the River Market to Crown Center
every 10 minutes from 6am to 2am on weekends. And...they're free.
As we have for previous shows we will, of course, advertise via print, television, radio, and social media, but we’re also being creative with our guests, programming, demos, workshops, and even the price to attend and shop (figuring that the more money thats's in an attendee’s pocket, the more they’ll have to spend on a print, book, or original). There will be much more news—including attendee ticket prices, hotel information and special rates, and special activities during the show—forthcoming and I encourage everyone to check the SFAL website and the SFAL Facebook page often for updates.
Yes, artists can share booths or tables. Yes, we will need volunteers. Yes, we’re always interested in listening to your ideas, concerns, and suggestions (just contact us via the website). And yes, the floor details are still being finalized, but there will be approximately 100 prime 10’x10’ booths available and approximately 60 Artist Alley tables: half the booths and tables are already sold. If demand exceeds space we will create a wait list.
Above: The Special Guest line-up for 2017. Brom, Laurie Lee Brom, James Gurney, Iain McCaig, Wendy & Richard Pini, and Terryl Whitlatch are sponsored by SFAL. Flesk Publications is sponsoring Special Guests Frank Cho, J.A.W. Cooper, Terry Dodson, and Gary Gianni. We've got some special activities up our sleeves planned with our guests.
If you're interested in exhibiting, what to do first? Easy: submit a query for a booth or table via the form on the website (it’s pretty straight forward). Applicants will be quickly vetted, not to exclude but to ensure that each exhibitor is an artist or is art-centric (art dealers, art publishers, art reps, or educators). Once vetted an agreement will be provided and payment taken.
And then the countdown begins. SFAL can't exist without you: this is your show and it can only succeed with your active support. If you want an event that is focused on the artists, one that is cost effective and inviting to all without prejudice or pretension, please plan to exhibit—and then promote your appearance to your patrons and fans. We hope to see everyone in Kansas City in 2017!