The Fabulous Eastside Culture Crawl

January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

I had the most fun, stimulating and satisfying cultural experience I’ve had in a long, long time at the end of November, last year. It was attending Vancouver’s fabulous visual arts festival, the Eastside Culture Crawl. It was bigger than ever this year, and each year the artists get smarter with their presentation and marketing.

Sadly, it is impossible to visit most of the studios. I started at 5:00 pm on Friday night and lasted until around 9:00 or 9:30. I was back at 10:30 on Saturday morning, to get an early start, and stayed through the afternoon. I took Saturday night off, but was back at it Sunday for a wonderful afternoon. Yet even with all this time invested, I was only able to see four buildings thoroughly, and a few independent studios.

Whereas the One of A Kind Show and the wonderful Circle Craft Market also occur at this time of year, the Crawl has particular appeal to me because of its focus on artists (as opposed to craftspeople). And further, because there are so many artists in the Crawl showing paintings, prints and drawings.

What I love about the Crawl (and Circle Craft) is the opportunity to engage directly with the artists. I visited the small café in the Parker Street studios, and the food vendors outside, in order to ask Crawl visitors about their experiences. Everyone to whom I spoke, was thoroughly enjoying their Crawl visit and entirely positive about every aspect of their experience. The excitement was palpable in the voice of many with whom I spoke. Specifically, they said they loved the variety of work, the festival nature of the event and, above all, meeting the artists. The Crawl not only gives you a chance to talk with artists, it allows you to do so in their studios! Talking with artists “on their home turf” is thrilling for visitors, and selling out of one’s studio is the most comfortable environment for artists to engage new customers. Meeting artists in their own creative space magnifies the emotional experience of customers.

Leading up to opening night, however, I was worried. In advance of the event, I received a lot of e-newsletters from artists inviting me to visit their studio at the Crawl, but three of them had no address. Also, I got two e-newsletters with links that did not work because the artists had made a spelling error. Misspelling was a problem with a few advertisements I received, including one from the Crawl itself. These are details, and they are small problems, but I mention them here in hopes of seeing even minor problems fixed in the future. I do not wish to dwell on the negative, but I will also say that some studios were just too dark for customers, and some price listing and identification information was too small, too poorly written or too messy to read. Lastly, if you are going to serve snacks, have enough or remove the empty plates when you run out.

Returning to the positive, many artists and studios impressed me for different reasons. Judson Beaumont’s studio was a party; his studio is very large and hosted the work of other artists. The live music and the joyful nature of his work, the food and the rich variety of things on display appealed to everyone who entered. Huub Keeven’s studio was hopping; he breaks all the rules and yet it doesn’t matter. His studio was a place of joy. Roselina Hung overwhelmed me with the diversity of her masterful talent. David Cho displayed a spectacular practicality and style in his studio.

More than the work, I will remember the artists I met. And whereas I love revisiting the studios of artists I have met at past Crawls, nothing beats the thrill of a “discovery.” When you go to the Crawl and meet a new artist, like Roselina or David or Patricia Chauncey, whose work and/or personality resonates with you, you begin a journey that can last the rest of your life. When I enter a studio of someone new to me and have an overwhelming emotional experience, it is the high I seek in going to the Crawl each year. It is the discoveries that make the Crawl such a rich emotional experience.

Perhaps my most surprising experience was entering the studio of a lovely, reserved woman of considerable talent. She was in a studio with lots of wall space and I was really taken with her skill. But her subject matter was commonplace; her images looked like countless others, just much better done. It made me sad because no artist has a greater marketing challenge than one with a lot of competition, no matter how talented the artist is. Her work made me think immediately of how smart David Cho is to paint what he paints: boxers. He paints highly unique images, and it is working.

As I said, I could only scratch the surface of the studios that together comprise the Crawl experience. There were over 300 artist studios open. If you visited the Crawl and have recommendations for future Crawls and/or about visual art marketing in general, let me know. I have started an art marketing blog where I can make note of my experiences as a consumer of visual art. Visit http://visualartmerchandising.blogspot.com to read more about my Crawl experience and the artists I mention above, you can also link to the websites of the artists I write about in this Opus-sponsored blog.

I am not only interested in the Crawl experience. My blog is a place where I can post positive comments about smart visual art marketing practices and ideas over time. If you have an idea for a post, please send it to me at ctyrell@shaw.ca. I prefer and welcome submissions that include an image.

Chris Tyrell is an arts writer and educator. His opinion piece has appeared in our newsletter since it began in 1986.

In his new Art Marketing Blog, Chris shares his insights on professional artist development, exploring avenues of promotion for Canadian visual artists. To learn more, visit: http://www.visualartmerchandising.blogspot.com