Gwynne’s Trip to the Buyers Market of American Craft

August 30, 2011

Back in July, I had the honor of attending the World Craft Council North American board of directors meeting and week of events in Baltimore, MD.  The World Craft Council is a non-profit organization that is made up of 5 regions: Africa, Asia Pacific, Europe, Latin America and North America.  The World Craft Council’s purpose is to strengthen the status of crafts as a vital part of cultural and economic life, to promote fellowship among the craftspersons of the world, to offer them encouragement, help, advise and foster economic development through income generating activities.

The World Craft Council North America board is made up of executives from craft organizations across North America.  Ten of us came together to attend the Buyer’s Market of American Craft (BMAC), learn more details about Fair Trade, host a board meeting, attend cultural institutions in Baltimore and Washington, DC, and meet with artists.  (All this while being filmed by PBS for an hour long special on the World Craft Council North America.)

My first day in Baltimore, I had time to wander around the floor of the BMAC.  There were about 200 artists set up in booths in the Baltimore Convention Center and many of those artists certainly caught my eye.

Glass artist Karine Demers ,from Granby, Quebec, Canada, creates whimsical blown glass vases that often are off center, or have drooping necks.  They are made with bright opaque glass and often have an enamel painted panel of glass that contains freaky looking characters, some with a black eye, a crown, and these fabulous puckered lips.

Another artist who caught my eye, is Barbara McKinder.  Barbara comes from Pacific Grove, California.  Her jewelry uses recycled materials and puts parts never intended to be jewelry into wonderfully organic and balanced pieces. Her jewelry was so captivating; I had to buy a pair of earrings!

During my stay, I attended a screening of the most recent episode in the Peabody Award winning PBS series Craft in America (craftinamerica.org).  This episode titled Messages featured artists Beth Lipman, Thomas Mann, Charles Carillo, and Joyce Scott.  Executive Producer, Carol Sauvion introduced the episode and Joyce Scott, a fellow “Baltimoron” (as she introduced herself) was there as well.  Carol and Joyce talked about their experiences filming the episode and Joyce answered questions about herself and her artwork. Joyce is an amazing bead artist, who makes provocative and controversial work, commenting on race, gender, and economic class.

The BMAC not only showed amazing artwork from across the nation, but hosted classes for emerging artists as a part of the Arts Business Institute (ABI). I attended Bruce Baker’s (bbakerinc.com) Wholesaling 101 class. Over the past 16 years, Bruce has taught more than 500 workshops throughout the United States and Canada on the subjects of Booth Construction, Marketing, Sales, Slide Presentations, Customer Service, Visual Merchandising, Trends that affect the Craft/Gift Business and Jewelry Display.  He also has produced four CD’s that talk about each of these subjects.  I absolutely love listening to Bruce’s CD’s and knew I was going to enjoy him in person just as much if not more.  Bruce, being his usual dynamic self, had some wonderful advice for artists interested in wholesaling.

He started the class off by saying that no matter how well you market your work or set up a great booth, you must make compelling work; ‘If you don’t make good work, you won’t sell anything’. Wholesaling your work brings it to the next level, he feels. It can open up other markets and give you exposure on a national level. He talked about pricing and production and offered questions for artists to consider, like: “are you willing to make the same piece over and over again?” And, “Can you make your units quickly?”  He says volume is the key to profits in wholesaling and it is important to find ways to streamline your production or using machines to help speed up production time is important.  Bruce also talked about the wholesale trade show and booth set-ups.  He feels all booths must have a theme, focus, and good merchandising, and having large-scale photos is necessary along with hanging items from the top of your booth if at all possible.  He feels that products hanging from above invite the customer to touch the merchandise and that puts them one step closer to buying.  The class also addressed all the collateral materials necessary from business cards and catalogs, to order writing and shipping.

Bruce’s last words to the class were that anyone who comes in contact with you and your work wants to hear your story and by telling the story of you and your work, the client connects to you and that ultimately can increase your opportunity for a sale.  Wholesaling might not be for everyone, but it can open up a whole new territory and opportunity for the artist willing to make production work.

My trip was filled with too much excitement for one post! Stay tuned for next time when I’ll wrap up the week with a trip to Washington DC, and a visit to Artscape, the largest free arts festival in the United States.

–Gwynne

Executive Director, HandMade in America

Links of interest:

Arts Business Institute (ABI)

Buyers Market of American Craft (BMAC)

Karine Demers

Barbara McKinder

Craft in America

Carol Sauvion to speak in Asheville for American Craft Week

Joyce Scott

Bruce Baker

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