The White Tent - Mainstream, Eddies, and Backwaters of Craft.
The Economic Stakes of the White Tent - Reduced Demand

The Economic Stakes of the White Tent - Over Supply

The interaction of supply and demand is the most fundamental concept of economics and it is the backbone of a market economy.  It is described as the state where shifts in supply or demand cause changes in price, up or down, that bring supply and demand back into balance.

Cherry TOMATOESWe see the effect of supply and demand every day at the gas station with fluctuating prices. At the farmer's market, an abundant supply of seasonal fruits and vegetables will be priced lower than at other times. We hear about the oversupply of housing on the news causing depressed housing prices.



Strong demand for new technology supports strong prices with the new Apple 5 phone.

In this post about supply and demand in the craft marketplace, I want to focus on SUPPLY.  This includes the full spectrum of craft supply at all levels from the white tent to "big G" Galleries, i.e. all the potential sales venues for all makers of craft.



Stake for holding up White Tent Let's go back a few years.  In 1979-80, when I was in graduate school in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, I made a pilgrimage to upstate New York to attend the fabled and original craft fair, Reinbeck. Later, in the early 80s, I would wait all year in anticipation of the ACC show coming to San Francisco. These two events represented opportunities to see the work of craft makers in the 20th-century craft movement.


Sausalito art  festival white tents Now in one weekend in metropolitan areas,  there can be any number of craft fairs, art festivals, and street fairs.  In the San Francisco Bay Area, this Friday's evening news mentioned four art festivals. On Labor Day weekend, there were two major art festivals, Sausalito Art Festival and the previously mentioned Kings Mountain Art Fair, both considered premier events.  Makers I know frequently lament about how they must choose between multiple events on the same weekend throughout the year.

A variety of organizations have jumped on the idea of hosting festivals or events. All have the best intentions of supporting the arts, showcasing artists and makers, and creating opportunities for selling while generating their own revenue from application fees, booth fees, parking fees, and food concessions.

The number of events showcasing arts and crafts has exploded in the last 20 years to include fundraising auctions, trunk shows, academic programs selling student work, and museums that now host membership events. For example:

  • MAD just hosted "Loot".
  • Bellevue Art Museum now sponsors the Bellevue Art Museum Arts Fair.
  • Tyler School of Art Alumni Association offers an "event" for alumni to sell work.
  • Academy of Art sells student work at the end of the school year, encouraging low prices to promote retail sales. Ironically, the low prices are a more realistic forecast of the "artist's life" than ever intended.
  • SNAG offered its own trunk show at the last two conferences.
  • Pier One offers handsome, well-designed handmade objects if you didn't find what you want at the local craft show.
  • Nationwide the list just keeps growing.
  • D.I.Y. adds to the handmade mix.
  • This is only a small sample. My mailbox (both email and snail mail) receives regular invitations to participate in all kinds of events.

This doesn't even include the extensive number of Open Studios sponsored by local communities, or online marketplaces which have no barrier to entry. Now anyone who can make anything can try to sell it online.

ARE YOU OVERWHELMED WITH THE NUMBER OF EVENTS?  I am. So is the consumer. "Handmade" has flooded the market.


Supply of craft is generated by all makers of craft. Art schools promote their programs and fill students with optimistic expectations that they can support themselves with the skills learned.  Garth Clark says: "We are hugely overproducing art students for a market that can only accept a small number."  The same scenario exists with the craft programs.

Additional sellers come from the baby boomer generation who pursue a 2nd career to express their creativity. While there is nothing wrong with this new dedication, it astounds me that too often their primary objective is to recover their materials costs. 

Back to basic economics and the principles of supply and demand
Let's be honest.  The flood of "handmade" has impacted the market.  We have generated an excess of supply far beyond market demand. All these shows, festivals, online craft sites, auctions, fairs, etc. have greatly expanded the supply available to a finite number of consumers.  In other words, the rapid growth of supply has exceeded demand. 

If you disagree with the over-supply picture presented, please say so. I'd love to hear about it.

This post only covered the supply side.  The other half of the economic equation is demand. This will be the focus of the next post.


Conversation E from a series of teacups titled Consuming Conversation by Harriete Estel Berman

Consuming Conversation is a series of 200 teacups about our consumer society. The stacks of cups are precariously balanced, not unlike our own economy which has been destabilized by overspending, greed, unsound business practices, and lack of government oversight. 

Artist: Harriete Estel Berman
Teacups are constructed from post-consumer recycled materials. Brass or silver handles.
Stacks are exhibited or sold in groups as photographed.

This post was updated on June 20, 2022, to provide current links.