I've quietly talked to a lot of people about this topic, genuinely trying to understand . . . Why has the White Tent lost credibility? I've long wondered why craft has not attained the stature of "fine art", but actually lost ground.
I'm beginning to conclude that the White Tent of craft fairs and the lack of stature of craft are related. Our marketing of craft is stuck in a 1960's model and we haven't changed our marketing methods to a 21st-century model.
The 1960s earthy, hand-made mystique of the independent artist outside of the corporate world is dated. The craft movement rode a wave of popularity that may well have become a "sinking ship" as described by Garth Clark. I think we rode our "well-crafted boat"* with the mainstream current of American prosperity....but now we are stuck in an eddy.
The mainstream current, the eddies, and the backwater of craft.
Have you ever gone rafting down a river? There's plenty of current in the middle and you hardly need to paddle, but closer to shore along the edge, the eddy currents actually slow down or even go backward, albeit very slowly.
The craft movement rode the easy downstream current for years. We floated along, hit some gentle rapids on occasion, but never built any sustained momentum of our own. As a whole, we craft makers rarely become good at marketing ourselves. For example, the artists participating in craft fairs and art festivals typically depend on the show sponsor for bringing in the crowds. The booth arrangements, displays, and merchandising under the white tent too often are poorly arranged, not engaging, or innovative. I know that the artists and makers are not marketing and display experts, but these are exactly the skills that small business people need to develop in a competitive economy.
My heart is broken. The craft fair format has evolved, but with no direction. The white tent and craft merchandising look the same as they did 30 years ago. The white tent format has floated into an eddy and may be drifting round and round with the appearance of moving but not getting anywhere.
Meanwhile, the D.I.Y. movement jumped onto the craft current and steered itself to catch the emerging currents of the Internet and social networking. Their long-tail marketing absorbed the "authenticity" that craft had 4-5 decades ago. The online buzz and fun names like Bazaar Bizarre captured the mood of a new generation. Their inventory and merchandise weren't so much better, but they leveraged the trendier and lower-cost sales channels like Etsy.
I apologize for all the negativity in this and the previous post. Future posts will discuss the economic principles of supply and demand, the economics of handmade, demographics, and possible solutions or improvements, but I thought it was necessary to lay a foundation for background. Where can we go from here?
*"well crafted" boat was a term used by Garth Clark in his keynote lecture during the 2012 SNAG Conference.
This post was updated on June 20, 2022, to provide current links.