You see them in Naples, on Marco, in, Bonita Springs and Estero, and many of the shopping centers in between — mini tent towns that spring up overnight as vendors, touting everything from fine art to kitsch crafts, set up shop to make seasonal bucks.
During this winter season, an art festival somewhere in Collier and Lee counties was guaranteed nearly every weekend. With Naples, Marco and other Southwest Florida towns likely to host the most summer arts and crafts fairs per capita nationwide, the question arises: What’s the saturation point?
The answer to the question is: It depends. Depends on where you go, what you want, what quality you want, and how much you want to pay.
Aerial artist Barry Howe has been working the Southwest Florida arts and crafts circuit since 1977, and thinks in recent years the market has become glutted with jewelers and photographers.
But, he still perseveres, working the winter market down here and heading north to tout his photography in the summer.
“If you’re an artist and you’re not independently wealthy, you have to travel,” says Howe, who doesn’t think the shows themselves are too plentiful.
“I’d say about 80 percent of the buyers are part-time residents,” Howe said, “so it’s a seasonal thing with a big turnover of people.”
Art show promoter Patty Narozny feels it not so much a glut problem as a quality problem. Narozny organizes and Estero Fine Art show, the sixth of which is planned at Miromar Outlets Nov. 6 and 7.
“We do very few art shows,” she says, “but everything is juried by art professionals, so we’re careful who we let in.”
She agreed there are some “chancers” out there whose goods can be questionable.
“Manufactured goods come in from China, or Africa, and they’re claimed to have been made in the United States,” Narozny said, “so we have to stay on top of these things in the industry.”
To circumvent possible cheats and frauds, Narozny says she has recently made a habit of attending trade shows to see just what sort of items are being imported.
“Some look hand made,” she says, “so we’re always educating ourselves.”
A problem, however, is that there are many legitimate Chinese and Asian artists who produce works that could be perceived as being imported, simply because they contain Chinese writing, for example.
In that case, Narozny says, she consults other relevant artists in her stable for their opinions.
“Sometimes, stuff still gets through,” Narozny says, “but we’re getting better. We share names (of defaulters) with the industry.”
Arts and Crafts show promoter Howard Alan thinks there are too many shows around, with the result that their impact becomes diluted.
“We did the downtown Naples Festival of the Arts for 22 years,” Alan says, “but are no longer doing it. I think that unfortunately Naples and Marco are totally saturated.”
Alan said he decided to move his show to Coconut Point in Lee County, which to him represents a fresher market.
“You do have to understand that the weaker economy affects everyone, so people are not spending what they used to,” Alan says.
Pam Patullo oversees shows primarily on Marco Island, many of which are church affiliated and help fund-raising.
She doesn’t think there’s show overkill.
“You have to remember that it’s for a short period of time to raise money for the rest of the year,” Patullo says. “Three months have to support their whole off-season.”
The same goes for the vendors themselves, she says.
“Another thing is that there’s a constant turnover of people on the island,” Patullo says, “so there’s always somebody new buying.”
Naples artist Edward Park grabs whatever winter shows he can, and then travels north in summer like so many other vendors.
“I do about 18 to 20 shows in season,” Park says, adding that he uses exposure at shows to advertise his Naples studio as well.
“There are a lot of shows in Naples, though,” he says. “You can’t do them all.”
Photographer Howe says rising costs are also a concern.
“You used to send (product) slides for the shows to jury you, and it would cost $5 or $10. Now the jury fee is around $35, and the big shows are really expensive, so I’m not playing their game any more.”
Instead, Howe concentrates on Marco shows, which he says although smaller, attract a different crowd of transient tourists each time.
Howe adds he’s also starting to like the Bonita circuit.
“It’s new, and a little like Naples was 20 years ago. The crowd seems younger and more genteel, and apt to buy more stuff,” Howe says.
Bonita Springs point man is Barry Witt, who put his stamp on the former Naples Spring Arts Festival, changing it to the Naples National Art Festival, and then a few years ago opting for Bonita and the Bonita Springs National Art Festival.
Witt says quality parameters at art shows are broad, and that people are sometimes gullible.
“A long time ago I learned that there is no such thing as bad taste ... just various taste levels,” Witt says.
And, he says, the juried term is very loose.
“I’ve seen the best and worst being juried,” he says. “The question is: Who do you send out to taste the food and determine the quality?”
Witt says another problem in the industry is that some shows are not run specifically for the sake of art, but purely for money.
“Some promoters try to mirror (accredited) shows, but they’re only interested in personal gain,” he says.
Praiseworthy he says, are efforts by local groups (such as on Marco and in Bonita) to put functions together for local artists in vacant stores in malls.
Witt says if saturation is becoming an issue, it would tend to hurt the better events, which in turn would get less media coverage because of that very saturation.
But an accredited show will always win. A good festival, Witt says, will expose everyone to quality work.