Over the years if there’s any one question that we’re asked over and over to explain… it’s the process of jurying. For those of you who have been in the business for some time you may already know most of this… for those of you starting out… this is essential information. But after talking to thousands of people about the jury process I’ve found that event some of the more experienced exhibitors can still learn a few things. Now I’ll begin this whole discussion by telling you that I am by no means an absolute expert on the subject and what I’m about to tell you is very general in it’s content. But after reading the next few paragraphs I hope you have a better understanding on what jurying is. Additionally, if you feel you have a better explanation than what I’m about to write… more power to you! Put it into words and send it my way.
I predicate this discussion with so many disclaimers because jurying is by no means an “absolute.” It consists primarily of an opinion on the part of the juror. In its most basic form, jurying is simply a process of selection, and most of the time this process actually benefits the exhibitor. A country craft show for example may be juried on the basis of whether the work is hand made by the crafter submitting the work. It could also be done for no other reason than to eliminate too many duplicates of one style of crafts. We’ve all been to shows where there are 100 spaces and 75 jewelers. That’s not bad if you happen to be the one potter in the show… but to be a jeweler in that same show… it would certainly be one long day! After we begin to leave those shows only employing the most basic of selection criteria, this simple process begins to become more complex and take on new meaning. At the same time, it begins to become more a matter of opinion and hence, the basis for more and more disagreement.
Once a show has progressed in popularity to the point where applications outnumber the spaces available jurying is less of a fantasy and more of a reality. Show sponsors start to limit not only category, but style as well. This is the beginning of an uphill spiral benefitting both the show and the sponsors. At this point most of the jurying is designed to keep the show interesting for the shoppers. When you think about it from almost any perspective it makes sense too… everyone wants customers and the more interesting a show can be to prospective shoppers, the more those shoppers want to attend the event every year. The more shoppers that show up, the better sales are for the exhibitors. The better sales are, the more popular the show becomes. The more popular the show becomes, the quantity of applications increases and the jurors have a better selection of exhibitors to pick from. The better the selection to pick from, the more interesting the show becomes for the shoppers and the cycle starts all over again. In the ideal situation, quality and diversity get better and better, sales get stronger and stronger and everyone wins! Now you understand why even the most popular shows that fill fast still run aggressive marketing campaigns to attract exhibitors… because just as that spiral can go up… it can also go down!
As shows get more popular, they may begin to specialize and the jurying process changes too. For example, an event with 100 spaces available and 500 exhibitors to choose from may decide to eliminate anything but primitive crafts… or they may decide that fine art is the way to go… the direction a successful show takes is usually a direct reflection of the market the community offers. Once a show starts to eliminate some types of work in favor of others many times it’s the beginning of a very bright future and the beginning of the end for the show. Show sponsors must exercise extreme caution and good marketing sense when making these decisions and they must also be ready to re-evaluate the shows direction in the event they’ve made a mistake. Unfortunately this is also sometimes becomes a matter of pride among show sponsors rather than good business sense and that can become a problem too. Making an artistic triumph may be a great aesthetic move, but it also could leave you with a short career and skinny kids unless you have some kind of government grant or are independently wealthy.
If the show sponsor has made the right decisions as to the direction of the show, once again the jurying process changes right along with the event. Now we begin to see more people involved in the selection of work. College art professors, local museum directors, art center directors and the like begin to replace the housewives, accountants and bankers we saw in the lower end shows. Unfortunately in the transition, sometimes show sponsors get sidetracked by allowing heavy financial contributors to become jurors rather than truly qualified individuals… this is a mistake to be avoided at all cost. It’s nice to get money from the local car dealer or bank because we all know finances are important, but just because they can balance the books or sell refrigerators to Eskimos doesn’t qualify them to judge art. I don’t tell them how to run a bank just because I can paint or sculpt… He who holds the gold may hold some things, but good taste and an appreciation for art don’t always go hand and hand with the ability to make a buck! In these “high end” shows… whether were talking high end art or crafts… we begin to reach for the ideal artistic goals. Art for the sake of quality art… craft for the sake of quality craft… period. These are the shows the best artists and the best craftsmen prefer because they know judging will be based on creativity, expression, technique and all the other qualities we strive for when perfecting our work.
Jurying… applied in the right way, at the right time, by the right people is the primary catalyst to a self-fulfilling legacy of success for artists, craftsmen and show sponsors alike. The next time you see an event that is “juried”, don’t perceive it as a threat… but look at it as an opportunity to challenge your ability to be your best and offer the finest you have among peers who are doing the same.