Bill Kinney – A Different Kind of Show Director
Bill Kinney is a new breed of show director, coming from years of experience selling his own photography at art shows. His diverse background brings many skills to the table, making his shows in demand by some of the higher end artists on the circuit.
Bill’s web site is http://www.paragonartevents.com
Q: What makes you a different style of promoter?
I would say my sensibilities and my skill set are what sets me apart.
Q: Specifically what is about those characteristics that influences your approach and sets you apart from other promoters?
For one, I am an artist myself. These are my contemporaries and many have come to be close personal friends over the years. I am passionate about and driven to help artists succeed. This also means that my objective is to ensure art patrons find the events, meet the artists and purchase works of art created by these artists. In a general view, this ensures the artists and the outdoor art venue concept succeed. More specifically, that Paragon events succeed.
My skill sets come from a corporate background that includes marketing strategies, publications, communications, nightclubs and rock-and-roll promotion. These are all skills that are essential in promoting events in general and specifically events such as art shows. I wonder what skill sets other show promoters bring to their events.
Q: What is the difference between promoting a rock-and-roll event and an art show?
Logistics. In promoting a rock-and-roll concert you are dealing with 30 people in security alone. You coordinate concession crews, caterers, stage managers, lighting and sound technicians – a multitude of big and little details. Also, crowds of people that legitimately number into the tens of thousands at each event and the personalities of the musicians and their entourages.
A similarity is ensuring the safety of both the public attending the event and everyone associated with producing the event. Same in an art show. Also that you are bringing people to the event for a specific purpose: art, be it the art of the musician or the art of the visual fine artists and crafters. Another similarity is that the event deals with the personalities of the artists – in rock and roll it is the musicians and their entourage, in art shows it is the diverse array of the personalities of the artists themselves. A Paragon event is like dealing with 90 ego driven musicians simultaneously.
Q: What made you decide to produce art shows?
Artisans that knew my background in rock-and-roll prodded me for years to promote art shows. Initially, any opportunity that came to me from communities or entities that wished to have me promote an art event I passed off to another industry promoter.
My interest increased as my dissatisfaction grew with how I saw art shows being run. It all came to a head when I started doing art shows myself and personally experienced bad policies, poor choices and unethical decisions being made by promoters.
A point here is that artists are effectively a customer of the event, though rarely treated as one. Too often artists are treated with disrespect, almost like second-class citizens. I am not advocating artists be catered to their every whim or personal ‘needs’. I am saying shows need to listen and consider legitimate concerns and issues and improve their events accordingly. In general, artists tend to have years more experience than promoters that run a single event once a year.
Q: What is Paragon’s philosophy. What are the objectives for your events?
Our number one goal is safety: both the artists and the public. Second is the success of our artists: without their success the event fails. Third is advocacy for the businesses in the communities hosting our events: our events are designed to augment their levels of business, not detract from them.
Paragon is data-driven. We collect data and review it. Our goal is to be as objective as possible about our events and the success of our artists, not subjective. Did the show succeed and did our artists succeed? We collect data to evaluate that. This is the advantage of my coming from the corporate world.
Our goal is to reduce the size of our events to a boutique size of 80-150 booths maximum. We incorporate use of the phrase “fine art” to distinguish our customer base – a privileged class with disposable income and appreciation of the arts. I don’t need people coming to our shows looking for pumpkin head piece of lawn art or lavender-scented soap, someone that will take away a parking spot from a patron willing to come spend $5000 to $10,000 for a piece of art.
Q: What do you see as the biggest pitfalls in the way shows are run?
What I refer to as “feeding the beast”. Coconut grove is a prime example with over 400 artists, $800 booth fees and a $50 jury fee. Unconscionable by my estimation.
Coming out of the financial collapse in September 2008, art shows, art associations and organization, promoters and directors all wanted to maintain that same level of income they had enjoyed up to that point. Although the change in the economy necessitated a change in approach, the art show community as a group failed to respond. It was as if everyone put on rose-colored glasses and blinders and said to themselves “everything is just fine”. It was not and it is not.
So more booths were added to shows, even already big shows, to where many shows are now supporting 250 to 500 artists. This is unconscionable in this economy. Also jury fees continued to rise as did booth fees with many shows requiring payment of booth fees 4-6 months in advance of the event. This all contributes to raising the cost of doing business for artists in an economic time when they can least afford it. Added to this was the rise in transportation and lodging prices, often doubling travel costs. Hence the origin of the phrase we are all familiar with in terms of lowered show sales: “the new good” which is not “good”.
Simultaneously, applications of quality artists decreased as many artists failed and left the show circuit. My estimate is that about 40% of the artists have failed since the economic collapse of 2008. This opened the door for more crafters to be given spots in the fine art shows and buy-sell and reps to infiltrate all types of shows at a higher rate than previously. Overall, I believe the quality of art at shows is suffering dramatically.
Q: What do you recommend for this art show industry and event promoters to consider?
To begin, I truly believe every promoter should be an artist for six months to fully understand what is entailed with artists doing shows and what each promoter is asking of their artists. Make sure one of those events is their own.
From start to finish, see and evaluate how effective communication is, how sensible are decisions from the jury process to the layout and setup. Understand what is entailed when the decision is made for a 5:00 am setup, break down in the rain, setting up their booths after having to dolly in 100 yards or sitting in a booth in a 114-degree heat index. Pay attention to weather so a weather event does not destroy booths and artwork. Realize the implications to artists of a decision to put booths on spur streets, parking lots off the main street, artists and artwork next to toilets or having physical obstructions in their booth. And collect data on sales to objectively evaluate how well everything worked: what was the success rate of the artists and the support from the community.
An art show is not just an “event”, it is a specific type of an event. It is about art: simply, solely, completely. That has to be the focus of the event. All decisions made must target a specific clientele. It is about art – simply, solely art. And we as artist all know the saying: “it is not about bodies it is about buyers”. Attendance numbers of themselves rarely mean anything. Sales mean everything.
Q: Same question only regarding artists. What do you recommend artists consider going forward?
What artists need to do is to band together and set up a standardization for all art show promoters. They need to unionize. Set up a certification program through a group such as NAIA, where show directors have to agree and follow a series of standards. They need to empower themselves. They need to make sure the promoter is advertising, providing adequate security, have some safeguard programs in place to monitor weather and inform artists if weather becomes an issue. There are booths that are being sold in dead zones. We need to be able to go to those promoters as an entity and say “you cannot do this any longer”, that artists will not accept these conditions. Realistically, it sounds great but it is like herding cats. Artists tend to be incredibly myopic; they need to have a grander vision of the event and the artist community. They need to think as a unit. Art show are about a collective group of artists, not individuals.
Q: What have you found to be the greatest challenges in promoting art shows?
If an artist fails at a new event, Paragon’s event or anyone else’s, the initial response of too many artists is to run to the blogs and trash the event and the promoter. They have an expectation from the event and if it is not met, someone is to blame – almost always the promoter.
This is not unique to Paragon. In reality, what they are doing is undermining their own business. After the first year of an event, we evaluate what worked and didn’t work and make changes to make the second year more successful. Our vision and goals are long-term. Our concept is to harvest from that marketplace for years to come. Blogs have a certain power to undermine that growth process.
Q: How did you handle your first failure?
I went into depression for a month. Blogs were unkind. However, as they say: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. We have a belief, a confidence, in what we do and how we do it. So now when a blog is written with an inflammatory and accusatory nature, I usually respond, although more and more of the blogs are closed and the option to respond is often not available to the promoter. Understand, we do not have issue with someone describing their personal experience at an event, as long as they constrain themselves to describing just that: their personal experience only, good or bad. Stick to the facts.
Q: What do you predict for the industry going forward
The industry is currently in a state of disrepair if not decline. Applications of quality artists are decreasing as artists retire or ‘give up’. As a result, too many shows are allowing low-end craft and buy-sell simply to fill spaces. As a result, “Art shows” are losing their uniqueness and luster, becoming disassociated from art patrons.
Particularly in Florida, where I moved to a few years ago. Communities are seeing influxes in tourism that are taxing their infrastructure. Many of those communities seek to reduce the size of their community events or completely eliminating them. If the show promoters do not take this seriously, monitoring their shows and determining their failure rates and if they don’t accommodate the host community businesses, there is a good chance there will be few or no shows as we currently know them in five years in most communities across Florida. When the shows disappear, so will the artists.
Q: Do you have any final words?
Artists are a national treasure and everything possible should be done to support and help them survive. Art shows need to change to continue as a viable market allowing artists to earn a living creating and selling their artwork. “The price of doing the same old thing is higher than the price of change”. Bill Clinton