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Interview with Les Slesnick - 03/18/12
about the Joint Council on Accreditation of Art Fair Artists

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The Premise on which this Initiate is Based
Les: That it's much easier, and much more productive, and a lot less libelous, to prove an artist is honest and above board than it is to prove an artist is dishonest and below board. And that by recognizing the honest ones, we increase their sales and hopefully eliminate some of the dishonest ones along the way. This is a win-win for everybody: the artist, the art fair (and art fair director), and the communities we serve. The premise is quite simple. The mechanisms by which we engage the premise are what's challenging.
The first meeting was in Charlotte late last year and it received an overwhelmingly positive response from the artists. The second meeting was held in Ft Myers in early January. That meeting was also overwhelmingly positively received. Both of those meetings were in contrast to the Winter Park meeting where the artists that attended were quiet and non responsive or resistant.
Larry: You come across as an advocate for art shows and not artists because youíre proposing that the artists do the art shows job.
Les: The most enthusiastic positive response Iíve gotten out of an art show is exactly that. At last, we donít have to do the job of policing because the artists are going to do that themselves as sort of a peer review. But that really never entered my mind until an art show came back with that response. It was very well received on those grounds that we (the art shows) donít have to spend so much time checking out artists, looking up web sites, asking questions, and contacting people. That the artists themselves are going to do it.
I thought about that response and wondered if that was the way it should be. So thatís when I came up with the term peer review. This whole organization is peer review and no one in the organization will be art show connected; it will be all artists. In actuality, I think the way the artists are looking at it is quite wrong. Iím advocating to both artists and art fairs.
Iíve learned a lot since I started doing this. Iím not a psychologist but there is an elite group of artists out there who in their elitism claim that they are not elite. I donít know what that is in psychology terms.
Larry: Denial or maybe just that artists need to have large egos to do what they do.
The Future of Art Shows
Les: Everyone agrees that art fairs are a dime a dozen. The top tier shows, or the shows that want to succeed in the future, will have to define themselves very quickly and separate themselves from the rest. What I hope happens is that the people who want to buy art will save their money and spend it at a show where we have artists who do all the work themselves. That would be my goal.
Buy/Sell and Enforcing Rules
Les: This was a complete shock. Thereís thinking among at least one art fair director that this is the way the industry may be going. Why not have a little import or buy/sell in the mix if thatís what the people want. Letís give the people what they want, that thereís nothing wrong with it.
Larry: It all comes down to the show prospectus and whether or not the shows enforce their own rules.
Les: Buy sell is only a concern to the artists and art fairs. Buy/sell is not a concern to the buying public at all, except only in a very rare instance. Iíve concluded that there are two types of art buying public. 99.9% of the public are people who like art but are people who arenít sophisticated enough to know the difference between the value of the guy in the booth doing it and the guy in the booth simply importing it. The other 0.1% of the art buying population are the people who love art but are sophisticated enough to understand and appreciate the value of the artist using his own hands to create what they sell.
I put up a plaque in an artistís booth and sat on a chair across for the booth the better part of two days. Hardly anybody looked at the plaque. Even if it was pointed out by the artist there was minimal interest. Another artist who had a plaque in his booth related the same result to me. Nobody cared. Rarely did the public care whether the artist was accredited or made the work with his own hands. That to me should be very frightening to artists in this industry. Because whatís become clear to me through this very informal study is that the vast majority of people spending money at art festivals donít care where it came from. They could care less where it came from as long as they like it and have the money to pay for it.
So itís not that the situation is worse than I thought but itís quite different. One: the vast majority of people who go to art festivals to buy art do not care whether the person in the booth made the work. And two: the most frightening thing I learned is that the some of the thinking may be is that there may be nothing wrong with putting a little buy/sell here and there, as long as itís good quality, because thatís what the public wants.
Larry: I donít think thatís valid. I think itís that they donít stop to think about it. But if you were to interview people at an art show, I think most would expect that everything theyíre looking at is hand made. I think that there needs to be a survey of art fair attendees on whether or not they think the artist in the booth makes their own work. This would be easier for pay admission shows where, at all the entrances; people could be given a single yes or no question to answer. That would be the best way to get some hard statistical evidence from the public on what theyíre expecting to see at the shows.
Larry: In getting back to your original concept, instead of accrediting artists, why not accredit the jurors and show directors. If there had been a discussion on the best way to combat buy sell, I would have suggested educating jurors as a way to start. Create a DVD that helps jurors spot buy sell. The DVD can even help show directors define mediums by having multiple artists in each medium interviewed in their studio and end with example pictures from commercial web sites of buy/sell commonly found at art shows.
Les: Thatís a wonderful suggestion. Instead of people criticizing what I have thought of already, my hope was that I would hear some of what you said Larry. What I canít figure out is why, when some artists donít agree with you they canít counter with another idea that might indeed be better.
Larry: Is this only about weeding out buy sell or is it more? There is mention of materials that artists use on the web site.
Les: The basic premise is honesty, which would clearly include buy/sell. Accreditation, at this time, is not addressing ancillary issues, but may in the future should the initiative continue. A by-product of the recognition, though, is hopefully an increase in sales, and there has been evidence of that. At this time, the evidence is scant, but it is there. I have an email in hand from an artist who credits additional sales at Coconut Grove directly to being accredited.
Larry: So my feeling about accreditation is that itís much easier accrediting a few hundred people (jurors and show directors) than 15,000 to 20,000 people.
Les: My goal was never to get it all accredited. My goal was to keep it quite small.
Larry: But whatís the point of that if shows start using it as criteria for acceptance?
Les: They never will.
Larry: But thatís everybodyís fear, which is why thereís so much negativity. Artists feel that they don't need more hoops to jump through, or to be forced to spend more money to apply to shows. My thinking is that this is something artists are already paying for with their jury fees?
Les: I agree with what you said about artists jumping through hoops. From the very beginning, the program has been written to make this as ďhooplessĒ as possible for artists. Some artists can be really narrow in their views and not interested in the overall health of the industry. I realize that they have to do whatís right for themselves, but until you take care of the health of the art fair industry, you canít take care of the health of the individual artist. At least it got people thinking. I did accomplish something, though I may not have the best solution for the issue. Iím reminded of a Wall Street Journal article about the demise of Eastman Kodak that said, and I paraphrase, unless you reinvent yourself, you are doomed to failure.

The project is currently in a period of assessment and re-assessment. Other than clarifications and corrections to existing material on the website, no additional artists will be added at this time. Comments and suggestions will be reviewed and considered as they are received. All constructive suggestions and ideas, whether or not in agreement with this initiative, will be considered and acknowledged; rude and accusatory responses will be discarded. Changes and modifications to the online material will be made as necessary. Information and feedback obtained over the next few weeks, or months, will help determine the course to be taken. Les Slesnick

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