S.B. Conference & Visitors Bureau

Sunday Art Show Suffers Not-So-Benign Neglect

Friday, September 6, 2013
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In the recent tempest surrounding Visit Santa Barbara’s new logo design, the Santa Barbara Arts and Crafts Show finds itself getting a little attention as well. As a longtime member of this show, I know I speak for a great many others when I respond with a resounding, Yay! It’s about time!

For those who may not know, a little history: The Santa Barbara Arts and Crafts Show was started in the 1960s by a small group of artists. In 1965, the citizens of Santa Barbara voted to make it a permanent part of our city. The show celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2014 and is the only continuous, non-juried art festival of its kind in the entire country. All work is created by local artists and must be sold by those same artists, thus guaranteeing a connection between artist and patron that is rare. The show includes artists and artisans who are just starting out, as well as those more established, whose work is sold in galleries around the country. Long a local favorite for the shopping and as a destination that guarantees a full day’s entertainment for guests from out of town, this colorful outdoor venue currently finds itself in need of a little TLC.

Most cities celebrate their art shows, and in years past, Santa Barbara did too. For reasons unknown, that support stopped. Although the show is administered by the city’s Parks and Recreation director and is technically a part of the city, somehow it along the way it began being treated as if it were a private entity.

Approximately 10 years ago, after requesting advertising funds from the city and being refused, the artists and artisan themselves, who already collectively pay the city over $100,000 in membership dues, plus sales tax and parking fees, felt obliged to use money out of their own pockets to advertise the show.

This self-promotion budget has proven too small to be effective. As a result, the show that once boasted a membership of 350 with a three-year waiting list now has a membership of approximately 200.

In an effort to turn things around, the show’s Advertising Committee recently appealed to Mayor Schneider and the City Council, requesting they recognize what is at stake should this show continue to waste away and asking that they come to our aid. Mayor Schneider did not respond. Three council members did. We learned that there is a prevailing misconception that this show is a private entity and should advertise itself! Interesting, given the city’s Municipal Code clearly shows the City Council itself establishing this show. But I digress … at any rate, no action seems forthcoming.

To illustrate our frustration: The head of Parks and Rec (paid) once requested show members (unpaid) meet and brainstorm ideas to generate more money for the city from our show. We did. Our two top ideas were for the city to provide refreshment stands within the show line and an ATM for tourists’ convenience. “Where’s an ATM?” is a commonly asked question, and the lack of refreshment stands is a huge oversight, not only because they could bring in more income for the city but because people naturally expect to be able to purchase refreshments at a show like this. Many of us have rescued older folks from the heat and/or long walk, especially in summertime, offering them our own chairs to rest in and our own beverages to drink while they recuperate. There isn’t even a public drinking fountain in the area, for heaven’s sake!

We were told Parks and Recreation loved these two ideas. They had nothing to do with advertising, but they would definitely help the quality of the tourists’ experience with the show, so this was great news. But here’s the rest of the story … that was four years ago and these ideas have yet to be implemented.

A community’s heartbeat is its art. Local residents voted this show into being and count on it as entertainment for out-of-town guests. Local businesses benefit immensely from the tourists the show draws. And yet, the truth is that this show is suffering from neglect that could lead to serious consequences for the city’s economy. Technology is driving people to seek out handmade items, and the time is right for those in charge to recognize the major opportunity we have here, especially in light of the upcoming anniversary, which is sure to be widely celebrated. This city relies on tourism yet continues to ignore one of its greatest attractions. Other cities would be falling all over themselves to have something like we do, which happens each and every week, provides a full day’s entertainment, and is absolutely free to the visitor. It’s a marketer’s dream!

To illustrate the state of our situation, while I was researching advertising venues, I spoke with the director of advertising of the L.A. Times, a man who would know what’s going on more than most people would. Our conversation went like this:

Director: I love Santa Barbara, come up there all the time!

Me: Great, then you’ve probably seen the Sunday art show I’m interested in getting advertising rates for.

Director: Santa Barbara has an art show?

Oh boy.

Lyn Gianni joined the Arts and Crafts Show 30 years ago, and her work can be found in the art section across from the carousel and also in galleries in Maui. Gianni is known for her invention of the Verdigris Collection, which appear to be works on copper but are, in fact, original paintings.


Independent Discussion Guidelines

Like all Private or Public Events or Shows, the right amount of Graft and bribery must be adhered too when dealing with Local Government. Did you grease the gears of progress? Did you slip the envelope of cold hard currency to the Public (paid) Official? Was your Public and Financial endorsement given to right person who will make your dreams come true? NO?! Well I guess your going down in the History books as just another failed Art Show!

dou4now (anonymous profile)
September 6, 2013 at 5:59 a.m. (Suggest removal)

The Sunday Art Show was originally called "Sabado y Domingo" and was a popular weekend event which was held on both Saturday and Sunday (hence the name). It eventually became a victim of its own success, however, when downtown merchants started complaining that the local artists, "who paid no rent," were undercutting local stores and unfairly taking business away from them. This led to the political compromise that exists today, where the Art Show is only allowed to run on Sundays.

In recent years, the collapse of the U.S. economy has led to changes in the pattern of weekend visitors to Santa Barbara. It used to be that there would be heavy northbound traffic coming up from L.A. on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings - followed by heavy southbound traffic on Sunday as weekend visitors returned to L.A. from Santa Barbara and points north.

This pattern has changed since the Great Recession. These days, while there is still heavy northbound traffic on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings, a new pattern has emerged.

In addition to the usual weekend traffic, there is now heavy southbound traffic on Saturday evenings and heavy northbound traffic on Sunday mornings. Clearly, while some visitors still come up for the weekend, a significant number of visitors are choosing to drive up just for the day.

This shifting pattern has led to a significant decline in attendance at the Art Show, since none of the tourists who come up just for the day on Saturday are able to attend the event, which is now only held on Sundays.

Perhaps this would be a good time to revisit this issue, given the changes to the pattern of visitors to Santa Barbara. It would be nice for the artists to have more options.

sbapilot (anonymous profile)
September 6, 2013 at 8:43 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Sometimes people have less money to spend and are more discriminating on what they buy with their increasingly limited discretionary funds. I have heard of that happening during the last few years. Just maybe that is why their sales are down. Could be.

Sometimes the same global economic trends result in far less money available under shrinking budgets for the local cities to spend on further subsidizing local art shows and their vendors. Could be.

Hands outs. Could be.

John_Adams (anonymous profile)
September 6, 2013 at 12:25 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Yes, sure, the Great Recession has affected us all. But the writer makes good points. Why aren't there refreshments and a sitting area somewhere amidst the show? Why is it that food/beverage establishments -- such an obvious draw for tourists/revenue whether for the art show or simply strolling the boulevard -- exist only at the far ends of said boulevard? Americans are so dumb about basic urban planning it's once again a no-brainer... It's a great suggestion AND civilized; those of us who walk/jog/bike Cabrillo would appreciate it too!

maximum (anonymous profile)
September 7, 2013 at 8:17 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Maybe people don't want to buy what is being sold year after year at this declining interest event. The 1960's are over; so are the customers. It became unwieldy and uninteresting. 50 years was a good run but time to wrap it up and call it a day.

foofighter (anonymous profile)
September 8, 2013 at 9:22 a.m. (Suggest removal)

In this world of mass produced crap there is a large market for hand made arts and crafts. The show is an important source of those goods and is a Santa Barbara treasure that needs to be preserved. The only part of the show that is stuck in the past is the weak marketing efforts of the city. The vendors at the show pay the city and part of that money is earmarked for advertising. The show members are not looking for a handout, just the wise use of existing advertising funds.

Herschel_Greenspan (anonymous profile)
September 8, 2013 at 11:50 a.m. (Suggest removal)

My perception is that the quality of the crafts and art in general at the Sunday show is not nearly as high as 15 or 20 years ago. Lots of schlocky stuff. Be that as it may, I'm happy it's there and that local craftspeople are able to make a living as a result.

As for it not being "private"--well, that might be technically true, but not realistically. Sales proceeds go into the pockets of the vendors. Sure they pay fees for the privilege of setting up on a public walkway, but they're in business for profit, not creating a public service. All businesses pay business taxes and other fees, they're part of the cost of doing business.

If there are actually funds from their fees earmarked for advertising, they should be used for that, I agree. But nothing beyond that.

mtndriver (anonymous profile)
September 8, 2013 at 12:52 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Why not make a deal with the Burger Bus or one of the other food buses and allow space for them to park on Cabrillo, midway down the show. (That would mean, of course, that the "artists" who now take up all the spaces on Cabrillo would have to park in the parking lot.) Or maybe the bus could be subsidized to park in the parking lot? It would be nice if there were a water fountain there, say, at the Chase arts paviliion by the parking lot --- but there is a water fountain near the skate park.

at_large (anonymous profile)
September 8, 2013 at 1:27 p.m. (Suggest removal)

"Approximately 10 years ago, after requesting advertising funds from the city and being refused, the artists and artisan themselves, who already collectively pay the city over $100,000 in membership dues, plus sales tax and parking fees, felt obliged to use money out of their own pockets to advertise the show."

City of Santa Barbara parasite politics in a nutshell. After all, isn't the attitude "you should feel lucky to breathe the air here; if you don't like it, go to Bakersfield."?

billclausen (anonymous profile)
September 8, 2013 at 5:07 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Back in 1975 I got a cool belt and buckle at the show and a bamboo flute that someone had made. the belt buckle was a big brass thing that said Panama Red. I think they used to have a Craft/ Art Sale at Alice Keck Park. around that time too.

GluteousMaximus (anonymous profile)
September 8, 2013 at 7:10 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I agree with the writer's three main points. There SHOULD be snacks - and especially water available. Also an ATM. They have portable ones - I've seen them at temporary festivals. Advertising also makes sense. Tack it on to whatever other tourism ads the city subsidizes. I might even walk along there more often if I knew I could buy a churro (or something) midway.

onthecoast (anonymous profile)
September 9, 2013 at 10:10 a.m. (Suggest removal)

After you get the art show up and running again, like it used to be....
could you do something about the gangbanger issues in your town?

That would be great!

zuma7 (anonymous profile)
September 13, 2013 at 8:30 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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