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.


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