Before diving into my thoughts and impressions of the show, a huge shout out to Nicole Tamarin. Thank you for your generosity, advice and willingness to field all of my questions about the industry! Nicole is an industry veteran, and as an exhibitor had access to a guest pass which she very kindly gave to me. Her booth is featured above, so awesome! I had hoped to attend the show last year, but after running the $$$ (including the cost of admission) it was not feasible. So when the opportunity presented itself to walk the show for free this year, I jumped at the chance.
I have traveled to NYC numerous times prior so the sole purpose for this trip was to learn as much as possible by walking the show and return home quickly with my wallet still intact! Travel can be expensive so on a budget I took the bus and stayed one night. The hotel was only 4 blocks from the event-very conveniently located and reasonable. My room was clean and the staff friendly. The room was small but since I was alone it was fine, with two people it might have been a tad uncomfortable.
The show venue, the Jacob Javits Center, is massive, large enough to accommodate not only Surtex but also the National Stationary Show and ICF -all three shows were running concurrently. That's a lot of eye candy!
I was amazed at the level of talent and the wide variety of styles represented-not only in the artwork itself but in the booth design as well. It was very helpful, never having been to Surtex before, to see first hand how each booth is styled and how products, portfolio's, as well as the banners are actually presented. You can certainly make a statement!
I made a point to visit my "internet" friends many of whom were exhibiting. The art licensing community has been very generous in sharing knowledge, advice and has been very supportive. It was unfortunately not possible to see or talk to everyone-most booth appeared to be busy so not wanting to interrupt a possible deal in the making, I continued on....
This year Surtex introduced a new feature specifically for first time exhibitors called Design District. Admittedly I am on the fence about whether or not this option would be a good thing for me in the future. My hope is that next season I am ready to exhibit. In addition to needing time to build a better portfolio, there is of course the cost of entry to consider.
Surtex is expensive to attend and not in the cards for most. If you are just starting out in the industry, without any contracts under your belt, it is daunting to invest close to $10k for a trade show booth. The return on your investment you will mostly likely not even realize until 2-3 years later. So Design District from a cost perspective seems like a good value.
Other than the lower cost I did not see any other real selling point to the Design District booths. The booths are minuscule-there is very little banner space let alone a decent counter to display any products and/or possibly meet with a buyer. The placement of the Design District booths also was less than ideal. Located at the back of the show, most folks were probably not likely to venture that far down each aisle, often turning off to walk down another row.
I am also not keen on the idea of being featured as "First Time" anything. Perhaps it is just me, but potential buyers are looking for professionals, artist who are experienced and know how to handle negotiations. By highlighting the area as "First Time" at least to me, you might as well hold up a flashing sign that reads "I am new, I am inexperienced" Your art may be fantastic, represent a new style etc but the fact that you are featured as "new" may be a deterrent to art directors.
Surtex should offer an alternate to first time exhibitors than the current Design District configuration. Perhaps share a standard sized booth with one other artist (like a collaborative) and sprinkle these booth in among all the others...I would be very interested in hearing from artists who did actually exhibit in the Design District to get first hand feedback.
Since I was alone and not tied to any particular schedule I also spent some time exploring the NSS. The first thing I noticed is the booth designs for most of the exhibitors appeared to be much for complex than those shown at Surtex. Most of these booths are constructed using solid materials (wood, drywall etc) and have been professionally designed/built. Of course that is to be expected from large brand names such a Riffle Paper and Kate Spade but I also noticed the trend seemed to filter down to the smaller booths as well. I can not imagine the expense and coordination involved in pulling that together...
Overall I am very glad for the opportunity. Although I was not able to speak with as many artists as I had hoped, walking the show in itself is an education of sorts. Those folks that did take the time to field a few questions-thank you! I appreciate your insight and so value the chance to learn a bit more "insider" information to hopefully help me along in my own journey. I wish all of the exhibitors the best of luck with their show follow-up and I hope everyone writes lots of new contracts!