Art in the High Desert 6

Offering More than a Booth Space

Bend locals know Art in the High Desert as the colorful swirl of mind-expanding fine art set under a sea of white tents along the Deschutes River in the Old Mill District each August. However, the participating artists might consider it to be more of an Artist Boot Camp & Mutual Admiration Party. From the start, Art in the High Desert (AHD) founders Carla and Dave Fox made certain the show would be rewarding not only for visitors, but also for artists.

The Foxes brought their vision for a Bend-based “juried visual art show” to life in 2008. At the time, things were not looking good for local galleries as the economy was in its full-momentum downward slide. As artists themselves, they knew the challenge was going to be significant. First, the eager event organizers employed their entrepreneurial skills and experience from running Portland’s “Art in the Pearl,” and formed a board. Then, they set out to obtain positive word of mouth from local galleries, the wider arts community and tourism and visitor sources.

As of 2014—a mere six years later—the show is already ranked #12 out of 600 shows nationally in Art Fair Sourcebook, and is consistently among the top 25 shows. The festival’s success lies in the depth of the planning and the care for the prosperity of the artists involved.

Three-time participant Darryl Cox, Jr., from Fusion Frames Northwest, notes that fellow artists rave about the assistance they received at AHD as opposed to other shows.

“I’m a local, but the (artists) coming from out of town were thrilled with the Host Home program and the added assistance with set up,” explains Cox.

The hallmark of the event from the artist perspective is the coaching in marketing and sales strategies. Prior to the show, even for those who are not accepted, the jury team offers the option to receive four or more pages of feedback on application materials. This takes a considerable amount of time on the part of the organizers and jury, but is well worth it in the minds of artists. For those who are selected to participate in the show—117 out of 569 applicants this year—there is a welcome reception on arrival night that includes a speaker on an aspect of the business side of art. Last year Chris Dahlquist, a photographer from Kansas City, MO, presented a talk entitled, “The Growth Lies in the Maybes,” from her experience in engaging her booth visitors.

As an incentive, the AHD organizers have given out “Benchmark Awards” to the five artists who have shown they are actively informing and involving their booth visitors. Board members roam the show to provide conversational practice and to know more about each artist. And, in true Bend fashion, artists are welcomed to the event in an all-encompassing way by a dedicated staff of volunteers. They are guided to their booth site, assisted with carts to help move their items and encouraged to ask questions and get to know the AHD staff and patrons.

David Lloyd Warren is a ceramist who will be a first time participant this year. The art show veteran is quick to point out “they go out of their way to ensure that the work is hand-made and meets rigorous guidelines. This encourages more entrants of higher and higher quality of work and attendees raise their expectations as well.”

The continued success of this now signature Central Oregon show will no doubt come from staying this well-considered course.