The organizers of Williamsburg’s annual art-themed extravaganza An Occasion for the Arts are seeking artists to sell their creations during the October event.
The application process has changed this year, with a five-person jury determining which artists get to showcase their work. The festival is also starting to implement recommendations from teams of business students at the College of William & Mary who spent a semester thinking about how to help AOFTA attract new visitors.
The two-day art show and music festival has been a staple event in the city since it was founded in 1969. This year, the event is set for Oct. 3 and 4, and while there are only about 130 slots for artists, Artistic Director Leo Charette expects 300 to 400 artists to apply to be a part of the festivities.
Those who are selected are able to set up booths downtown and sell their wares throughout AOFTA.
Charette, who is in his first year as artistic director, opted to use the five-member jury to pick which artists get to participate in AOFTA. The jurors are all artists whose work spans mediums that include ceramics, painting, glassware, jewelry and painting. Charette, himself an artist who described his work as abstract photography, will not participate in the work of the jurors.
Last year, the artist applications were sent to Emily Smith, the executive director of the 1708 Gallery in Richmond. Smith pored over the entries and narrowed them down to the final set of artists who took to the streets of Williamsburg in 2014.
“Obviously you want to bring in the perspective from a variety of different artists so that you’re not going to have one person tip the scale based on their preference, so it will be a pretty even process,” Charette said. “Hopefully the better artists will stand out.”
Artists who want to submit their work for consideration by the jury should do so by May 22. Applications are available online at application.com, where applicants will be asked to submit four digital versions of art they have produced, a statement of their work and an image depicting the appearance of their AOFTA booths.
The jurors will then gather June 3 and comb over the applications, assigning scores between one and three and five to seven to each application. Charette said there is no four in the rating scale because he does not want his jurors to be “on the fence.”
The highest scored artists will be admitted, while those who are close will be added to a wait list in case anyone drops out closer to the event. Charette said the new system is similar to what is employed by other top-flight art shows.
AOFTA President Stuart Honenberger, who is also in his first year in the position, wants to see the event grow to attract new artists and attendees from beyond Hampton Roads and Virginia. In last year’s show, about 60 percent of the artists were from the commonwealth.
To help grow the festival, he went before Professor Scott McCoy’s 400-level Strategic Consulting and Analysis class in the College of William & Mary’s Mason School of Business in February to explain the event and his desire to see it grow.
“I went and presented to the whole class on An Occasion for the Arts, who we are, how we’ve gotten where we are, what objectives we had and how we saw challenges to meeting those,” Honenberger said. “Specifically, those were becoming a statewide and ultimately regional and nationally acclaimed show.”
He focused his remarks on the need to open the festival to new people and their spending power and to the economic development arms of local governments, on his wish to better inform potential attendees about the city’s culinary and artistic offerings and how to get the best artists not just from Virginia but the entire mid-Atlantic to apply to be in the festival.
The class worked in small groups to craft a series of recommendations for how the festival can meet those goals. The fruit of their work was presented to Honenberger on Tuesday.
Their advice: Take to forms of social media beyond Facebook like Twitter and Instagram, look for interns at the high school and college levels to help shoulder the burden of promoting the festival, incorporate more local music like the Williamsburg Symphonia, incorporate more amenities for the artists participating in the festival and seek out opportunities to collaborate with similar events in other areas.
With only about six months left until the next AOFTA, Honenberger said the class has given him plenty to think about for the 2016 festival. But he is incorporating a few of their recommendations now, including the addition of volunteers who will come sit at artists’ tables to give them a break during the two-day festival.
In past years, the artist had to stay at his or her booth for the duration of the festival. That meant that if the artist was alone, there was no chance to grab a snack, run to the bathroom or check out the work of other artists. The volunteers will be available by phone and will come sit at a booth for 20 or 30 minutes to allow the artists to get out of the booth for a short spell.
“We have thought about it in the past,” Honenberger said of the volunteer sitters. “I had no plans to try to implement it better this year, but they looked at other national shows, and came back with ‘you all need to do this if you want to compete with those shows.’”
In the meantime, Honenberger and Charette have plenty of work ahead of them to prepare for the 46th annual AOFTA. This year’s festival takes place Oct. 3 and 4 in and around Merchants Square in downtown Williamsburg.