It is my hope that working artists and those who are at all involved with creative pursuits will freely share this post, and give serious thought to creating their own “Tools of the Trade” competition. The advancing rise of the creative class has been the subject of many recent books, and America’s last election seemed to stir artists to a level of activity and public attention not seen in decades. If artists around the world would adopt the following idea and make it their own, think what it would do for the noble profession we pursue. Please read on, and share with all…thank you.
Artists who are reading this have likely noticed contests for creative youth in their own communities, often advertising “Design a Poster”, “Create an Ad”, and the like, with the prize usually consisting of a pre-chosen item that is often a set of very poor-grade watercolors, markers, or the embarrassingly sad…“no-mess, wipe-clean art center” meant for someone much younger.
After quite a bit of research, I’ve come to the conclusion that these contests are usually a last-minute idea thrown together to fill out some sort of local marketing campaign. “We are getting ready to open such & such store…how can we gain some good ‘family-friendly pr’ on the cheap?” A committee appoints a non-artist to be in charge, that person buys a prize that she has seen being used in a grade school, takes out a newspaper ad and viola! The perfect set-up for cutting a swathe through the upcoming crop of budding artists in the community. It can be painful to watch. And it is my genuine belief that they mean well. I have never spoken to any one who has shown less than genuine enthusiasm and exuded heart-felt good-will.
The essence of the problem is simply…these people don’t know any working artists, and if they do, they never ask them anything. At best, they may know a Sunday hobbyist, or perhaps took an appreciation class in college. Frankly, this can be compared to playing the old board game “Operation” and believing this qualifies you to remove an appendix. There are levels of expertise in all things.
Usually, the rules request that entrants hand over their original piece of work. Painfully often, it is demanded that the work only be signed on the back, (an abysmally ignorant practice that should be loudly, publicly mocked at every opportunity), and no mention is made of the return of original work.
Often once the entries have been collected, the public acknowledgement of a winner is left undone. The individual artist may receive only a phone call or postcard and told to come “pick up their prize”. Often listed in the ads is the phrase “Winner announced on such and such a date”. Where? And to whom?
I am asking any one who holds these contests in the future to realize that what may seem like a fast and easy pr move to you is something that is of monumental importance to young creatives. You’d be surprised how much it matters. I propose that it is good financial sense to seek out future professional artists while they are young…show them the respect they deserve, encourage their study, and prepare them for a world in which they will have a genuine economic advantage in a very satisfying field. Encourage your talented local youth and when they move on to bigger places, they will speak well of the home town that respected their ambition. Your community doesn’t have to be an unpleasant memory in minds of creatives.
No sensible person would allow a teen to try to build a dog house with a toy hammer and rubber nails. You would give a young person proper tools, and if they showed genuine promise, you’d be very pleased, because we all know that a skill, an independent trade, is a kind of insurance policy in all economic weather. Young people need to be built up, not given a false sense of accomplishment. And to build, you need tools.
It was because of the above that I created the “Tools of the Trade Competition”. I decided to take a small percentage of my income from art and dedicate it to giving one talented young person a genuinely viable head-start in their chosen field. I withheld purchasing any prizes until I had determined the winner. I created a flyer with all the rules & deadlines clearly stated and then distributed the flyer to all middle and high schools in my city, both public and private. Wanting to include even home-schoolers, I was able to get a local newspaper to print a “call for entries”. I snail-mailed the flyers to each school, and then specifically e-mailed each art teacher. Because teens are so busy with homework, activities, etc., I gave a good long lead time so that artists could really give some time to their submission.
Look at the following two links to read the newspaper article about winner, Patrick Phillips of Huntington High School and view the photo gallery showing all the art supplies awarded.
The final aspect of the prize is that the winner received a month long solo exhibition in August 2010 at our local public library. The exhibit was held nine months after Patrick received his materials, giving him time to experiment and grow. The pictures in this post depict just some of the art he created with his prize. The photos of the exhibit contained on this page were taken by Sam Ransbottom.
I hope to hold the competition again soon. I have promised myself I will only use money I earn from the sale of art. I want to thank Les Smith, Christian Alexanderson, and Chris Jackson, all of the Herald-Dispatch, Trudy Black of the Cabell Record, Sam Ransbottom for exhibit photography, art teacher Angela Snider Webb, Jodi O’Dell of Golden Artist Colors, Jen McCutcheon of Blick Art Materials, Judy Rule and Karen Fields and all the staff of Cabell County Public Library, and especially Patrick Phillips and all other young artists.
Readers will please disregard the incorrect date stamped on some of the photos. These were all taken in August 2010. The art depicted in the photographs was done by Patrick Phillips. The reader is also asked to overlook the unfortunate and inexplicable insistence by the digital editor of the use of two separate fonts in the above text. I am still learning, and every day I learn the function of a new button in WordPress. We grow ever brighter.
©Kathy Ferrell and “Big Cup O’Blog” (blog about Cup O Swank Studio), 2011.Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kathy Ferrell and Big Cup O’Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.