Unhappy Artists Deluge Bayou City Art Festival With Emails After Last-Minute Rule Change

Categories: Festivals

Photo by Robert Easley
Bayou City Art Festival needs to be a rain-free zone
Months after the November deadline for artists to sign up for this month's Bayou City Art Festival, its organizers changed the rules, expanding the pool of artists from 300 to 450, increasing booth fees and converting what had been the artists' close-in parking lot to more exhibition space.

The changes in the upcoming spring festival scheduled for March 28-30 at Memorial Park made a lot of artists uneasy, upset and in some cases outraged. When contacted by Art Attack, Susan Fowler, the interim executive director since November, told us that their small staff had received more than 2,400 emails in the last few days.

As the artists see it: more artists means more competition, no close-in parking means more schlepping materials in when inventory sells at the booths and an agreement is an agreement and shouldn't be changed months later. Especially since the original applicants paid money to have art experts assess their work in a juried system and that now is being bypassed with organizers just calling up artists they know of and inviting them to the show.

"When you have a fine arts show -- and Bayou is one of the better shows in the country -- there's an understanding that the artists are taking part in a jury process so they're collecting money and we are competing against say 1,000 or 2,000 people for 300 spots. If an artist gets into a show there's sort of a contractural agreement that we will abide by certain rules they ask us to sign and it's assumed when they present the proposal, the layout of the show and how many people are in the show and what the booth fees are going to be that those things are not something that's flexible," said one artist who has withdrawn in protest from this month's show.

Artists would have better accepted the expansion, he said, if it had been announced ahead of time for next fall, but not after so many had already committed to this spring show where the rules were suddenly changed.

But as Fowler and the Art Colony Association Board of Directors which oversees the festival see it, they couldn't wait any longer to take the action necessary to ensure the financial viability of the festival which has been steadily drawing down its reserve funds because of four outdoor festivals in a row with rain. The changes didn't happen sooner, she said, because a new board didn't take office until mid-January.

"The board of directors from Bayou City Art Festival made a conscious choice to grow the festival in order to secure the future. We had four festivals back to back that had rain. We had a rainy day fund that for us was a literal rainy day fund because we're an outdoor event," Fowler said.

In recent years the festival (which originated in Montrose and then moved to downtown) puts on a spring festival at Memorial Park and a fall festival downtown. And during last October's downtown festival, it rained both days. "It was torrential rain. So attendance was down because of the weather," Fowler said.

Some artists who were notified in December about whether they'd been accepted in the show, requested refunds of their booth fees, others were unable to change their plans after committing a certain amount of money to travel and shipping arrangements, one source who wished to remain anonymous told Art Attack. Booth fees ranging from $500 to $1,500 for the spring show were due in January and were supposedly non-refundable after February 17. According to Fowler, as of the end of last week, 24 artists had withdrawn and they were issuing refunds. However the $35 application fees were not being returned, a source said.

And one of the artists who withdrew from the show said he has not received his refund and is not at all sure he's going to get it within ten days as he was told. "If the history of their promises; they haven't fulfilled any timetable they've put in writing for the show, I don't see any reason to believe I'll get a refund check in ten days. They simply have not followed through on anything. They've missed every deadline."

It was the organization not hitting its usual marks that first drew the attention of artists. A series of emails passed on to Art Attack shows that artists began complaining that they weren't getting information from the festival group as to where they'd be placed, what other artists would be there or what hotel discounts were available. Rumors started circulating and were finally confirmed. After being informed of the changes, one artist wrote in an e-mail asking for a refund citing "the likely loss of income due to the expansion of the show."

Fowler said they had sent information out to the artists or talked to on the phone only to have them say they hadn't receive any information. And that the National Association of Independent Artists asked its members to contact Bayou City asking it not to change its show, even if those artists weren't in the show.

Still, she apologized to any artist who thought her organization hadn't been forthcoming soon enough with its communications.

"There's a little bit of stirring the pot. But for the most part we own it. We are very sorry if we failed to communicate our new strategy in a timely manner, we apologize. If we not responded to you, it's no excuse. We are trying to respond to you as quickly as possible. We're just owning it. We know they're upset. We hear them. We're really trying to get them the information that they need to make the good business decision about whether or not to come and be a part of the festival and we hope they will. "

According to an artist who contacted Art Attack, the Bayou City Art Festival prospectus used to read:

Twice a year, over 1000 qualified applicants from around the world submit their applications to be scrutinized by the Art Colony Association Jurors. Only 300 Artists will be selected to exhibit per festival, many of whom are featured in fine arts galleries and in prominent personal and museum collections around the world. The bi-annual festivals allow art collectors the opportunity to personally meet the artist, view original works, and purchase world class art. The experience that develops between a patron and the artist may last a lifetime.
On or about March 4, 2014 this was changed to:
Twice a year, over 1000 qualified applicants from around the world submit their applications to be scrutinized by the Art Colony Association Jurors. The top scoring juried artists will be selected to exhibit per festival, many of whom are featured in fine arts galleries and in prominent personal and museum collections around the world. The bi-annual festivals allow art collectors the opportunity to personally meet the artist, view original works, and purchase world class art. The experience that develops between a patron and the artist may last a lifetime.

This story continues on the next page.

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In the end, it appears that at least 50 artists withdrew and asked for refunds.

The artist list on the website actually has fewer than 370 artists. So...they screwed around and angered a lot of their best artists who will never be back, to have a net gain of 45 artists (they had about 325 last year).

That's not enough to make up the $220,000 they lost, plus they've added more cost with more space and more expensive entertainment.

HOUSTON: Some of your long-time favorites will not be at the show and those who are there will likely abandon this mess for good. These inexperienced clowns have succeeded in killing what used to be a very good show.


Jeremy Kizer
Jeremy Kizer

5-6 days after the posted date, perhaps someone could jump in with a quick read through and correct the plethora of spelling and grammar errors...? Interesting read and good information otherwise!


Unfortunately the title of your article is incorrect.  A "last minute rule change" is hardly accurate.   This is not a simple rule change but a illegal change to a  legal and binding contract.  When artists enter a show they are juried and must enter a contract with the show.  Should the artist break this contract they lose their fees, plain and simple.  The Bayou festival broke their own contract by raising the number of artists to 450 and then many times over trying to cover it up so the artists would not find out. And, they not only broke the contract they illegally changed the paperwork visible on line which the artists had previously agreed upon.  They waited till midnight just weeks before the show and changed the prospectus, the legal contract, changing the wording and the number of artists to be included.   This committee knew at the beginning of the year once the new board was elected that the massive amount of additional booths were in their plans yet it was not made known to the artists until just a few weeks before the show. Upon hearing of the changes artists called and emailed, all of which was disregarded and for the most part unanswered.  It got so bad that the Bayou committee would answer the phone and immediately hang up rather than to speak to the artists.   By this time many artists had prepaid hotel rooms, plane flights and full trips planned.  It made canceling close to impossible for many artists. Those artists who chose to boycott the show had a  promise of a full refund within 10 days,  This offer was only made  to artists AFTER some of the artists began to seek legal council threatening to sue the Bayou committee.  That offer of a refund was made to silence the protests but unfortunately as these artists now wait, the 10 days have passed and the Bayou festival has yet to refund them a dime.   This new committee has done such a poor job they can barely get applications for their fall show, now adding a international selection of arts from around the world.  Apparently this committee does not embrace the love of buying handmade art made by American artisans.  The ideal which has made art festivals so popular for so many years.  The committee is in arrears to the tune of 220 thousand dollars mainly because of the huge gate fee which has risen considerably the last two years. Simple greed on their part. They expect patrons to pay 15.00 per person per day to shop at the festival.  There is absolutely no parking at the festival and patrons will need to be shuttled for miles to attend.  What a nightmare this committee has created for all. 


The show said they offered refunds before the NAIA 'shaming,' a shaming that did not occur until after Fowler said she had confirmed the available refunds with their partner application system, a system that they are intimately entangled with and should have never allowed them to change the terms of their CONTRACT with the artists months after the application deadline and only a few weeks before the show.  Fowler is so determined to 'own' their breach of contract that she has made sure any adverse comments are quickly removed from their Facebook page.  In case you missed some of these gems:

"To Susan Fowler and your Board of directors, you should all be ashamed of yourselves for what you are doing to this show and to artists nationally...I consider your decisions have been poorly made and to benefit you, (the show) however, you ruined your good name nationally. I also do not believe in sucking artists fry for their work, so that your organization can take further advantage of them than you already do. Shame shame on you and your Board. The news of this travesty has traveled far and wide and will continue to do so."

"Maybe they will tell people how they have pissed off artists all over the country. You think they will let anyone know that they are accepting previously rejected artist to the show because they lost $220,000 last year and they are trying to make that money back off the artists. That is why they added 150 booths to the show."

"From what I have read you have lost many quality artists because of your ethics and greed."

"You may want to try to ignore the hurt you have imposed on your artists you so "value" by deleting their valid comments, Ms. Fowler, but you cannot hide the incredible damage to this even you and your board have done with your horrible decisions that to NOTHING to support (and only HURT) those same artists. It's sad but you are killing this once great show. R.I.P Bayou City Art Festivals."

Houston peeps - get your fill at this year's show, it's liable to be the last...


All the other comments are correct in saying that the show made a contract with the artists, and then changed the contract after the deadline for refund.  They only offered a refund after being shamed by the NAIA.

The most important admission from the temporary show director is: "I'm a brand new festival director and I thought 'Oh, they're going to be so happy that we're making it such a great experience for the patrons' and then they weren't." 

How naive.

Blaming year over year losses on the weather is bizarre, and yet again naive.


Apparently, you are unaware of the email soliciting artists to help clean up the park prior to the show.  If it were not insulting enough having the last minute increase in participating artists, calling rejected artists to participate, and increasing the booth fees, now they want artists to pick up trash! 

I also fail to understand how a show as big as Bayou City can be operating in the red.  This organization has great corporate sponsorship.  Who has been putting their fingers in the pie???????

This financial irresponsibility is what killed the Texas Arts and Crafts show in Kerrville.


I am very bothered by the unethical act of attempting to change the number of participating artists after a contract was forced upon the artists by this show.  Artists never have any input into the contracts we sign - it is always a completely one sided affair which as clearly exhibited in this instance -leaves us with potential financial loss.  To know that all the risks we take in this business -bad weather, under attendance, travel risks, theft or low sales - are now compounded by the utter disregard and incompetent communications this new show director and the new board of directors has shown is nothing less than outright affront.  We expect some respect.  We expect to be treated like professionals who have a career we have much invested in.  Instead, half truths,  contractual shenanigans and multiple decisions with no artist input and apparent disregard for common sense appear to be the new norm for Bayou City.  I really and truly hope this show caves so that a new or better managed group with artist's interests is formed to fill the leadership vacuum that exists in Houston. 


The Art Colony Association's plan to expand the number of artist to 450 and to make the show a much longer walk for patrons is going to kill this show.  The best artists you love seeing at Bayou City are going to abandon this show because they will no longer be able to make enough money.  Do you want your Bayou City to be just another big, crass street festival?  Or do you want Houston to have a show where the really good artists come to exhibit?   Let the board of directors of Bayou City know that you love your artists and art show and don't want them to stupidly drive the artists away.  Go to  http://www.artcolonyassociation.org/board/ 


What this show has done is legally and morally wrong.  Bait and switch with changing the show after the contract between artists and the show.  Artists are moving toward a class action lawsuit against this incompetent board of directors.  Many artists will NEVER apply to this show again because of these actions. Congratulations Board. You've successfully ruined this once great show.


Actually, being stale is not the "last thing you want to do." The last thing you want to do is come in from a place of complete in-experience and destroy one of the highest quality events of its kind in the nation, with complete incompetence. Major show directors across the country have been shaking their heads at the complete insanity of this new board. Susan Fowler's quotes just reinforce to me, that she is completely in the dark. What a shame.

Mary Miller
Mary Miller

So... Penalize the existing participants due to bad luck with weather? How about moving this to GRB or the like? Better parking for people attending as well.

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