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

Categories: Festivals

A check of the 990s filed by the festival shows that in 2010, the festival's revenue less expenses was only $18,804. In 2011 things got very worse; the revenue less expenses line showed a negative $228,739. In 2012 things were better but still not great: the revenue less espences line showd a negative $46,470. Fowler said they made up the losses by pulling rainy day funds.

On good years, Bayou City Arts Festival has about 30,000 visitors to each of its two shows. Fowler said they hope to grow that number to 100,000 in the next two to five years. In 43 years the non-profit festival has given $35 million to various Houston art programming, she said, and wants to continue to expand that work. "We still give back to the community. We still 100 percent give back to non-profit programs."

In an email sent out to artists, Fowler wrote:

Hi [artist], The event prospectus was written before the Board of Directors for this year was elected and held there strategic planning session on how to proceed over the next two years. The new Board is the first almost entirely new Board in the show's 43 year history after term limits were adopted two years ago. This is a young, vibrant, working Board that understands today's marketing tools and the possibilities that we are presented with at BCAF. In the fourth largest city, with only our two art festivals and one other there is no reason we shouldn't be posting attendance at 100k to 200k just like Main Street, Fort Worth and the other top 7 that we partner with on ZAPP. As I said, our objective is growth and growth phases have to be implemented when there is momentum and passion behind doing it.
Now is that time for us. It allows us to stay vibrant and alive. It allows us to bring on additional sponsors at the national level and apply for operational grants that otherwise we would not qualify for. The business dynamics of keeping festivals like ours alive for artists like yourself is ever evolving just like every other business - and while we are non-profit, we have to run like a business to stay open. This business model is the model that we need to implement now in order to grow toward our 45th and 50th anniversary and support the independent artist who chooses the festival circuit as the primary way they like to communicate and do business with their patrons.
Yes, we boldly embrace the addition of artists. We have supported that addition with millions of new e-mail, e-blasts, print, digital, tv, radio, social and other marketing hits. We went from 0 to five people on our marketing team, with over 25 years of experience each in tv, advertising, social, digital, print and other marketing experience. My own experience includes over 25 years of work for major tv networks, film and world class live sporting and music events, serving in positions which include CEO, COO, Executive VP Production, etc.
Kelly has answered over 1500 e-mails personally, this week alone, from our artists, and many hundreds of others over the last month. To say that we are not responding is not accurate. Ours may be a slower response time than traditionally has been the response time in the past, but under the pressure of major changes in all aspects of our business with less than 6 full time employees - we are doing the best we can.
I hope this better informs you of our decision making process. Other festivals will likely follow in the coming year to two years to increase artists, unless they are already doing so via multiple shows next to each other as with Coconut Grove and St. Stephen's along with Artigras on the same weekend in Miami and the four festivals on the same weekend in Ann Arbor. With donations and sponsorship dollars running tight in the lower to mid-range market, you have to boost your numbers of both artists and patrons to appeal to the top level, national budgets, and prove that you can give them the exposure they need to become your partner.
Warm Regard, Susan Fowler
This story continues on the next page.


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13 comments
bd5207
bd5207

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.

FOOLS!

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!

cathysart
cathysart

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. 

AnotherArtist
AnotherArtist

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...

myvoice63
myvoice63

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.



WorkingIt
WorkingIt

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.

Notfooled
Notfooled

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. 

wainright
wainright

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/ 

ProfessionalArtist
ProfessionalArtist

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.

impossibletheatreco
impossibletheatreco

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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