Q. Can you tell me how they choose the artists for Belleville's Art on the Square? I'm curious how they choose the art they do and how they always manage to have about the same number of each kind of artist.
-- S.D., of Belleville
A. Considering the phenomenal success the organizers have had in such a short time, theirs is a formula they'd probably patent and sell if they could.
Just two years after it began in 2002, Art on the Square was named the best small-town art show in the nation. Since 2008, it has been among the top three shows in the United States based on sales per artist, according to the Art Fair SourceBook.
Imagine, Belleville attracting hordes of art lovers eager to plunk down more than $1.1 million over a three-day show last year ($10,025 average per artist). Obviously, those behind the show are doing something very right -- and here's what it is, said Patty Gregory, the show's executive director:
First, hundreds of artists from throughout the nation and beyond submit their applications over the Internet, using a sophisticated program called -- are you ready for this? -- EntryThingy. In their submission, they have to include four slides of their work, one of what their booth will look like and a short synopsis of themselves and their work.
This small mountain of information is then given to the six to nine paid jurors chosen by the organizers. These jurists range from gallery owners to art teachers to professional artists who have never applied to the show. One or two usually are from out of the area. This year one will be from the Illinois Arts Alliance.
Then, with the artists' names hidden, the jurors use four major criteria to guide their selection. These include the quality of the work, the design of the work and how well what the artists produce matches their descriptions of how they produce it.
In addition, the judges also look at the cohesiveness of the work and how well the artists display it. You don't want artists with a scattershot selection of work that makes their booths look like a rummage sale.
"Being one of the top shows in the country, you want a certain look," Gregory said. "When you have a show that's heavy on competition, they have to submit professional-looking images. Their display and the way they present their artwork is really important."
But while all of that is a major part of the equation, it's not the only part. As you hinted at in your question, the jurors are instructed to choose roughly an equal number of artists in each medium. If you have only 100 spaces, you don't want half of them to be, say, jewelers and clay. Since there are 11 mediums, that's why you find approximately 10 or so photographers, woodworkers, sculptors, etc.
But wait, there's more. Organizers conduct surveys to find out who comes to the fair so they'll find art that suits their tastes. One recent show, for example, found that 70 percent were over 45 years old, 72 percent were female, 70 percent had a college degree, nearly 60 percent earned more than $75,000 -- and 40 percent came from outside St. Clair County.
Judges are asked to take this information into account when making their final selection.
"We don't want a show that's all work that starts at $5,000 because we're a community show, so we want to have price points for all kinds of people," Gregory said. "Also the age group. If it's older patrons, then usually a show will look more traditional. But we like to have a mix of traditional and contemporary because we have all age groups coming."
Finally, like golf tournaments, many winners are given an automatic entry the following year. So another 80,000 or 90.000 people can expect to see some familiar favorites when the gala returns to downtown Belleville for the 12th time May 17-19.
Of course, you don't have to wait until then to start boosting the show to another stellar year. Gregory & Co. are already selling Art Cash, which can be used to buy art at the show. Available in $50 denominations, it makes great Valentine's Day, Easter and Mother's Day gifts, Gregory says. And the first 200 who buy at least $300 also get two passes to the private opening-night reception. ($1,000 will get you even more. Call 397-5879 for details or go to artonthesquare.com.)
For whom was Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini named?
Answer to Sunday's trivia: While reprinting the Bible in 1631, Robert Barker and Martin Lucas, the royal printers in London, managed to leave the word "not" out of the seventh commandment, thus instructing readers "Thou shalt commit adultery." They were reportedly fined 300 pounds (an estimated $56,000 in today's money) by the Star Chamber. Most copies of the "Wicked Bible" were destroyed, but collectors still find them today occasionally.
Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or firstname.lastname@example.org