A Few Observations About the 2013 ArtFields in Lake City, SC


We first brought our readers news of ArtFields (www.artfieldssc.org) back in July of 2012. When I first heard of the event I started asking questions to get a grip on what this event was all about. I wanted to make sure I was clear in answering questions that I knew I would be hearing from artists as they found out about the event. Info was a little fuzzy at first and it seemed the more I asked questions the more distance the organizers put between me and themselves. I got the feeling they were not sure how things would work themselves and they were sensitive to being quizzed on their plans. That usually sends a warning flag up for me. If I can’t figure out what was going on – how could I explain it to others.

My main question was, is this just a big juried art show with an unusually big Best of Show award or was this really going to be something like Art Prize which takes place in Grand Rapids, MI? I’ve seen what goes on in Grand Rapids (population around 200,000), but I didn’t get the impression that’s what the folks at ArtFields were calling for in Lake City (populations around 7,000). And, I wasn’t sure they knew with whom they would be dealing and how those folks see things and “folks” would be artists – a different breed of folks. Artists see things differently.




I basically decided I wanted this event to happen and chalked up some of the fuzziness to a first year effort. The first year of anything goes through growing pains and I’ll just have to judge the event by the first effort. So I backed off and waited.

My first sign that something was wrong with the marketing of this event was when I got an e-mail on March 13, 2013 inviting me to the ArtFields Media Luncheon on Apr. 3, 2013, which I would have been interested in going to except for the fact that it was being held in downtown Charleston, SC, instead of Lake City, SC. I still wonder to this day – who showed up?


Why they would want to hold the press luncheon almost 80 miles away from Lake City where the event would take place – I haven’t a clue. Were they hiding something?

And a lot good it did them as I didn’t see a lot of coverage of ArtFields in the Post & Courier. They should have invited the press to see Lake City. Charleston’s media can’t devote enough space to cover all the arts that go on in its own city much less one 80 miles away. Which is a surprise since ArtFields outsourced some of the operation of their art festival to folks in Charleston – who made sure a lot of their friends became part of the first ArtFields – almost 25% of the artists participating in the competition came from Charleston and many of the invited installation artists were from there or have roots there.

In my opinion ArtFields made a mistake connecting themselves to Charleston a little too much. They may have gotten a lot of entry fees from artists there but it didn’t do them any good recruiting artists from the rest of the Southeast.

Those folks say they did a lot of work getting the word out to visual artists in those other states, but the results just don’t show it.


Here’s some examples that back my opinion up.

In June of 2008, the SC State Museum offered a call for entries for its 20th Anniversary Juried Art Exhibition – 500 artists from just SC submitted 1000 works and there were no cash awards.

In 2009, the Elder Gallery in Charlotte, NC, started Carolina’s Got Art! which attracted 1,100 entries, from nearly 500 artists throughout the Carolinas with cash prizes of less than $10,000 with $2,500 going to the Best in Show work. During the third Carolina’s Got Art! (being held at the same time as ArtFields) over 1,000 artists from North and South Carolina entered over 2,800 works of art with over $15,000 in cash and prizes.

ArtFields had $100,000 in cash prizes! Why didn’t they have artists coming out of the woodwork to enter this show?

There are a lot of reasons – some not the kind you would think would stop an artist at a chance to win $50,000, but artists are funny about some things. Here’s some of what I heard. Can’t be right – not $100,000 and not in Lake City. Where is Lake City? No insurance – I’m not giving them my work. I’m not going to have someone in Lake City decide where my art will be placed. Where is the Pee Dee? I can’t figure out what they want from what I read on the website. Who is jurying the entries? Where the heck is Lake City? I could win $50,000 by entering one painting? That can’t be right.

By the time the entry deadline arrived there were 100 entries that were not completed. Something gave those artists second thoughts or confused them about the process of entering.

There also was a disadvantage to artists who lived further away from Lake City and an advantage for those who lived closer since a lot of what might determine if you won two of the prizes was based on the public’s voting for you. Some artists camped out at the event campaigning for votes. This could be a problem in getting more entries from those other Southern states.

But distance isn’t always a problem – many artists enter juried shows all over the country by mailing their entries to the presenting venue – so it’s a puzzle as to why so few artists from other states entered this show. And, from what I saw of some out of state entries, it makes me wonder if some didn’t make the cut because they were from a state on the fringe. I know some of the other 400 artists who didn’t make the cut and compared to some entries I saw – they should have, but that happens in all juried shows.

So, the marketing of this event needs to be better. Especially their use of social media. Take Facebook for an example. In 2012 when they should have been offering artists info about how to join the competition they were making posts like: “The Art of Video Games at the Boca Museum in Florida”. “Lost Renoir Painting at Potomack Company’s Sept. Auction”, “Contemporary Focus 2012 in Knoxville, TN”, and “Phyllis Diller, outlandish comedian, dies at 95″. Did they think this is how they would get the attention of artists and art lovers in other states? They wasted a lot of time not trying to inform people about what ArtFields was and the opportunities it offered. They also didn’t give people a picture of Lake City – which has a story to tell and a plan for the future.

On March 21, 2013, ArtFields posted an entry on Facebook to tell people who lived in the Columbia, SC, area how to get to Lake City, SC, (a two hour drive) and gave suggestions as to where people could eat along the way and what they might see on their travels. I would think that the people in Lake City were hoping people from Columbia would come eat and check out what Lake City has to offer. Let the SC’s tourism folks do the job of informing folks what’s available elsewhere.

It makes me wonder if the folks in Charleston doing the marketing were really interested in promoting Lake City.

I know this all seems like a lot of back seat driving or Monday morning quarterbacking, but these things need to be pointed out (from the outside) in order for the organizers to improve this event.


So, what about the event?

I went twice and still didn’t get to see everything due to two basic problems. One, I know too many artists and people in the visual arts community and I like to talk and find out things and they like to talk with me; two, we were on deadline to finish our biggest issue – ever. Every hour in Lake City cost me big time. But, I really enjoyed my visits there.

Overall, I think ArtFields and the City did a great job of presenting this event for a first time effort. In the buildings they controlled the artworks were presented well and not crowded together. In the merchant venues – some art was well presented as best it could while some places were not so good. Some venues were just too far away from the bulk of the art being presented. This is something they can improve on by being a little more selective as merchants were happy with the crowds the event attracted. They can pick where they want to be now.

People were friendly, helpful, and seemed really happy to see so many people walking the streets of Lake City.

They need bigger and more signage. I would have expected a few banners running across Hwy. 52 – which sees the most traffic passing through the outskirts of Lake City. But I did see a sign on a Captian-D’s welcoming folks to ArtFields – good for them.

Lake City has something some bigger towns and cities are running out of – a lot of empty buildings which can be used for future expansion or development. Something Charleston wishes it had more of. So there is lots of room to grow.

I don’t know how many people came to Lake City for this event or how many registered and voted in the competition. You need those numbers to really show the impact of the event. Hopefully at some point we’ll be offered those hard numbers. Remember it was a first year event – what ever they were – it’s what it was.

Getting 800 entries again next year or even more than that might be harder than you think. The 400 who didn’t make the cut might not be interested in trying again and many of the 400 who did – after seeing what kind of art won the top prizes might not enter again. But I think everyone who made the cut should be happy to return if it wasn’t all about the money. And, remember $50,000 or $25,000 is a lot of money, but it’s not life changing these days – not for most people.

This was a great event and great exposure for many of the artists. Some who didn’t win or didn’t get a lot of votes might find they made even more valuable connections by participating in this event. Plus – lets hope that the 2014 ArtFields will have all new jurors. Having the same folks selecting who gets in and who wins awards would send the wrong message to artists. You want them to think they always have a chance at getting in or even winning a prize.



Here’s some suggestions – take ‘em or leave ‘em.

Make sure the website gives as many details as possible. Give examples and show pictures from the first year of what artists could do – such as: if you want to connect 20 paintings together which are in a series – that can be your “one” entry; if you are a sculptor and want to present a number of works that are related as a series – put them together as you would on site – take one photo of it and submit it as your “one” image; give dimensions of the venues so artists can visualize how big their works can be (it’s hard to imagine that a 10″ x 12″ painting would win the $50,000 top prize – it could, but most likely won’t); the point is – more details are better than less. Artists are different than most folks – which is good, but they don’t see or read things the same way others do. I was told at one point they heard no complaints from artists – believe me I heard plenty. They’ve learned not to bite the hand that might feed them, but they do have complaints.

As I said before – bigger signs and more of them all over Lake City and the areas coming into it.

Make the venue area more compact, with less areas way out on the fringe.

Provide a shuttle service to stop at the four corners of the venue area – get help from the local school district. It was a lot of walking for some folks.

Allow visitors to register to vote in other areas around the venues. Artworks at the HUB where people registered had an advantage. Also the HUB needs restrooms.

The handout that showed people where the venues were should also have a directory to show where each artist’s work could be found. Unfortunately some folks only want to see some people’s work. It’s sad but true.

Get some rolling vendors to offer hotdogs and drinks for folks who don’t want to have a sit down meal or wait in line at a crowded restaurant.

Contact some tour bus companies in larger cities to organize trips to Lake City from larger cities. They’ll probably take on the expense of organizing the trips.

To make the event easier for artists from outside the state to compete with local artists to compete for the People’s Choice award – start an adopt an artist program. Some folks might enjoy having a talented artist from another state stay with them during the festival or for a weekend. It might make an interesting experience for the artists and the community.

And, finally, don’t outsource the operation of this event to anywhere else. Let Lake City develop this event. I’m sure that community has talented folks who can learn to promote this event as well as anyone else can. It’s a learning experience and you know your community better than anyone else.

I’d be happy to expand on any of these points if anyone is interested in listening. And, I imagine the organizers may have already thought of most of these suggestions for improvement.

I know I’m looking forward to next year already and going back to Lake City when the big show isn’t going on to see what the town is like normally.

Now here’s an unfortunate update!

The ArtField’s People’s Choice Award has been suspended.

The following statement (in part) was taken from the ArtField’s official website (www.artfieldssc.org) under News:

Award of the Popular Choice prize, which represents the most votes cast by the public, has been suspended.  According to Sue-Ann Gerald Shannon, legal counsel for Lake City Partnership Council, the competition’s sponsor, the initial awardee has been sent notification that his entry, “Warsaw Ghetto 1943,” is ineligible for the award because it did not meet the guidelines and rules of the competition.

Ms. Shannon stated: “The eligibility rules, which were clearly set out from the start, required that the submitted entry be wholly owned by the artist and does not infringe upon the rights of others.  After conducting our due diligence investigation, and consulting with art experts, we determined that the ‘Warsaw Ghetto 1943’ entry was merely a re-colorized reproduction of the iconic photograph depicting German soldiers leading away captured Jews for deportation.  Although some displeasure has been expressed for our not disqualifying this piece earlier, in fairness to all and to maintain the competition’s integrity, we first wanted to be absolutely sure we were on solid footing that the piece failed to comply with the rules.  After careful review, we have disqualified the Warsaw Ghetto piece and we will soon announce the winner of the Popular Choice award.”

Back to Me

This is an unfortunate thing, but the rules are rules. I’m glad ArtFields stands up for artists who create their own works without borrowing the talents of others. Any time this much money is involved – things like this can and will happen.

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