Boxcrates, Banners and Backdrops OH MY!

J.C Hardin sets us straight on those 'dreaded' print walls!

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Part One of a Series of Editorials on the Inner Workings of Pop Culture Events

If you’ve ever been to a pop culture event, you’ve seen a large variety of art on display as you walk down the aisles. From the exhibitors using wire ‘Box-crates’ to display art on all four sides, to the backdrops that go anywhere from eight to fifteen feet into the air showcasing dozens of pieces; every participant on the retail side of the table has a different way to present their space. In fact, to contrast these examples there are many of the larger names in the industry who don’t even bring a display to the events excluding perhaps a 5-foot pop-up banner displaying a singular piece of their work inscribed with their name in ‘Trendy Font 501’.But when you get down to the basic theme, it all breaks down to what you personally prefer in your display space.

Naturally, all of these display choices have their pros and cons, but as of late there seems to be a rising amount of disdain and even malevolence being brought towards those with the larger backdrops. Typically these comments are brought on from personal issues with other artists or their salesmanship exceeding the complainer’s sales at an event, but this unrest has actually brought about some hard questions to showrunners, participants, and attendees in these events but the first presented is of course: ‘How big of a display is too big?’

 

Regardless of a personal opinion on larger backdrop displays; they serve a very simple function. Over 95 percent of the exhibiting artists at events are required to pay a booth fee to showcase their work, and a larger display helps you ‘stand out’ from the crowd. In addition to establishing ‘presence’, in this modern technological world, the average attendee has access to millions of pictures available within the click of few buttons of their phones…and can scroll through them at with great ease without much physical effort. A large display allows them to search in a similar fashion, just on a larger scale interactive scale…for their favorite fandom.

Simply put, a large backdrop allows the exhibitor to showcase dozens of pieces, and allows them to attract multiple fan-bases to help compensate for those costs incurred from exhibiting at an event.

It is interesting to point out that the loudest of these naysayers against the larger display backdrops typically end up receiving their spaces for free at these events; in a ‘guest of the show’ capacity. Also, many of these dissenters during the last couple of years have increased the size of their own backdrop displays to accommodate for the advancement in display. But it’s interesting from this writer’s view that the complaints always seem to become much more vocal after being next to or across from one of these backdrop displays where their financial gains have been ‘impacted’ and creates a rippling effect of rants that typically started off with ‘insert negative comment about tall displays’ and jump about to quality of the work from their viewpoint to other issues in the industry of pop culture and comics…but we’re just getting started on these editorials. Bear with me…

Aside from the kibitzing on ‘the higher the display’, some of these artists will complain about the dangers of larger displays to sway show owners. They are presented as a safety hazard as on rare occasions they have been known to fall over from extenuating circumstances; be it from a neighboring booth bumping into them, air conditioning being located just above these ‘paper’ sails, bad securing of the displays i.e. not securing them with tape, weights, or spreading the tripods safely. Sometimes it’s just plain user error from the rookie who just bought a new display.

But to be blunt, the real issue boils down to artists feeling that this booth with a larger display just takes away from their own sales at an event. All displays come with their pros and cons: Box-crates stand on the tables and can block the artist from view, forcing them to sit down all weekend. Most of their users tend to use the sides to display their work in what is deemed another artist’s space; and yes sometimes even fall down because they aren’t properly secured or fastened. Personally, I’ve seen grid walls and wire-box crates fall over more than larger displays at these events. Pop up Banners snap and the sticks go wild, grid walls fall over and cause domino effects, sometimes boxes and table displays get knocked over by attendees at the events. Safety is a naturally everyone’s concern, but blaming higher risk on one style due to the opposing factor of sales impact is just petty.

It should be noted that several shows have begun to enforce ‘height restrictions’ policies in their artist alley, but in contrast not in their ‘dealer’ areas at events as well. In addition to the financial gains, reduction of complaints from artists who use different display types, and higher chance of additional space purchase, the logic behind this method is simply – ‘well if they want to display more they should pay more and less risk.’ There are actually some shows in fact that restrict the amount of space you can purchase to a mere six or eight foot space in face in addition to height limitations (albeit this being typically the show organizer’s decision and less so much political reason). It can be argued that this sets a fair playing field for fresh new talent to the seasoned professional to wage artistic sales war in, the simplest issue comes down to how long can you grab someone’s attention? This negative effect of these restrictions is that it can create a muddying effect to the general view.

Let’s do some general arithmetic- If you have a 6-foot table space, of which you can go 8 feet in display behind…and you subtract the 3-4 feet of table height, along with the space of a human being (let’s say a minimum of 5ft x 2.5ft to average most body types) you are left with basically enough space to display 6 maybe 8 items (with an average 11×17 poster size). Naturally, you can use the front of your space to display and even grab portfolio books, but it all comes down to being able to use the space you have purchased practically. Again, the average attendee has hundreds of fandoms to choose from, and if you can showcase that work in a way that makes it easier for them, then there is a higher chance for that one particular piece of artwork to stands out. Almost every artist in these events recalls a moment where an attendee stopped and ‘gushed’ over a particular piece they had on display. Regardless of pop-up banner, box crate, or large backdrop this whole artistic world revolves around what you can do to grab your audience’s attention.

Next time we discuss the perils of guest artist signature/commission lines, aisle-blocking, general display courtesy, music playing booths, and overall just basics of display and booth etiquette that seem to have vanished. Hope you’ll click in to read!

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