NCECA 2010: Some Afterthoughts

May 26, 2010
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I really had a great time at NCECA. It was good to reconnect with friends and colleagues, and there was that added benefit of being a presenter at the conference. My panel was hugely successful, and the participants (John Britt, Angela Fina, Jeff Zamek and myself) received many kudos and accolades. It was well worth the year’s work of putting it all together. The question and answer session after the panel presentation illustrated, yet again, that there is a hunger for ceramic knowledge that is not being taught in schools. Well, that is a topic for another day, for sure.

After returning home and having the exhilaration of being so immersed in clay-related activities for such an intense time, I have three questions:

Who buys all the pots that we are making? I know that potters buy pots. I buy pots, but certainly not with the same desire to accumulate that I had in the past. Now don’t get me wrong, I am a baby boomer and have added on the years. I look around me at the art I have: my teapot collection of about 60 pieces has not been added to in three years, and most of the new work I have on display in my home is some of my new work. I own a gallery in an emerging art district in Denver. I think I may have a pretty good view of sales. There is money here in this city; it just needs to trickle down.

Who is buying all the equipment and supplies that are shown on the trade show floor? I know potters buy all that stuff, but if sales of work have slowed down, do you really need that new spiffy extruder, kiln or pug mill? Can you make more with less?

What are the graduates of BFA and MFA programs doing with their degrees? This is the big question. The economy of selling work is tenuous at best. I see it both as a maker of ceramics and as a gallery owner. There are really no teaching jobs, and the ones that are have hundreds of applicants (if not more). The good art festivals are quite difficult to get into, as they typically have a rather large proportion of ceramics applicants for a very small number of available spaces. Sales are down considerably.

These questions are all linked together. I am asking them only to provoke some answers. I am lucky to have survived 40 years as a potter and ceramic artist. The market was different “back in that day.” Not better, not worse, just different. Well, there was at least a market, so I guess that made it better. It required hard work, commitment and good work. And it does even today.

I know there is a future for anyone who wants to have a future in the ceramic arts. It’s just more limited, smaller than in previous years. It still takes hard work, masterful time management, unswerving commitment, and really good work. Let me say that again-really good work. Mediocrity just won’t cut it any more.

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