by Munks

Shush, shush, shush.


No one was telling me to shut up. “Shush” was what I heard repeatedly at the Des Moines Arts Festival.

Shush, shush, shush.  No quotation marks.

It was the noise I heard when my gorgeous companion and I were walking away from either the Habitat for Humanity display or the outdoor concert Saturday night at the DMAF.

It was the sound of people’s feet. “Shushing” across the asphalt.


I heard it when we tried to walk on the right-hand side of the street. People kept “shushing” by on the left as we walked by the booths that were worth walking past. Most people were in the middle of the street socializing and drinking. Lots of “how are you’s” and “I haven’t seen you’s”. The population density dropped significantly when I scanned from the middle of the street to the artists’ booths. The shushing sound was most prevalent about two feet outside the booths as people shushed down the street, drink in hand and looking for someone to talk to, with, or about.

I don’t ever apply to the DMAF and I have stopped participating in the Artfest Midwest show across town. I will not do so in the foreseable future. Here’s why:

We arrived at 7:30ish on Saturday evening. We parked on the street about a half block from the 12th and Walnut entrance. No problems finding parking. Lots of people were leaving. We saw no one carrying anything out of the show. We turned left and shushed with everyone else westward and shushed the perimeter of the show with a couple of excursions into the interior walkways.

The food booths were numerous and busy. The beer/wine/soda booths were usually about 8-9 deep with people blocking the shush-path. They were by far – far and away the busiest booths at the show during the time we were there.

To me, it felt like the artists’ booths were an afterthought. Something where some one smarter than me said: “Oh yeah, let’s get some artists in here.”. My beautiful and much more objective-minded companion reminded me that the show is a “festival” – a place for people to gather and drink and talk and enjoy the surroundings. I reminded her that people paid to be there to sell their work. “Yeah, I know,” she said, “but if I didn’t know you, I wouldn’t have thought of that – and these people”, ” she motioned to the crowd, “have no idea.”

“Maybe the buyers come on Sunday.” she added, trying to make it better.

We saw one wrapped painting being carried (presumably) to it’s new owner’s car. It was a good sized one and he looked proud of his purchase. I could not make out who may have painted it, and he was shushing along at pretty good clip, so I left him alone.

The artists, for the most part looked tired. This is toward the end of the second day and I do not blame them. I’ve been there before. Even a couple of artists I have absolutely no respect for in any sense of the word looked worn out and it’s understandable. Anyone that wants to bitch that the artists were not engaging enough – send me a note please. They were all doing a fine job. The newspaper here ran a blurb from, I don’t know what she is or was – but she advocated customers asking for 5-10% discount on purchases. I hope they didn’t have to deal with that nonsense. My feeling is they probably didn’t because no one reads much of what’s left of the newspaper around here in the first place.

The music was rocking. Many more people were seated and standing enjoying the free concert. Between the music, food, booze, and sideshow stuff – it felt to me like the show juried the artists in fairly or unfairly – I did not and do not feel the artists in the show were better or worse than any other show I have ever attended or participated in – and then put every obstacle possible to draw attention away from the artists.

We walked back the car, past several open parking spots within a half block of 12th and Walnut – shushing and shaking. Shushing along with everyone else on the pavement and shaking our heads at the lack of focus.

Sunday – we went to the Artfest Midwest show. Sue and Ron have put this show together for years. This show is indoors and the room echoes, so no shushing here. The quality of work ranges from “Incredible” to “How did you get in?”. We bought a few things and said “hi” to several of the artists. It was comfortable and the focus was on the art, good and bad.

The crowd on Sunday while we were there was not nearly as large as downtown, but it is important to note: people at Artfest Midwest were looking at the art. We heard mixed reports on sales, but there were no distractions and the focus was on the artists.

The Artfest Midwest show was a better experience at a patron, but I cannot recommend either show as an artist and I will not participate in either show as an artist, because what I saw this year at both shows confirms what I have seen in these shows in years past. My observation is it’s not the shows, it’s the market. People that live here apparently do not appreciate and quite possibly do not understand what is brought before them every June. The corporate buyers are not as prevalent and the general population is not interested in the art on a per capita basis. This may be because of the schools, the economy, or whatever – but the challenge is for both shows to teach importance of art in our lives and how important it is to buy art when the artists come to town – without asking for a discount. When that happens, I’ll apply. Otherwise, I’ll rest up for my next show in Illinois next weekend.