44th International Watermedia Exhibition: behind the scenes look

March 07, 2021 12:16 PM | Ksenia Annis (Administrator)

by Tom Kraycirik, IWE Director and Haley Bowen Lehfeldt, IWE Chair

What about next year? This was the obvious question for the IWE Committee in 2020 after slamming on the brakes of the 43rd IWE after only three but three highly successful days.

The IWE Committee is really an amalgam of all volunteer committees. While I am IWE Director and Haley Bowen Lehfeldt is IWE Chair, we work closely with and seek and obtain assistance from every Board member, especially President Beth Graham on down, and the committees they oversee. All are really part of the process and contribute at a moment’s notice to fill a gap, come up with an idea, fill out a work detail or put in hours in systems that we all enjoy but often don’t readily appreciate.

Of course, from their sheltering-in-place offices WAS-H’s tech savvy volunteers quickly responded by whipping up our first IWE Online Exhibition to project the works of the selected artists to the public. Thank you to Karen Stopnicki, Sally Hoyt, Mike Doan, Karen Capper, Paula Fowler, Kathleen Church, Ksenia Annis, Louise Bateman, Jan McNeil, Patty Armstrong, and many others for your tremendous effort.

So, how long could we be in grip of Covid-19 after all... a few weeks, a month or so? Two months later, we finally were able to get back into the gallery to box up paintings and ship them back to the artists.

As in every former exhibition, the next one begins when the present one ends. So, it was with this new 44th International Watermedia Exhibition. Except this year presented a totally unique set of problems, requiring a rework of the whole system.

There was never really a thought about mothballing the 44th IWE and wait until the all-clear signal. But yet, how do you plan, incur expenses, and expect people to commit time for an event which you may or may not be able to open. The concern was just what shape was it going to take?

During the 2020 summer months the IWE committee pondered the question while the WAS-H board was dealing with problems every organization and business was dealing with to keep doors open and services provided.

Other major watercolor societies were pondering the same question for their next event. Some were going to plow ahead with an actual exhibition while others were opting for the online route. Each had positive and negative elements.

Personally, the major concern is assuring that awards were being made to verifiable paintings and not computer created or augmented images. This requires actual, hands-on inspection of the artwork, something not inherent with the online format.

Of course, one of the major benefits of an online exhibition to the artist is the low cost to enter and compete. No shipping costs, which is a major expense. This cost can be justified if works are actually exposed to the buying public wherein the size and presence of the work can positively affect the sale. But can you expect the artist to incur the cost of shipping along with the risk that the event may cancelled at the last minute?

After much thought, the committee came up with the concept of having an online exhibition of the 100 or so paintings that the judge selects but with an enhancement. The juror would select a group of paintings from the 100 which could potentially receive awards if they complied with prospectus requirements. Only this group would be asked to send their paintings to WAS-H for inspection and if possible, an actual exhibition of the winners would be held.

The IWE Committee proposed the reworked prospectus to the board, the juror Keiko Tanabe was informed of the program and the board agreed to proceed. Dates were set and the prospectus approved.

Then the regular work of putting on the IWE progressed. The IWE Chair Haley Bowen Lehfeldt contacted entry systems CaFE to go over and post the new prospectus. The application questionnaire was adjusted based on improvements requested from the previous year. Promotional blasts were devised and scheduled for email to more than 50,000 artists worldwide to introduce and then months later remind artists of the event. We paid the fee to CaFE and committed. The call for Entry to the 44th IWE began on October 7, 2020.

Meanwhile the pandemic raged.

Measuring the success of an exhibition entry is similar to baking a cake...it looks like a flop until the very last few moments.

In years past, the opening last week of the application period typically shows only about a handful of applicants from a small hand at that. By end of week, hundreds of applications have poured in. This year was the same and was very successful as we gained 100 more applicants from the previous year.

Through CaFE, invitations went out to those artists on January 9, 2021whose work was selected for the 44th Online IWE with requests to respond through CaFE to accept or decline the invitation. Also, invitations went out to those artists whose work the juror selected for the awards pool.

This is one set of requests to which artists were quick to reply. Big Problem. CaFE’s computer system had a problem and basically froze.

Calls started pouring in from artists that they could not respond. Of course, being a weekend and in Colorado, no help was immediately available. Haley sent out an email informing the artists of the computer system and to send an accept or decline notice to the WAS-H email. So now we at least had a backup verification.

Their system was fixed by the following Tuesday and we sent out yet another email to artists to respond through the CaFE again, despite their response to WAS-H by email. The CaFE system provides a computerized breakdown of much information which would multiply our problems if it was not used for this final step.

Most of the artists responded quickly but others were confused and phone calls had to be made.

But nature had one more trick to play. That, of course, was the 126-year low temperature that that was broken just as many artists decided to ship their work. Locally, power failed, water services halted, roads became impassable and the city ground to a halt. The where and when of deliveries to WAS-H was in question as artists were fearful to ship their work and we were really had no way of knowing when to expect them.

Weeks were spent at WAS-H, waiting to take in the select group when and if they came. Come they did, but only after volunteers wiled away their day in a sometimes chilled and waterless building.

The sun did come out and the paintings came in. Now, on the eve of our juror reviewing the selected works we look forward to the opening ceremony and the presentation of awards. Viewers can look forward to a flawless presentation. But if there was a glitch, volunteers will have smoothed it over so you never know.

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