Kentucky Crafted: The Market is not just good art, but good business, too

Panels by Lexington photographer Don Ament at Tempur-Pedic headquarters. The company shopped for art at Kentucky Crafted.
Panels by Lexington photographer Don Ament at Tempur-Pedic headquarters. The company shopped for art at Kentucky Crafted. Lexington Herald-Leader

When Lexington-based memory foam mattress maker Tempur-Pedic built its new headquarters, officials there went shopping for more than nice office furniture: they wanted original artwork to spruce the place up.

"It was important for us to have art within our building, because the primary purpose in designing the building was really to create a place the employees loved and wanted to come to work in," said Patrice Varni, senior vice president of Tempur-Pedic Brands. "And to us, art was a critical part of that."

So she and other executives went to Kentucky Crafted: The Market to scout possibilities. They ended up with two photographers, Don Ament of Lexington and Guy Spears of North Carolina. And they selected Kentucky-specific work to grace their cafe and offices.

They also connected through the Kentucky Arts Council with glass artist Guy Kemper and commissioned two mosaics for upper-floor spaces. They first saw his work at the University of Kentucky hospital and wanted to bring that creativity into their office.

"One of the things that sets Tempur-Pedic apart as a company is that we are creative, that we are innovative. The product we brought to market 20 years ago was different from everything else out there. ... We see that creative, innovative spirit that is part of the DNA of Tempur-Pedic in the arts, in artists," Varni said. Putting art on the walls "felt very true to the brand."

Beyond that, she said: "It just makes people happy."

And the Kentucky Crafted market has been helping to make a lot of artists happy, too.

According to a new economic impact analysis done by the Kentucky Arts Council, Kentucky Crafted: The Market in 2013 generated over $1 million in sales and had overall economic impact on artists and on the city of over $2 million.

"With a solid strategic plan and upward trending data, the Kentucky Arts Council expects to continue to exceed a $2 million impact on the Kentucky economy in the future," according to the council.

"I know several artists that this is their year," Kemper said. "They go to that and get enough orders for the whole year. A lot of those guys really depend on that to make their business successful. Art is not a necessity, so a lot of times it's difficult to sell."

The 2013 Market, the second year it was in Lexington after decades in Louisville, saw a 14 percent increase in the number of exhibiting artists, a 25 percent increase in gross receipts, and attendance of more than 10,000, a new record, according to the council. The 2014 Market will be March 7-9 at Lexington convention center.

According to reports from more than 200 artists who exhibited at the March show, they received almost $1.05 million in sales and commissions.

"That's one thing people don't always understand: We're talking about businesses here," said Lori Meadows, executive director of the Kentucky Arts Council. "This is how most of the artists that participate in the market make their living. They are entrepreneurs, small businesses."

The council created the market more than 20 years ago to give them a venue to collectively market their work. But the Kentucky Crafted Market also helps Lexington, the council found.

The council surveyed 1,000 general admission visitors to this year's market on how much spent on other things. Combined with what the exhibitors spend, the economic impact from incidental spending (hotels, restaurants, gas, etc.) amounted to more than $1 million, the council found.

The state is commissioning a statewide study of the creative industry, which will be announced later this year, to quantify the collective impact of arts venues and artist clusters. Figures are expected to be released in late 2014 or 2015.

"We just want to give people a better understanding of the industry," Meadows said. "That will help us set the path for where we want to go as an arts council in the future. Lot of communities around the state are looking at how arts can help with tourism and economic development, so we want to have the information for communities."

Jim Browder, executive director of the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau, said that the art market has been a boon to downtown.

"It's got a great impact on the city and creates activity for restaurants," Browder said. He is working to spread the word beyond Kentucky — to Indianapolis, for instance — to increase potential hotel stays.

"The growth potential is to make it more of a stronger regional presence, not just state presence," Browder said. "I think there are definitely ways it can grow."

The market already has expanded to include more performance art, such as music, and put more emphasis on architectural artwork, Meadows said.

Photos and sample of architectural work are now displayed in their own section, which is receiving more attention these days.

"When they started it, I really didn't think anything would come of it because I know how difficult it is to market art," Kemper said. "But it got me that Tempur-Pedic job."

That kind of large-scale art can be a tougher sell, especially in places that don't have dedicated funding for the arts such as "Percent for the Arts" built into public or private development projects.

"It's a very niche market. Everybody buys jewelry and pictures to hang on their wall but the architectural stuff is tougher," Kemper said. "We get value-engineered out of the budget a lot of times."

The market's strategy appears to be working.

Glass artist Dan Neil Barnes was approached at the market by representatives of the new Owensboro Convention Center about a major display piece for their glass front wall

The result will be Cascade, a 45-by-22-by-8-foot sculpture of 140 pieces of custom-made fused glass, in two shades of blue and two shades of green.

"I was walking the riverfront, which they've just redone, which has a stair-stepped waterfall; that's where I pulled the name from it," Barnes said. This will be the biggest version of his sculptures to date, when the center opens in January.

"To get this big sculpture in Owensboro is a unique feather in my cap and should help open a lot of doors," Barnes said. The market "is an incredible thing for Kentucky artists. Other states are in envy and awe of us, although a few states are beginning to mimic it."