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Show is a ‘Paradise City’ for furniture

The Paradise City Arts Festival will hold its annual spring show Memorial Day weekend, May 23-25, at the Three County Fairgrounds in Northampton, Mass. More than 250 craftsmen and artists, including custom furniture makers, will display their work at the juried show. The fairs of fine and functional art are held each spring in Philadelphia, Northampton and Marlborough, Mass., and each fall in Northampton and Marlborough.

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The Paradise City Arts Festival was founded 15 years ago by Linda and Geoffrey Post, fiber artists who traveled the show circuit for many years. Linda Post also paints and does sculpture work. After years of hearing fellow exhibitors at shows express their likes and dislikes about various venues and events, the couple decided to promote a show of their own. Paradise City was a little-used nickname for Northampton, and the promoters thought it was catchy and described the new event as well as their feelings about Northampton. The first Paradise City Arts Festival was held in 1995.

“It kind of combined the elements of a fun-to-go-to festival with the elegance of an indoor show,” says Linda Post. “We tried to combine the excitement with the elegance and create a show that was a little bit different and also combined fine art and craft in a very unified way. Because both of us had very extensive connections in both the fine art and the fine craft field, we were able to start out our shows with an extraordinary group of artists.”

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The Northampton show will have exhibitors in the fields of furniture, wood, mixed media, sculpture and several other areas of art and craft. Items are available for purchase for the expected 15,000 attendees.

Proven sales
“I’ve been doing the show eight or nine years,” says Ken Salem of Salem Board and Beam, a Northampton custom furniture shop that uses salvaged and reclaimed woods. “It’s a way to get exposure to a high-end customer; qualified people walking through the door. It’s a great way to grow your business because the feedback can help delineate where the business needs to go to make money. I’ve done very well there in the past.”

“What we look for in the jury process is a broad scope,” Post says. “We’re trying to find people in a lot of different ways, and that goes for all media, not just furniture. We are looking for diversity, looking for technical excellence, and we’re looking for people who are doing things that are a little bit innovative, because there is an audience for that.”

Post collects anonymous survey forms from exhibitors at the end of the shows to find out how each media did and to track sales. Furniture has been the top seller among the media categories at both of the Northampton shows for at least the last five years.

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“The furniture is very high quality. We have some really extraordinary furniture makers in the show. The artists vary from show to show. People who have big work and are traveling from far away will choose one of the shows.”

“Most people are pretty accomplished at what they’re doing,” Salem notes. “It’s nice because it gives you, especially if you are a woodworker, an appreciation for a lot of different people’s work even though it might not be my taste. There’s a lot of different inspiration and direction that you’ll find at the show typically. Much of it isn’t what you would necessarily be doing, but it’s inspirational. Sometimes it’s looking outside the box or maybe taking a different twist on something that has been done [before] and then being successful at it.”

Furniture and more
The show grew so rapidly that, after three years, a fall show was added in Northampton and Marlborough. The Marlborough show attracts more Boston-area artists and some artists do both the Marlborough and Northampton shows.

“We do all kinds of furniture and furnishings; there is fashion and jewelry, fine art, and sculpture,” Post says. “There are a lot of people listed under sculpture who also do furniture, because they do some functional and non-functional work. The non-functional work falls under sculpture, the functional work is furniture.”

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The Northampton spring show has an outdoor sculpture garden, which exhibitors make furniture for, a silent auction to benefit public television, daily jazz concerts, and an interactive theater for kids.

“I think one of the things that sets us apart is the wonderful mix between the fine arts and the functional art,” adds Post. “We have some wonderful painters and sculptors in the show that you won’t see at other shows, especially at furniture shows. We look for diversity; not just in style, but also in price range. We make sure there are affordable things at each of our shows.”

The Northampton fall show is scheduled for Oct 10-12, which is Columbus Day weekend; the Marlborough fall show will be held at the Royal Plaza Trade Center, Nov. 20-22.

Contact: Paradise City Arts Festivals. Tel: 800-511-9725.

This article originally appeared in the May 2009 issue.

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