Located at the picturesque Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park, the Boston Arts Festival attracts up to 50,000 people a year who come to hear live music; see and interact with art and artists; and enjoy a fall day in New England.
This year, however, the festival transformed into an online format. Attendees were able to participate from anywhere in the world.
“We never had that capability before,” festival organizer Jen Matson said. “You can buy art at midnight in your pajamas.”
Like many large gatherings in the U.S., the typically in-person Festival was canceled, but some festivities were pushed online. To replicate the experience, Matson and her co-organizer and husband Peter Taibi decided to hold a two-day sale for the works of those artists originally chosen to participate.
The 13 musicians on BAF’s 2020 lineup have also been offered a spot in 2021.
On the Festival’s online gallery, New England-based artists sold paintings, jewelry, photography, ceramics and a host of other wares. The two-day auction took place online Saturday and Sunday, with 23 artists showing 20 pieces each.
Matson said artists, herself included, are currently struggling amid the pandemic due to fewer sales as a consequence of fewer in-person opportunities to showcase their work. Selling art online, she said, proves to be a challenge as well.
“People want to see it and touch it and hold it. So the online sales are not being very successful, unfortunately,” Matson said. “[Artists] have still been creating, so we did do this online sale in hopes that people would want to come out.”
In past years, the event has drawn large crowds and given much-needed exposure to local artists, among them Linda Bonaccorsi, who has recently turned her hobby into a small business.
Now in her third year of selling photography, Bonaccorsi said her greeting cards are popular at art fairs. While she said she appreciates what the Boston Art Festival organized for the artists this year, she found it difficult to adjust to a virtual sale format.
“Getting pictures of the framed product, when it’s got glass over it, is very difficult, so that somebody can see what they’re looking at,” Bonaccorsi said. “But for me, even if I’m shopping, I want to talk to the artist. And I want to find out, ‘Hey, where’d you take this? What were you doing?’”
Jada Gardner, a sophomore at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, has been a featured artist at the Festival for three years. Without any formal art training, Gardner had decided to submit her work to the festival when she moved to Boston from Las Vegas.
Gardner described past years at the festival as “very smooth,” with large turnout. This year, Gardner said all past expectations no longer applied.
“A lot of the allure to the Boston Arts Festival is in person: you’re there, it’s social, it’s a whole event,” Gardner said. “So I think losing that aspect from it made me wonder.”
Gardner added that the organizers for the festival this year gave instructions that made it easy to set up her work for display in the online auction, where Gardner’s and other local artists’ pieces were shown this past weekend.
Matson, who also organizes the Beacon Hill Art Walk set for the first weekend of October, said the 2020 BAF acted almost as a trial run, and that she hopes to now enhance the format of another online sale for the Art Walk.