As coordinator of Guilford Art Center’s (GAC) Craft Expo, you might say Allison Maltese “crafts” one of New England’s top craft shows.
The show returns to the Guilford Green for its 59th year on Friday, July 15 through Sunday, July 17. This year’s juried event features more than 180 American artists. The show also includes faculty and artist demonstrations, kids’ crafts, a food court (including new beer and wine service), and more. Craft Expo showcases hundreds of unique, hand-crafted works for sale, purveyed by the artists who made them.
GAC’s Craft Expo started out as a simple clothesline art show on the Town Green nearly six decades ago and now draws an estimated 8,000 to town, including artists, collectors, and visitors. Proceeds raised through the event’s silent auction and nominal entrance fees (find a $1 off coupon at www.guilfordartcenter.org) benefit non-profit GAC. Opened in 1967, GAC was born from the folks who founded Craft Expo. Today, GAC offers a year-round gallery and school art education programs for students of all ages and skill levels at its Church Street campus.
Allison is now in her fourth year organizing GAC’s Craft Expo.
“I’ve always wanted to work here,” says Allison, who took GAC classes in photography and glass. “So I was really excited when this opportunity came along.”
A Guilford resident, Allison grew up in Killingworth and remembers attending Craft Expo as a child.
“My mother took me to the Craft Expo every year. There were five of us; we always went. So I’ve been coming to it for a very long time!”
Putting on Craft Expo these days is a year-round job. In fact, Allison’s work on the next Craft Expo is already underway. She begins by encouraging artists from across the country to apply.
“I actually start a whole year ahead. I’ve already placed media for calls for entries for next year. By October first, the application for next year is up online,” says Allison.
When she first joined GAC as Expo coordinator in 2012, the online application was being curated by an outside company. With some research and “a little web coding in there,” Allison has developed an in-house version.
She credits her graphic design background (she earned her BA from Connecticut College) and years of professional graphic design production experience with helping her to help GAC.
“There’s a skill set that transferred over very well. There’s a big graphic component to this work, too,” she says, including eye catching promotional Craft Expo material with a colorful mix of photos.
During the year, Allison follows artists and also finds new artists to drive eclectic responses to Craft Expo’s call for entries.
“That’s always the fun part, finding the new artists and looking at their work, which I really enjoy. The amount of creativity out there is astounding,” she says.
Applications close in January and then the juried selection process begins. Three different jurors are selected each year from appropriate fields, such as artists specializing in certain mediums or university professors, says Allison. Thanks to the Internet, judges don’t need to be from the area.
“Each applicant uploads five images of their work, and then at their own remote locations, the jurors look at each of the entries, and then it’s decided who will be in the show,” Allison explains.
As a side benefit, Allison has been able to use the electronically submitted information to build up a data base of some of America’s most impressive and up-and-coming craft artists. Artists once had to submit photos, then load up CDs with images of their work when applying for a spot in Craft Expo.
“Even in 2013, I was uploading from CDs. This year, for the first time, it was totally electronic,” says Allison, a self-professed “Excel Queen.”
“So now, I can capture all the data from the applications and download it into an Excel data base. It really helps when you have so many artists,” she says.
Even though she has many months plan each Craft Expo, right now, it’s crunch time.
“When you get down to the last 10 days before the show, there are so many different aspects to coordinate,” Allison says.
This year’s show features 50 new artists among Craft Expo’s roster of more than 180 American craft artists displaying their work. Some of the newcomers bring new takes on interesting mediums, such as a Pennsylvania artist who creates a type of woven aluminum jewelry, says Allison.
“The challenge is to balance in new mediums and new talent with those who have been returning for many years,” Allison notes.
Seventeen states are represented in this year’s Craft Expo artist mix. The common thread among all Craft Expo artists is they’re “top level,” she adds.
Ticketed entry to Craft Expo not only puts visitors in front of some of the country’s best craft artists, but also offers the chance to learn more about those crafts from the person who created them.
“A huge advantage is that you have the interaction with the artist, one-on-one,” says Allison.
As an added benefit, some of the artists are also Craft Expo “demo artists,” she says.
“So this year, for example, there’s one booth where you can make your own [silk] scarf, there’s another gentlemen who makes wood-turned pens who has a big demo booth, and there will be other demonstrations by other artists,” says Allison.
Building in interesting artist demos is one way Allison keeps on raising the bar for Craft Expo.
“It’s one of the premiere shows in New England and very highly rated,” she says. “A lot of people may think it’s the same old thing every year, and it’s not.”
This year, for the first time, Craft Expo will offer beer and wine service as part of the event’s daily food court offerings. Allison’s excited to share a popular food attraction from last year, the Caseus Cheese food truck, will return.
“We’ll also have live acoustic music,” she says. “There are always local musicians who donate their time, which we find fabulous. So there’s a lot of ambiance.”
In a nod to GAC’s art school programming, “We’re doing a new family art tent this year, and expanding on the kids’ crafts a little bit with a project on Impressionism,” says Allison. “The kids can make a little lily pad or a lotus [and] there’s also a Scavenger Hunt. So we really have a variety of things.”
The entire 2016 show program and other details planned for this year’s Expo can be found at GAC’s website.
“There’s tons of information there,” says Allison, adding she hopes anyone visiting GAC’s website will also absorb a bit more information about this unique, non-profit organization.
“A lot of people know about Craft Expo, but we want them to also know what’s going on here at Guilford Art Center, and that the proceeds from Craft Expo help fund the school’s educational programs.”
During Craft Expo, some GAC artists/instructors will be demonstrating types of mediums taught at the school including working a pottery wheel and weaving loom.
“That was very beginning of Craft Expo,” Allison says of the craft demonstrations. “So we brought that back to Craft Expo couple of years ago, which I think is a great component to it.”
In addition to supporting GAC and some very talented American artists, Craft Expo is good for the town, says Allison.
“It’s a good thing for Guilford,” she says. “The store owners around the Green do very, very well. The location of the show fits very well with the character of the town. I think it’s become a part of the identity for this town, and it also introduces so many people to the beautiful center of Guilford. So it’s kind of a beautiful marriage.”
GAC Craft Expo 2016 takes place rain or shine on the Guilford Green Friday, July 15 from noon to 9 p.m.; Saturday, July 16 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Sunday, July 17 from noon to 5 p.m. Tickets begin at $9 for adults, $7 for seniors, and free to Guilford Art Center members, children under 12, and active military members. For more information, visit www.guilfordartcenter.org or call 203-453-5947.