Friday, December 18, 2020

The Virtual Quilt Festival, aka, the Houston show
a review

One of my most basic reservations about virtual quilt shows is that they do not offer more than what I am already seeing on my Instagram feed. The VQF offered a large collection of exhibits, 5 contests, vendors, and classes, and possibly more. However, I was hesitant to enter my quilts this year, for a number of reasons. I had already entered a few quilts in the IQA World of Beauty exhibit.  However, that event was cancelled early this summer.  Is different good or bad or maybe some of both? 

Houston was the one show that I usually get to go to.  I live close, so it is easy for me to get away for this one.  I get to see my quilts there, and see people looking at my quilts.  I also get to see the other quilts.  It gives me both perspective and inspiration.  I don't usually take classes, so I have nothing to compare to the opportunity for virtual classes. But, mostly I get to hang out and spend time with my friends that live all over the place. This yearly retreat is the only time we see each other in person.  And for that, the virtual experience just didn't compare. 

My participation in the contests:

The price for entry was $20 per quilt.  There were only 5 quilting contests with no categories within each contest.  The IQA's judged show A World of Beauty had a lot more.  There was a total of about 250 quilts in the 5 contests, compared to about 350-400 for the IQA show. There was no information before the show regarding the number of quilts that would be accepted (which I imagine would be based on how many entries they received.) There was also no information about how prizes would be awarded, how many prizes were involved, or what the prize actually was. Perhaps more planning time would have (or could have) made a world of difference? 

I entered 3 quilts into the contests for this show.  I had two quilts accepted into the Quilting Now exhibit/contest which was a collection of modern quilts. There were 50 quilts accepted into this contest.

Two Halves


Conversations

And, I had one quilt accepted into the In My Mind exhibit/contest which was a collection of art quilts. There were about 90 quilts accepted into this contest.  It was a collection of all the art quilt categories normally seen at the IQA show, A World of Beauty, and included landscapes, abstracts, representational art, digital art, etc.   

The Heron, the Kayak, and the Grebes: Part I

After I bought my $10 ticket, and the show opened, I found out that each contest had only one winner.  And while those winners were definitely well deserved, it was impossible for me to appreciate their splendor from a photo on my computer compared to being in front of the full sized quilt. This will be a problem for any virtual quilt show. The prize awards were also much lower than what had been typically offered for the IQA show, but I anticipated that. 

There were also 23 exhibits of other quilts.  This is about half the number of exhibits that are usually at the Houston quilt show, but it was more than I could see at one time.  Some of the exhibits did not appeal to me, but many others did.  I had one quilt in one of these exhibits.  It was in SAQA's exhibit Ebb & Flow. 

Floating in a Sea of Symbols



The things I liked about the Virtual Quilt Show:

1.  It was something to look forward to that was a positive thing in the midst of so many bad things in the world and in the daily news. 

2.  I liked seeing the quilts.  I enjoyed seeing quilts that I might not have run across on social media. 

3. Even though I didn't win anything, I loved having an opportunity to compete.

4. I really appreciated that the visuals of the quilts included an overall view and a closeup view and the artist's name and statement (...though I honestly wished the photo resolution had been higher).

5. I also like that my ticket allows me to view the festival for 3 months. I would also be curious to know how many people use this feature?

The things I didn't like about the Virtual Quilt Show:

1.  There were an overwhelming number of technical glitches on the entire first day.  So much frustration! Photos would not load.  argh!!! It seems like the organizers would have anticipated this and planned for a much better performance than they did.

2. There was a general lack of information about what to expect from the contests.  I also did not like having to choose a viewer's choice award from only the winners of the contests. Instead of it being about MY choice, it was "which winner did you like the best?" award.... It didn't sit right with me.

3. The experience of shopping the vendors did not even come close to the real experience.  I don't know how to make this work or what I would of liked from the vendors on a virtual platform, but this completely missed the mark for me.  It should have had a much bigger 'footprint' than a simple list of company names with links to their websites. I would have liked something more interactive, and something with a LOT more visuals and eye candy. For the little that they received, I could not see an obvious benefit of any fees they would have paid to be there.  Another technical glitch was the search bar for vendors does not allow any misspellings which makes it harder to find what you are looking for. I didn't buy anything either (or I haven't yet). And that is problematic.  We need the vendors, and they need us. I will probably just continue to shop from my regular suppliers for my needs, but I also really miss that experience of shopping in person and seeing new things. 

4. The social experience was sorely lacking.  There was one way to connect with others at the show on this platform, but it was flooded with technical complaints. *(see edit at the bottom) And, there was a surprising lack of social media connected to the event. It was mostly quiet.  Not even participants were chatting about it.  That is not good.

5. The original presentation of the quilts was via slide show (during the rare moments that the photos would load) that could be paused.  This is a small thing but it aggravated my repetitive use injuries to only be able to control the slide show with my mouse.  The arrow keys on my keyboard (to advance to the next photo) did not work.  This was later changed to a PDF format and that got better.  But with the PDF, you are limited by the resolution of the photo.  All of the quilts had minimal resolution, with the exception of the 5 prize winners.  A decision was made here about how to best present the quilts on-line, and I am not sure it was the right one...**(see edit at the bottom)

6. I missed the presence of the International Quilt Association.  As I mentioned earlier, they did not have their annual judged show.  Their judged show was the centerpiece of the International Quilt Festival, and they weren't there. The 5 contests were qualitatively not a comparable substitution. They did not have the IQA fundraising auction quilts.  They did not have the IQA raffle quilt.  And, now I have just found out that the IQA is ending. I feel incredibly sad at this loss and a bit naive that it would last forever.  It will be interesting to see if the Houston IQF (when it meets in person) will be able to fill some very large expectations.

Other Suggestions for a better virtual show.

1.  Include the sizes of the quilts on the signage.  It is virtual, we can't tell how big the quilts are.

2.  Wouldn't it be cool to have a way to add comments to quilts you liked? In terms of connecting with the artists, I think this would be awesome.  (On a personal note, I did look up a few new artists on social media to leave comments, but not everyone was on Instagram, so I missed a few). The signage also did not include ways to contact the artists, like a website, or a social media account name.  And they specifically had an entire section devoted to the artists, but it was just a list of artists and the quilts that were there, no contact information at all. That would have been really nice and presumably not that hard to add. And cross promoting artists benefits everyone.

3.  On-line reviews: This seems to be an almost automatic feature of almost anything that I buy on-line, the next day email follow-up, "please review the product you purchased" request. Virtual quilt shows should be responsive to the feedback of their participants. I have not yet received any requests for reviews. We are the customers, and IQF should want to know what our experience was and how to make it better; both because it is better for us as customers, and also because it makes good business sense.  

I understand many of the constraints that were a part of this event.  I feel like I may have been harsh in my criticisms, but I also know that a quite number of people were much harsher than I was. 

The virtual show was better than nothing, which is not very high praise.  It was all we have right now because of the pandemic, but I expected more. One thing is for certain, trying to put together a virtual quilt show is difficult. It requires an ability to change and be flexible in an ever changing and unpredictably complicated world, and this year was unprecedented in that regard. I applaud this first attempt,but I expected better from a show with such a solid reputation. The question remains: how responsive will they be to the needs of their customers (both the viewers and the vendors) and the problems they faced with this first virtual quilt show?

My hopes are that this event was at least successful enough to keep this organization in business;  because their in-person events are top notch and I look forward to their return. I also look forward to seeing how the Modern Quilt Guild runs their virtual exhibit of QuiltCon2021.  

EDITS: 

*1. There was a more efficient way of communicating socially offered by the VQF platform.  It is unfortunate that I missed it.  You could add friends from a list of attendees so that you could have your own social hangout.  Perhaps I was in too much of a rush to see the quilts to notice this feature.  Darn it! As an aside, I also noticed on the main Virtual Cafe social page, that a number of participants were really appreciative of this venue and really enjoying their experience.

**2. I did find a way of presenting quilts at a quilt show that I just absolutely loved and had forgotten about it.  It was at the Schweinfurth's Quilts=Art=Quilts virtual exhibit.  They had a virtual gallery where you could 'walk' through the rooms to explore the quilts.  It showed quilts hanging next to each other, and you could zoom in on the quilts.  Of course, they had a much smaller number of quilts to display, but it was an awesome viewing experience from my perspective. I wish I had the software that they used.  I think it would be fun to put some of my solo exhibits into a show like this. :) Regardless, this was the optimal experience for viewing quilts virtually when we can't meet in real life. 

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