GP Vegas Art Show Review

I grew up rural. A boy who had lived in Germany then resettled in rural Minnesota, not far from the general store and town my Linnemann ancestors founded. I had to travel for Magic, over thirty minutes by car, and grew up without a comic book store, requiring a similar or often longer distance.

What I did have in my life was art.

My parents were teachers, having ninety days of summer vacation to travel across the country, western Europe and visiting the brown historic roadside markers we ignore every day. I became a history major the day I stepped onto my college campus, and an art history major shortly thereafter.

I’ve become struck, obsessive about art, making the thoughts, emotions, intuitions and desires I feel from seeing art, then flattening the difficulty, sharing the beauty of our corner of Magic art in an easily accessible medium. I had come as far as I can with Gathering Magic in writing and explaining about art.

Because words alone are not enough, I had to find other vehicles to carry my intent. The intimate concepts of art cannot be faithfully portrayed by words alone. Art, the content of it, is to be found in how the media is used, in the way the content is expressed. The personal act where Magic players choose basic lands is an extension of personality.

One frontier still nagged at me, bringing the Magic art to the community itself.

At Spectrum 1, I spoke with John Picacio, a great artist who isn’t working in Magic though very well known in the Imaginative Realism niche of illustrative arts, about making art accessible and building something in the community. He picked up on it right away. Art conventions like Illuxcon or Spectrum aren’t enough. We needed to bring the art to the consumers, to the fans themselves. Pop up shows can bring art, but we need information sessions, panels and offerings for aspiring artists and enthusiasts for our sector to move art into Fine Art. It will take years before museum shows are commonly conducted with Magic’s art, something must be done.

So where does that leave us? I had to make the art real, to bring it to spaces that Magic players knew and allowed a personal connection to occur. The Magic: The Gathering term Vorthos is one who cares about the beauty of the game, and what is the outcome of the process by which art gives pleasure to our senses more than beauty? From a competitive tournament with a single minded goal, I was to infuse beauty, to offer an option for the family, for those with time to rediscover what brought them into Magic the card game the first time.

Most of Magic’s art will never be seen in person.

As an art collector myself, I am well aware of the journey from artist creator to open sale to collector is a tight, closed loop. If you are not a collector of art, or know one, you are unlikely to ever see brushstrokes up close.

While I post them ad nauseum on Twitter using the #mtgart hashtag with larger jpeg images so you can see detail, it is not the same as seeing art up close. There is a transformative experience about seeing art in front of your face. People know what the Mona Lisa looks like, and yet, millions flock to visit it each year. (And then they realize how small it is, or countering, how large Lars Grant-West paints for the people that visit me at my home.)

This is a journey, bringing Magic’s art into something more, something greater. A deeper appreciation across our entire community is required. Without seeing the art up close, without experiencing it, feeling it, we are at a standstill of making one of gaming illustration’s strongest brands to stay in its art niche forever. I had to do something to change that.

What I did not expect was the response.

This article is a summary, a Roses and Thorns after a fifty-mile hike of learning for future Magic art shows. A concept can been presented, what we do with that concept is not entirely up to me anymore. We’ll get into that too.

Art Collectors

Before we dive into the survey results, I should talk about how it could even be possible.

An art show didn’t take this long to come to fruition. It took this long for the relationships necessary in the art collecting community to blossom, and more importantly, for the art collecting community to be stable enough to lend works out.

My first thoughts on how to get a Magic art show off the ground was to have it be a gallery, asking artists to lend works. We would have a standard 20% commission and ship art out to interested parties after a month-long show, beginning or ending the show run with the Grand Prix. This would be offsite in an unrelated gallery and the sell was nonexistent. Grand Prix events aren’t announced far enough in advance to plan for most galleries and even then, I could not find a gallery in any major market city interested other than Minneapolis, where I live.

My second thought was to have a few major Magic art collectors lend dozens of works each, with a few selected other collectors and artists to fill out the show. Having worked for a museum prior, I knew that lenders do pull out of agreements at the worst possible time, days before a show open. To minimize risk, I reached out to the four I am aware of, and of them, only one participated. One also reduced the number to zero, shortly before. I expected this and for a concept and first iteration, spreading the risk appeared to have worked best. We still had high value and incredible looking art in the show. A few reactions in my Twitter moment:

Survey

Of the 500+ survey takers, over 31% of all attendees, we found more qualitative data than we expected. We omitted some logical questions because we knew what they could potentially do to answer. Listing gender would make females feel that potentially their answers would speak for an entire group, likewise with any demographic of wealth or racial makeup. We argued about it and instead, in order to simply get people to take them between rounds, we opted for speed vs. depth. The results below do not take into account the online survey results, this is only the paper ones.

What we didn’t know is how many people would return after each round or after their event like Ophiomancer here, which still doesn’t have a physical token.

Having the show end at 6 pm was arbitrary, only to save our two dedicated staffers and two volunteers as we greeted, protected the space and answered questions. We need at least sixteen people for a four day event in the future to move the art show to a 8am-9pm situation, and possibly more. That was an absurd ask in the first iteration. No one knew what to expect and we did not know what to ask of people, much less who the right people were to ask. Rest assured, they showed up and raised their hands.

Likewise, the amount of times I saw a teenager return with a whole family with kids was numerous. I do not know if every family with a stroller came through, but anecdotally I’d argue in the 90th percentile, yes. This was a casual offering and if you were there because of someone else, you stopped in at least once.

How did you hear about the Magic Art Show at GP Las Vegas?

21.21% — Kickstarter Campaign (95)
13.84% — Twitter (62)
35.71% — Informed on site (signage, walked by, etc.) (160)
7.14% — Facebook (32)
29.46% — Word of mouth (160)
11.61% — Other (52)

Of the options, I was utterly shocked how many people found out via simply signage. That many people found the art show and we felt the signage was utterly overlooked, underutilized and inadequate. That said, at an event like Grand Prix Las Vegas, most people do not live there. They made plans and if they were playing, once they were done and wandering around, then they found the show. We did add content to GPVegas.com rather late, after all.

Overall, how did you enjoy the 2017 Magic Art Show at GP Las Vegas? 1-5

1: Does not meet expectation
5: Exceeded Expectations

0% — 1 (0)
.22% — 2 (1)
6.25% — 3 (28)
39.29% — 4 (176)
54.24% — 5 (243)

People wrote in notes for this question. I’m not sure what 5+++ means, but I think it’s good. Writing the question was important here. A 1-10 means few would be below 5, and no one would give a ten because it wasn’t perfect. Instead, we asked about expectations, because that’s visceral to people.

Because of the Kickstarter the Magic Art Show was able to hire Cosplayers for the Magic Art Show. Did the Cosplayers enhance your visit to the Magic Art Show?

1: Indifferent
5: Essential

11.38% — 1 (51)
7.81% — 2 (35)
17.41% — 3 (78)
31.70% — 4 (142)
27.23% — 5 (122)

Admittedly, this was a huge learning process for us. We wanted to validate cosplayers who were just entering the community and bringing the known ones into pushing them into coming again. We knew that many people liked them (data reinforced our thought that over half found them as 4 or 5), but as organizers, we didn’t give them much to do. In the future, clearly we can integrate them better into the space. Feedback from MJ Scott has been vital for future iterations.

What was the best part of the 2017 Magic Art Show at GP Las Vegas?

33.04% — That it existed (148)
64.73% — The art. And seeing it in person (290)
25.89% — It was free (118)
35.49% — Shining a spotlight on MTG art and artists (159)
20.54% — Enhanced my GP experience (92)
12.05% — Cosplayers (54)
2.90% — Other (13)

The percentages don’t match here, you are correct. People chose multiple options.

For future Magic Art Shows, what needs to be most improved?

52.90% — More art (237)
26.56% — MTG preview cards or preview art (119)
16.96% — Layout (76)
20.31% — Increased frequency of shows (91)
2.46% — Shows outside of the U.S.A. (11)
16.74% — Other (75)

This wasn’t the best question, of course everyone wants more art. It was more of a slow pitch to the grumbly people to know why they might not have given it a rating of 5. I would argue about a third, 75+76 people wanted more polish and time dedicated on the presentation aspect of the show. A first of its kind, and definitely a concept won’t be perfect, clearly, though people told us exactly what they wanted instead of us having to guess. I find that very helpful.

It is exciting that my thought to Blake Rasmussen to get card preview artworks in there was correct. People do want to see that. I did request it as soon as the kickstarter funded, in case you’re curious.

Nearly every other choice mentioned better descriptions, longer labels, the card in the label and more. We know. We had forty-seven days. It was a casualty of the condensed timeline. Normal art shows in museums take 18-36 months. Even the smallest of galleries have at least three months. We had half the time of the smallest gallery that could accept packages early. I don’t expect many, if any, Magic players to know that.

Expectedly, some people were pretty vocal about this question and more. We even had feedback on a prominent Facebook group as we tore down the space. It was later deleted, but I screenshotted it. I won’t post here, but I know the person.

Few people outside the museum or gallery world know how much it costs to put on a show. We have more education to do around that.

For a $15,000 Kickstarter goal, we assumed we would have 2000 square feet and everything else would be shoebox and scotchtape to make it work. The intention was a concept for Wizards of the Coast because I knew that we couldn’t raise what we needed to polish a show from good to great, it was too short a timeline and too large a goal. I had to assume we would be under the norm of $20/square foot, which is a normal average for art exhibitions with staff, experience and time. Additionally, all staff would have to be volunteers with no flights/per diem available. To hit the quality a normal art show would be, $40,000 would have to be raised and that’s in a permanent space, not a pop-up with logistics to contend with and that’s half the size that we had envisioned for the space. Originally, we were going to use two side rooms, doubling to 4000 square feet, or $80,000.That’s an absurd amount of money.

Art exhibitions cost about 3-4 times less than a science museum or history museum exhibition though, in case you’re curious.

Future Magic Art Shows will feature other planes and themes. What planes or themes would you like to see the Magic Art Show feature? Anything else you would like to see at the Magic Art Show?

I liked how Dominaria was the main option. Coming in a close second were planes that we didn’t get enough submissions for like Tarkir, Theros, Zendikar and Alara.

We expected more connections to the Grand Prix format or deck choices though the responders didn’t respond much on that much.

The Magic Art Show would like to remain free. In order to continue to keep the show free how would you support the show?

47.54% — Kickstarter (213)
25.45% — Guided tours (artist, WotC employees, etc.) (114)
24.78% — Donation to reveal a preview card (111)
28.13% — Product (126)
34.60% — Tip Jar (155)
4.24% — Other (19)

We were pretty surprised how many people mentioned Patreon in the other section. Guided tours were a miss from fatigue. I could’ve spoke for hours, had I had volunteers to take over the shift from me at the entrance. Imagine doing an in depth tour talking at a high level about art or zooming in at the micro stage to hear about the stories that didn’t make the art label. An “off the record” tour, considering my background I didn’t think of. There were countless stories about the art making process of pieces and also about the artists who made them.

Tip jars were suggested to us during the show. Personally, I hate them. I think they cheapen the space, changing the experience from free to making you wonder, why is this here if it’s free. After Evan Erwin and over a dozen people told us we should, I relented and added one. People who missed the kickstarter wanted to help and I didn’t expect a grinder or professional player to care. My perception is limiting too.

What worked

People largely liked the art show.

The overall satisfaction percentage of 89.9% assigning 1=20% and 5=100%.

People really cared about this show’s success.

31% of the attendees took our survey. People wanted the show to improve and only a few respondents didn’t take the survey seriously.

Safety and insurance

The overly cautious need to have guards on constant notice was not needed. In larger shows, I think we’ll have to examine it, but insurance didn’t require a set number of people per square foot.

Insurance did work out in the end, in transit, liability and covering the *whole amount* of the art. The final two weeks preshow were frantic getting everything covered. With art coming in so late or being removed, each change required a day or two for new paperwork. The cost was also lower than I thought it would be, about $1700 for everything.

What didn’t work (as well as we would’ve liked)

Timing

The main reason no one has ever tried this is because of the condensed timeline to raise the necessary funds, the lack of profitability upon creation and no one has been foolish enough to try. Again, forty-seven days is idiocy and I would not recommend any fan community to attempt that again.

For any future shows, we will need at least six months for planning. Writing takes time. Editing takes an abundance of focus which we did not have. Additionally, so many people did not know about the show, offering art late.

Sponsorship

Wizards has a strange relationship with sponsors. Everything of course should be approved, though any team, staff or encouragement on what to seek out was not clear. In future iterations, unless the art show is massive, I don’t think a sponsor will be needed. Wizards could in theory cover the whole experience now that we own walls and just need shipping, creation time, curatorial expenses like labels and interest.

Preview Cards

What was the largest miss for the first art show is that we were not able to get an original card art painting in the space. What made the escape rooms for Shadows Over Innistrad so unique was a new cosplay combined with a preview card review. It was a spectacle and capitalized on it. Future shows I need to push harder for a physical painting.


People asked me if I was happy with the final result. I’m content with the concept, though far from satisfied for the show. Building a sideboard is catered to every event and ours was built imperfectly.

We will return in 2018. Magic’s 25th Anniversary will have a place for art and we are currently working on what that means. Stay tuned.

—Mike


Hour of Devastation is now available for preorder at CoolStuffInc.com!

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