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Beating COVID-19 challenges: local ceramics exhibition shows potential of online

Friday, 31 July 2020  
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The CDI’s Erica Elk was recently invited to be a selector for Ceramics Southern Africa’s (CSA) Western Cape Regional Exhibition, and despite the challenges presented by COVID-19, the Exhibition provides evidence of how online exhibitions can play a role in ensuring creatives gain exposure and sales – the regional exhibition achieved R75 000 in sales this year in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis. We caught up with the Western Cape committee chair and found out more about how they adapted their exhibition.


Amidst the worry and the national lockdown that started at the end of March, with a Potters Market cancelled in March, and the winter market cancelled in June, the question for the committee was if the Western Cape Ceramics Regional Exhibition could even take place, despite the date and venue being booked months in advance.


It was a case of ‘how are we going to navigate this strange new world?’ says Nada Spencer, the CSA Chair in the Western Cape.


After many online meetings, a decision was made: CSA Western Cape had committed to the Rust-en-Vrede gallery space and the kind folk at Rust-en-Vrede were prepared to help in any way they could to make the exhibition a success.


So what did this mean? The original dates set for submission of work, selection, judging and the exhibition would remain the same, but the exhibition would become virtual and digital.


(You can read more here


“We did not know in which lockdown phase we would be in by the time we had the exhibition opening, whether courier services would be operational or whether we would be allowed to drive, so we had to plan for all possible variables,” says Spencer.


She explains the keys steps to hosting the successful online showcase below:


Creating a user-friendly website to host the content

The first important step in our preparation for the exhibition was to allow for online submissions and online judging of work. Under the circumstances it was not possible for our judge from Johannesburg, Kim Sacks, to come down to Cape Town and judge with the two other selectors, Erica Elk and Abongile Ntsane. As a committee we worked closely with an IT developer to make a website that was user-friendly for both the artists to submit photos of work as well as the selectors to judge. 

This worked very well, with only a few hiccups. Our biggest difficulty was the quality of the photographs submitted, and that the judges were unable to experience the tactile nature of the pieces. Given that it is difficult to judge ceramics without seeing it in person, we were very thankful for the great job the selectors did!


Creating a high-quality online catalogue and a virtual tour


Our hope at that time was that selected work would still be able to be delivered to the gallery to take individual and group photographs, which then would be used to compile a catalogue for online sales. For the catalogue to look professional and cohesive, it was important to use quality photographs with similar backgrounds. The catalogue was going to be our most important tool for selling work, and Donavan Mynhardt from Rust en Vrede Gallery did a great job with the design.


Thankfully when we got to the delivery date all courier services were operational and Potters were also allowed to drive to different areas. All Potters whose work was accepted, were able to have it delivered to the gallery where we set up a system to be compliant with COVID regulations. Everyone had to wear masks, hands were sanitized, and in order to maintain social distancing, only two potters were allowed inside the gallery at any time.


The biggest sales at our exhibitions usually happen on the opening day, but now we were not able to have any public gatherings or viewing of work! So in order to give the public a better feel of the work they would see in the catalogue, we decided to do a short video with a walk around the gallery, and also to announce the winning pieces. Wild Mushroom Photography was wonderful to work with and the video certainly contributed to the success of the exhibition. The catalogue and video went live at the same time and was shared on all social media platforms.

R75 000 in sales and understanding the benefit of online


Ultimately, we sold R75 000 worth of work, and everyone was very pleased with the outcome. A good growing experience for us was to see the benefit of including online catalogues in all future exhibitions, regardless of whether we are in lockdown or when life returns to normal.


Due to the positive experience of selling online, we are now in the process of launching a CSA Online Selling Platform for our members.


Virtual exhibitions and the new normal


Erica Elk, Group CEO of the CDI, says that the Ceramics Southern Africa’s Western Cape Regional Exhibition is an example of how, even in the midst of massive changes in the marketplace, creatives and creative sector organisations can find ways to succeed.

“It was very rewarding to be part of this year’s Exhibition process, and to see how the challenges were overcome. It is yet another example of the resilience and the creativity we possess in the craft and design sector and provides a valuable case study of how virtual exhibitions can yield very good awareness and sales.”



View the 2020 Regional Exhibition Online Catalogue

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