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Disappointment and Rejection

Fear of rejection is one of the most common causes of an artist's block. It's one of the most universal fears, for that matter.

I have applied to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival for the last three years, and each time have not been accepted. Based on my scoring however, I have been wait listed (for the jewelry category) - 6th, 4th and again this year 4th.

Contemporary Crafts at Jazz Fest is crazy competitive. Spanning seven days over two spring weekends, attendees are at times in the near hundred thousand. Their demographics are those of my ideal clients:  perfect age range, disposable income, educated and cultured. In spite of Jazz Fest being a sweaty, dusty (muddy), pot smoking gumbo of groupies, we all know it is in fact a very expensive festival to attend. Each year fans travel from all over the world to go - many of them annually without fail. Although an artist shows only one weekend, any artist that gets in is bound to make a pile of money.

My jewelry is not a thoughtless purchase. It’s premier price point, although aptly calculated, draws discerning clients who appreciate the century old techniques I preserve, the finest materials I use and the sophisticated yet fresh aesthetic I bring to the ancient craft.

Believe it or not, Jazz Fest would be the ideal festival venue for my work. Furthermore, I’ve paired down and simplified my business model. Getting into Jazz Fest – it being in my hometown, before the summer doldrums, mid year from Christmas – is a huge goal for me.

The enormous exposure for MY jewelry, not my now closed gallery of other designers, but the art I personally create and adore, my passion finally realized, would be priceless.  I can’t predict how many of my pieces I would sell. But since my average earring price point is $1500, selling just one pair would cover the booth fee. Back to the exposure - locals who knew my gallery, visitors who shopped there all go to the Fest. My attendance would put my face and work out there again big time. My business needs that right now.

The first year I applied was for the 2015 festival. I anxiously awaited the email while texting my dear friends, Gogo Borgerding and Niki Fisk. The results are released in the middle of January. They were fixated on their inboxes, too. I received a very kind response that I had not made it in, but had been wait listed. I immediately consented to remain on the waiting list, and learned I was the sixth in line for the jewelry category. For my first time applying, I felt pretty validated, but still disappointed.

When I applied for the 2016 festival, my personal life had become very unstable . My home life had become horrifically toxic. Constant conflict was impeding my ability to create and carve out time in my studio. I have GAD and ADD. Though manageable with medication, when subjected to daily intense stress, my symptoms rattled my ability to work.

Even more stressful was the mountain of debt that my business had been accumulating since I closed my gallery in 2011. When I closed it, I had debt including the building’s mortgage, but once that sold, my LLC would be in great shape. It didn’t work out that way and to make it worse, I let my business go deeper and deeper into debt loaning our household hundreds of thousands of dollars through its credit cards and LOC credit draws to support a mysterious poor cash flow in our household. My business wasn’t big enough yet to handle that kind of obligation. Our household promised to pay it off, but as the amount got higher and higher; the reimbursements became near obsolete or the validity of it denied. It had become an emotional battleground to even bring up the subject.

I had a lot on the line with last year's Jazz Fest app.

Not only did I want to hack away at the debt, but I was privately desperate for that potential income to help me safely move on from the toxic household I was trapped in.  Again, I didn’t get in, but I was wait listed at number four. I was disappointed, but quietly, my anxiety soared.

Then later that day, the power of language transformed my disappointment into gut wrenching devastation. The complexity of the abuse in our household was subtle, covert, yet viciously manipulative. A text exchange about dinner became a phone call. Then later, the following text pinged in,

“I assume from your tone you were rejected at Jazz Fest again.  Sorry not my fault.  Have fun on your own”

The tone referred to wasn’t about Jazz Fest. You learn to keep your feelings to yourself when living in dysfunction junction. If at all, the perceived tone was one of annoyance of not being informed about an impromptu after-work gathering that launched the evening into another war zone.

“I assume from your tone you were rejected at Jazz Fest again.  Sorry not my fault.  Have fun on your own”

Rejected. Rejected. I had never, ever considered not getting into Jazz Fest as rejection. Never. Thousands of jewelers from all over the world apply online. The number of slots for jewelers is around 30. Total. That's for both weekends. It is an anonymous jury process, consisting of new jurors every year reviewing only four examples of your work, a booth shot and a 200-character description of your art. The jewelry category is so competitive and the number of applicants is so high, it has an entirely different application from the other mediums. Louisiana artists are not given priority. Prior acceptance is no guarantee. Each year, a new panel of judges. They are instructed to score each artist on “ - creativity, uniqueness, concept, and craftsmanship, as well as the need to achieve a balance of media categories.”

I know it’s basically the luck of the draw to get in. I’ve learned various stories of my colleague’s history of applying. With so many variables out of our hands, how could one feel rejected? You either get in or don’t get in. You are never “rejected.”

Artists don’t use that word. 

We are a supportive, collaborating population and here in New Orleans, a very tight knit group. After 25 years of being in New Orleans' jewelry community, I am dear, dear friends with many jewelers who have successful runs at Jazz Fest. I am psyched for them each year.

When I tour the Contemporary Craft tents, I visit my BFF’s and help if they need it. I walk the aisles to see who else was so lucky. Many times, I am surprised; many times astonished and confused why an artist got in and I didn’t. But, it’s a crap shoot. It could be that year’s jurors, or the order in which your app was received. It could be your written description or the quality of your images. It could be because your work simply isn’t up to snuff. Maybe, Mercury was in retrograde. Maybe one of the judges had pink-eye.

I’m lucky because I happen to not have any problem talking about what’s going on in my life and my Jazz Fest wishes are well known. I get awesome feedback from my clients, my friends, my jewelry colleagues and the artist community. Over all, their support is, “OMG.  You’d be perfect at Jazz Fest.”  “You’re a shoe-in.” “You’d make a killing at JF.”  “They need work like yours there.”

I get that glorious feedback all year long. It means more to me and does more for me than not getting in. The money wouldn’t suck, though.

Now a year’s distance from last year’s ugly text, I have perspective and am finding my peaceful heart again. But I can’t lie. The PTSD of that text was triggered immediately when I received this year's notice. It took me a day or two of sitting still and digging to really understand why it was eating at me. Of course, getting a mean flash back of that text and time was horrible to feel again. Also, I know I am healing and moving on.

Finally, I figured it out. The grotesque feeling of rejection is simply not in my emotional vocabulary. I have rock star self esteem! I have never perceived things as simply black or white. But the sickening reminder of that text could twist a disappointment into a black hole of self-loathing if left to fester. I feared I wasn't going to come out of those couple of days; that it would consume me and set me back from how far I've come since leaving. It's not that I have always gotten whatever I've wanted. Not in the least! What has thankfully returned is my knowledge that the outcome of my wants and desires doesn't coincide with my sense of worth. That the world is not black and white; so much is so subjective. With so much out of our hands, why take set backs personally?  

 

Time heals.

Faith and will are forces to be reckoned with.

Everything is exactly how it should be.

Words matter.

I will apply again next year. Perhaps, not getting in is sign that Jazz Fest is not the right fit for my business model. Or, maybe I will get in! 

The best part will be having notched up one more year past that horrible January ’16 text and to still be doing what I love.

XXO

Katy Beh Custom Jewelry New Orleans