Western Design Conference pivots to online marketplace

Sourcebook subs for annual Fall Arts exhibit of Western artisans at the King.

By Frederica Kolwey as seen in Jackson Hole News & Guide

Allison Merritt frequently likens her role with the Western Design Conference to that of a matchmaker, connecting artists and art enthusiasts from across the country.

As town regulations on public gatherings and safety concerns due to the coronavirus pandemic built up, it became clear Merritt would have to figure out a new way to do that this year.

In June she decided not to host the in-person Western Design Conference exhibit and sale during the Fall Arts Festival this year. Instead she and her team built an online version of the printed catalog of participating artists they make each year.

“We set a high bar, and we want to showcase the best every year,” said Merritt, who is the executive director of the Western Design Conference. “When it became obvious it wasn’t safe to do that [host the show in person] this year, we thought long and hard about it, and we thought the answer is our sourcebook.”

The new digital sourcebook will launch Sept. 10 and remain open to shoppers for a year.

Any of the artists who were selected to present at the 2020 conference are eligible to show their wares in the online sourcebook.

This year, because physical space is no longer a consideration, Merritt also opened it up to any artists who have previously participated in the Western Design Conference.

The pages of the online sourcebook look like a personal webpage for each artist. The profiles include personal bios of the artists, a link to their website, up to six images of their work with direct links to contact the artists about purchasing each piece and links to their personal social media pages.

As with the in-person exhibit and sale, the Western Design Conference acts as the host and then leaves all the sales, alterations and commissions to one-on-one conversations between the artists and buyers. As always, the Western Design Conference won’t take any commissions from the sales.

The online sourcebook allows the artists to edit their own page whenever they need to, adding new pieces or removing sold items. The sourcebook is also searchable, so buyers can easily sift through the hundred or more artists.

The Western Design Conference will not be granting the Best in Show award this year or the other cash prizes normally handed out throughout the exhibit and sale.

“It’s sort of crazy to think that it won’t be what we’re used to, but, you know, a lot of what we’re experiencing right now isn’t what we’re used to,” Merritt said.

“We’re trying to adapt and pivot and offer something that is equally as impressive and as curated and unique.”

As soon as she made the decision to cancel the in-person event, Merritt started imagining what she could offer instead. She worked with a team of graphic designers and IT technicians to make all the elements of the digital sourcebook come to life.

Mostly, though, she is looking forward to getting back to the fashion show and other live events that have defined the conference for 28 years.

The Western Design Conference is scheduled to return to the Snow King Sports and Events Center for the 2021 Fall Arts Festival.

But that doesn’t mean she’ll abandon the new sourcebook.

Merritt said she’d like to keep it “if it’s really well received and loved.

“Perhaps it will live on.”

For info and to see the sourcebook go live on Sept. 10, visit WesternDesignConference.com.

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Digital Sourcebook

Available September 10th

This year’s Western Design Exhibit + Sale will be online through a new virtual marketplace.  SOURCE, COMMISSION + SHOP the Best of the West via our interactive Digital Sourcebook – online September 10. 

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