In Orlando: The Best of Both Worlds

by Michael Nocella

When the International Art Materials Trade Association (NAMTA) and the Association for Creative Industries (AFCI) merged under NAMTA in November 2021, there were plenty of questions. At the top of the list was, “How will this change our annual trade show?”

Creative industry professionals who attended NAMTA’s Art Materials World in the past or AFCI’s Creativation – or both – will soon find out the answer in person when they get to Orlando for the first time. In the meantime, NAMTA Executive Director Leah Siffringer and NAMTA Director of Meetings Rick Munisteri filled us in on some of the details. In a recent interview, they discussed ways in which the new show will resemble past experiences and ways it will differ with new programming, new participants, more education time, and more opportunities for networking.

In case you were wondering, merging two associations into one during a global pandemic isn’t easy. “It’s been a lot of work but very worthwhile,” explains Leah. “We’ve made and fielded many, many Zoom calls to gather input and insight from the newly combined membership. We’ve made headway – we still are – as we continue to address concerns and consider ideas from everyone. We’re doing a lot of listening and a lot of reassuring. I feel like our new members are finally starting to feel like they’re part of NAMTA. Hopefully, the upcoming event in Orlando will help cement those feelings.

“The show is going to be so helpful for everyone, both professionally and personally,” she adds. “It will be a great opportunity to learn what we all have in common and grow from there. We’re designing it to facilitate idea sharing and story swapping. It’s an event anyone who works with creative products won’t want
to miss.”

Leah is looking forward to getting started in Orlando.“It’s pretty obvious why,” she explains. “First, we haven’t seen anyone in person for two years. We all work from our homes now. Second, there’s the dynamic of the merger. We’re thrilled about the two associations coming together after decades of discussing ways to do so in some way, shape or form. It is something we just couldn’t be happier about. And finally, we get to see our plans for Art Materials World – some of which have been discussed for two years now – actually being executed. I think it will be a turning point for all of us.”


More education

Before the doors to the exhibit hall even open, tradeshow participants will be able to take part in two days’ worth of educational programming scheduled for Friday and Saturday, April 8 and 9. Rick and Leah agree that a robust menu of creative workshops and demo sessions is sure to add value to the show this year.

“Here at NAMTA, we always had a lot of respect for the education program AFCI held prior to its show,” notes Rick. “We understand how much time, effort and thought went into it and we’re doing our best to replicate it for this show. Right now, more than 30 sessions – a combination of workshops put on by suppliers and seminars by other members – are already scheduled.

“Art Materials World didn’t have the vibrant education program Creativation was famous for, so we’re excited to add that component.”

As Leah says, “The show has more of everything, really.” It’s expected to be the biggest event NAMTA has hosted in at least 10 years.

“It will present a larger number of product categories and a more diverse mix than Art Materials World has presented in the past, but we’re not breaking up the show floor into categories,” Leah explains. “We’re mixing everyone together so that it brings members of the two associations together organically.”


What’s new?

Those who have attended Art Materials World in the past can expect more of what they’ve come to know, but with some major additions: the in-person debut of Demo Alley, and the participation of influencers, aka “creative professionals.”

“Demo Alley was introduced virtually in 2020 and it was an instant hit,” says Leah. “At the upcoming show, it is actually a physical space in the exhibit hall devoted to demo-ing products on Monday and Tuesday, April 11 and 12.”

For a small fee, exhibitors can reserve a three-hour, morning or afternoon timeslot in which to show attendees how their products can be used. “The exhibitors are excited about the opportunity,” reports Leah.

People are also eagerly anticipating the participation of influencers and designers. “We’ve been building-in ways to give them the space and flexibility they need,” reports Rick. “For example, they’ll have their own lounge just off the show floor where they’ll be able to conduct interviews, record posts for social media, and meet up with others to conduct business. There will probably be some networking events there as well, maybe something like ‘Morning Coffee in the Lounge.’ Influencers and designers can also reserve time in Demo Alley to demonstrate how they use exhibitors’ products.

“We’re trying to do as much as we can to make them feel welcome,” Rick adds. “Influencers and designers bring a lot of value to the show, and provide an extra educational element.”


Oldies but goodies

In addition to the new faces and expanded product lineup expected this year, NAMTA will also be playing hits from the past, like the New Products Showcase. “It’s a special section on the show floor where exhibitors can reserve a space to display new products introduced within the past year. It’s an ‘open showcase,’ so buyers can actually pick up, touch and feel the product,” says Rick.

“What’s Exciting in the Exhibit Hall?” a buyer favorite event, is back by popular demand. It’s run by retailers for retailers, and points to specific items on the exhibit hall floor that the facilitators think will sell well. “It takes place on the first day of the show,” explains Rick. “There are a couple of buying groups in the association, and its members are assigned to scout specific aisles in the exhibit hall. This year, our new members – craft retailers – will join them to peruse the booths and make product recommendations. The goal is to find and recommend new and unique products retailers can bring into their stores.”

Each year, NAMTA honors two supporters/volunteers/champions of the association with Lifetime Achievement Awards. Another is inducted into the NAMTA Hall of Fame. In 2022, the association is playing catch-up by (finally) presenting awards to these  2020 honorees.

Steve Aufhaüser will be inducted into the NAMTA Hall of Fame. For 37 years, Steve ran Continental Art Supply in Reseda, California, a retail business begun by his parents in 1960. He retired and closed the store in 2017.

Deirdra Silver will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1990, Dee founded Silver Brush Limited with the goal of bringing the highest quality brushes in the world to
the American market.

David Thompson, also a Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, has been involved in the sales of fine art and craft materials for 54 years. He was instrumental in the formation of the Independent Art Materials Retail Marketing Co-Op, otherwise known as iAMart.

The live show will not be streamed, but parts will be filmed and then posted online. For those who are unable to attend Art Materials World/ Creativation, look for new content at

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