Thursday, March 27, 2008

Set up day

Actually I should say, “set up night” because the Festival of the Arts here in Tempe AZ starts shutting down the various streets that contain the artist’s booth around 8:00 PM tonight. With nearly 400 booths to be built and art to be hung by 10:00 AM Friday morning, the only way to get this all accomplished is to let those artists who choose to, start setting up the evening before the event starts.

A number of years ago when I first did this art festival I made the mistake of deciding to get to the show early on Friday morning to set up my booth instead of staying up past mid night on Thursday and fight the massive crowd. I reasoned that because most artists were going to erect their booths as soon the festival director and the Tempe police department allowed, it would be much easier getting parking close to my assigned spot in the wee, dark hours on Friday morning.

As I pulled up to a nearly deserted festival site around 3:00 AM the next day, the first thing I noticed was that probably 95% of the artist’s booths were already set up. I was rested because I was sleeping when these other artists were busy setting up their booths only a few hours earlier. With a cup of hot coffee in one hand and a map to my booth space in the other, I found my way to an empty parking spot directly in front of where I was to set up. Sweet, I thought.

I started unloading my canopy, tables art and other supplies from the back of my truck and started to lay out the metal poles and corner connectors that would soon make up the skeletal structure to my booth. Because the festival is held on Mill Ave in downtown Tempe, all of the booths are laid out with neighbors not only to both sides of you but also behind your both. This grid pattern allows you exactly the 10” x 10’ space you paid for. Because I chose to set up in the morning and all artists surrounding me had set up the night before, I needed to squeeze my booth into the existing space that turned out to be 9’ 6” and NOT the 10’ x 10’ that I was entitled too. If I had another type of booth instead of the ridged metal Trimline tent that I use, I might have been able to adjust the width of my booth to the space available. EZ-Ups and Caravan canopies are much more flexible and don’t have the ridged horizontal poles that mine has so I could have made do to this smaller space.

I started looking around for anyone in charge that could have helped me with my dilemma but everyone I talked to said there was nothing they could do and I should wait for either one of my booth neighbors to show up and ask them to move over a bit. As I explained to those who would listen, it wasn’t a matter of having the one artist to the side of me slide over a few inches, there were 15 or 20 tents set up each tightly touching each other and it would require them all to move which would have been out of the question.

After an hour or so of the same lecture about “this is why we recommend artists to set up the night before so you don’t run into this problem” my frustration was starting to get the best of me. It takes me 4 plus hours to properly build my mini art gallery and I was starting to run past this necessary time window because I couldn’t get anyone to make a decision as to what I should do. It’s kind of an un-written rule that once a both is set up, you don’t touch it, even though it encroaches into your space.

Not wanting to upset the artists to either side of me by scooting over their booths a bit in order to fit mine in, I waited to finish my build until I was able to talk to my neighbors. The first to arrive was an artist I had never met before so I first started by introducing myself to her and then explained my problem and asked her if she could move over a few inched in order for me to fit my booth in. She had one of those flexible EZ-Ups I talked about earlier and it would have been a cinch to scoot her booth over enough for me to fit. She had none of her artwork hung on walls that she would have needed to remove before we slid her booth over so I figured she would happy comply. Instead, I got a firey lecture from a sleep deprived woman about me being lazy and not wanting to stay up late the night before, “like the rest of us” to set up so, FORGET IT. I was stunned and found out that there was no reasoning with her.

A few minutes later the neighbor on my other side arrived and to my dismay I learned he was a potter. That meant thousands of pounds of clay pots that were arranged on his shelves would need to be moved in order for him to slide his canopy over enough for me to fit. I thought, “no way is he going to do that” and slid deeper into my despair. What this very cool artist said next renewed my beliefs that traveling artist were a big band of brothers and sisters that did what it took to help the fellow artists out. He said “grab the end of that shelf help me slide it over. We’ll get you enough room to set up in.” What a relief and what a polar opposite attitude from the artist to my right.

After explaining to this new “best friend of mine” what the other artist said about me being lazy and not wanting to stay up late like the rest of them in order to get my allotted space, he just laughed and said “Karma is a powerful force” and then he smiled and said “let’s get it moved.”

Well, I did manage to get my booth up in time for the start of the show and although tired from the hurried pace, I was happy that I was about to spend 3 days to be next to a truly considerate artist/friend who understood the meaning of neighbor.

I had a great show, almost hitting my highest sales totals I’d ever had. My potter friend also had a record setting show and my sleepy neighbor who refused to help me out, well, it turned out that she was on the tail end of her art show career (which is maybe why she didn’t care any longer) and complained almost non stop about how bad this show was and how unsophisticated the buyers were and that she hadn’t even made both fee expenses. In our business, attitude is paramount; she exposed hers on set up day. I’m sure that carried into the other 3 days of the festival. Not wanting to be too analytical about her poor show, I’ll just leave it like my potter friend said the first day, “Karma is a powerful force.” At that, I too smiled as I packed up my truck Sunday night after the show.

No comments: