Okay, so, two days later I think I’ve sufficiently decompressed. First Friday was … hard.
Getting everything together was psychologically taxing. Which paintings to take along to display, how to display them without spending too much, testing the generator/lights setup, thinking endlessly about signage, how much change should we have in the money box, how to fit everything into the car… And when I checked the official website for Roosevelt Row on Friday morning, they’d moved the setup time from 4PM to 5PM up to 5PM to 6PM, so I was aiming to leave the house by 4:30. Everything took a little longer than expected (especially fitting everything into the car), and there was unexpected “baseball traffic” and it was a little after 5:30 when I showed up. Bleh.
The original spot I’d been assigned … well, it looked like most people had been setting up for at least an hour, and expanding into any unfilled spaces. My original space was on the edge of things (if they hadn’t expanded to 4x the original size to accommodate everyone who showed up at last minute, it would have been in the middle of things), and a friend of mine had already expanded her stuff into it (since no one had showed up to claim it). They offered me another space which was apparently being filled by someone who hadn’t even paid (?), but it looked like they were almost done setting up in it, too… so when they offered me a space way down, around the corner … well, I knew that that corner always had thousands upon thousands of people going by it — Fifth and Garfield, most of the houses up and down Fifth between Roosevelt and Garfield are now used as galleries on First Friday, and last month Mandy and I just turned around upon seeing the entire block packed (standing room only) from the front door on one side of the street to the front door on the other. So I picked that spot, two spaces down from the corner space on Fifth just South of Garfield, and I moved over there and was unloaded and setting up just before 6PM.
Heath and Sean were about 1/2hr behind us, and I still wasn’t entirely set up (the wind kept knocking things over, and I kept having to come up with new ways to counter it) before he was there AND set up. He sold two bracelets before the sun even set. I mostly just fought the wind. My sisters showed up to show their support and hang out. Few people were out while it was still light. Before long, it was clear that I was “the end of the road” — the last person to show up, apparently, and the last vendor on a row with only 4 vendors total. Not a lot of reason to bother turning off Garfield (the main drag of vendors) to see the few booths on Fifth, really. But I was close enough to be in view, and I’d angled a bunch of my stuff so that it faced Garfield, and after the sun set and I turned the generator on (there was a bit of finagling to get it going, but we eventually figured out how to read the clearly labeled parts) I also re-arranged so that lighter-colored art was facing that way, to draw the most attention in the dark.
Fairly quickly, I sold a book to a man who seemed sold before I even spoke to him, which was nice. And speaking to people is what I did most on Friday. I’d set up the space in a way that I’d thought would draw people in, and I certainly created a space that was “mine” – everyone could see the edge of that space, and most seemed to feel like they oughtn’t cross into it – but in trying to create a welcoming space (as opposed to pushing the tables & merchandise all the way to the edge of my 10×10′ space, like most of the vendors), I’d effectively moved my merchandise (art, books) five feet further away from where most people were comfortable with approaching. I’d effectively put my books out of reach of the bulk of the people who showed up. Admittedly, most people seemed to be there strictly to “look at art,” so having books at all seemed almost foolish. Still, a lot of people who are seriously interested in art are so because they’re intellectually curious, and are also readers. So I spent a lot of time talking to people, giving out cards, being friendly, shaking hands, and trying to get people to take that step into the space I’d created to get a closer look.
My overall feeling about the evening, after I’d got home, was that I’d basically been working the crowd as though it were a gallery opening – except that the gallery had only one wall, eight feet wide and five feet tall, and it was a group show with three people (an artist, a writer, and a jeweler) all showing in that same tiny space. I think Heath got the feeling that everyone who’d showed up to that tiny gallery had only been told about the art, because he didn’t get much attention (and didn’t make any more sales) after the sun went down and the lights came on. Which may be a fair view, considering that what was drawing people in, across the street, down the crossroad, to the last vendor, out of the way, was seeing my paintings, glowing in the dark. (One under its own power.) A LOT of people, standing only a few feet away, looking at my art, able to discuss intelligently both the art above and below the books standing on the table, didn’t even see the books until I pointed them out. Wow. Heath (and Sean) merely sat behind their table of jewelry (like nearly every other vendor out there, every month), trying to speak to people they couldn’t see (beyond the wall of light I’d built), so what chance did they have? I don’t know. It was hard for me, too, and I was out in the crowd, sometimes literally pulling people in.
After 9PM or so, a problem that hadn’t seemed too serious caught my attention. At the North side of Garfield, just my side of the “Street Closed” barricades blocking off Fifth Street, was a huge (SUV/Suburban type) Police vehicle, several Police cars, and a dozen cops. All night. It was like, barricade, sure, but throw in a seven-foot-tall, intimidating wall between my booth and … I don’t know, a hundred thousand people… and yeah, they’re going to turn and go the other way instead of coming into the blocked-off vendor area to see what else there is to see. It was most apparent after 9PM, when 5th street North of the barricade was completely packed with people (as I’d seen it last month), illegally — that part of the road was supposedly open to traffic — and the block-party vendor area on the other side of the massive police barricade was relatively sparse. I mean, a lot of people came by -often more than I could hand cards to or even acknowledge- but, on our side it was like a semi-popular street faire (vendor booths, a reasonable turnout), and on the other side it was like … I don’t know, a street party slash packed outdoor concert… It was literally packed until about 11:30 when the police took the barricades down and traffic actually started to push people out of the road.
Mandy left around 9 to go to her HS’s Prom (she’s an English Teacher, she was chaperoning), my sisters left sometime after 10 and Heath and Sean left around 11 – I didn’t realize it until it was too late, but by not giving up “early” so that someone was there with me, I didn’t have anyone to help, I didn’t have anyone to watch the stuff while I went to get the car to put it in, and I certainly couldn’t then go pick Mandy up. ((That had been the arrangement – she would walk to the Prom, about a mile away, and I would be done between 10PM and 11PM (since the Art Walk “ends” at 10PM) and come to pick her up at or before the time Prom ended (between 11 and 11:30PM), so she wouldn’t have to walk around downtown Phoenix, alone, after all the art-walkers et cetera had gone home.)) When Heath and Sean left, it didn’t look like anyone was packing up, and like I said, 5th street was completely full of people until at least 11:30… plenty of people were still coming by, looking at things…. plenty seemed semi-interested… And then, between 11, when I suddenly found myself by myself, and 11:15, everyone was packing up, the organizer came over and personally told me I ought to be packing up (I was, but slowly, since I was alone), and a few cars, here and there, were being let onto the less-and-less blocked off street. Well before the barricades actually came down I had my everything out of the road and up on the curb, where I did most of the re-packing / stacking. And then I just had to wait, watch the crowds slowly diminish and the other vendors load their vehicles and leave, and hope Mandy made it safely across downtown Phoenix.
Now, that’s not the whole story, of course. I also was friendly with my “neighbor” whose lighting hadn’t come through (I had plenty of light, and he was glad to pay for some gas to be able to plug one of his in). I got a few business cards. I gave out probably over 300 of my own cards (perhaps too many to teens/college-students). Hopefully some of those people will actually look at my sites. Hopefully some of them will actually order something. I heard later that at least two separate sets of people who knew I was there, knew what I look like and what my art looks like, and came to the vendor/blocked-off area to look for me specifically, couldn’t find me and never saw me. So, that spot wasn’t so good, maybe, for being found. Oh, and there are pictures. I’ll have to get my wife’s pictures, my sister’s pictures, and my iPhone’s pictures together and up on flickr, and I’ll make a post here when I do. But that’s what I’ve got for now. Hope you like it.
Hope you can make it out to see me, next time.