Posted by Charles Youel on March 15, 2011 at 7:00 am
For the past several years, I’ve been referring to ARTCRANK as “my cure for spare time.” It’s said semi-affectionately and almost always with a smile. But it’s also entirely true.
When I put on the first-ever ARTCRANK show in Minneapolis in 2007, I fully expected it to be the last. As a combination oldest child-Capricorn, I am borderline OCD about planning and preparing for things. But the one outcome I didn’t spend a single minute contemplating and making contingencies for was that anyone would actually show up. I did not expect it to be doing ARTCRANK again in 2008, much less 2011. And I most certainly didn’t expect it to have the audacity to spread to eight cities across the U.S. and all the way over to London.
Lest the previous paragraphs create the impression that I’m complaining, please know that there’s absolutely nothing I’d rather be doing with my time. ARTCRANK is a dream that I have been blessed with the privilege of being allowed and encouraged to chase. But frankly, I spend most of my time just trying to keep up with it.
The one thing that I spend next to no time at all doing is looking back. The past is instructive, but the future is more interesting — and it’s also the only thing I have a shot at changing. But on the eve of the fifth edition of ARTCRANK Minneapolis (and because the folks at MPLS Bike Love were good enough to ask), it seems like a good time relate some of ARTCRANK’s beginnings.
The sparks of the idea that became ARTCRANK were first struck when my friend Aaron Pollock and I worked on a logo, coffee cards and some postcards for this new bike shop in downtown Minneapolis called One On One. I loved the refurbished warehouse space, the hardwood floors, the coffee shop and, of course, the bikes. But what really intrigued me was that Gene and Jennifer Oberpriller, the shop’s owners, wanted it to be something more: a space where local and national artists could exhibit their work to a new audience — bike lovers.
Art and bikes might strike some as an odd pairing. But Minneapolis is a town that foments and supports an incredible volume of creativity in every imaginable form. After attending a few packed openings at One On One, including the amazing Tour de France photos by Caroline Yang, I was convinced. More importantly, I was inspired to find a way to bring my bike crush and art fixation together. In the fall of 2006, I ran into Gene at politically themed show called Poster Offensive, put on by my graphic designer pal Jeff Johnson. In the middle of a crowded room, we turned to each other and said simultaneously, “Bike poster show.” And the wheels were set in motion.
At this point, I should note that I’d never put on an art show, or indeed any event of consequence before. But the best part about ignorance is that you have no idea what a cock-up you’re making of things until you’re way too far down the road to turn back. At that point, I worked as a copywriter in the creative department of an ad agency in Minneapolis. In the years before and since, I’ve had the good fortune to meet a lot of smart, talented creative people – many of who also happen to be avid bikers. Knowing that whatever else I might need to put on an art show about bikes, I should start with artists, my bike-loving design friends were the first people I contacted.
The Minneapolis creative community is tight-knit to the point that there’s basically one degree of separation between everyone and everyone else. So I soon had a roster of 35 artists. The next few months of nights and weekends were a manic blur of activity: Creating and printing the show poster, postcards and business cards. Learning basic html coding so that I could update the site. Going down to One On One on Saturday mornings with a car full of tools to rig up cables that the posters would hang from. Working out trades and other arrangements for food, beer and live music for the opening night party. Designing order forms, mailing poster tubes, dropping off stacks of postcards, sending emails, posting on web forums, and talking up the show to anyone and everyone who would listen.
(In retrospect, this part of the process remains largely unchanged today — it just happens a lot faster and more efficiently. I can fit everything needed to stage a show inside a modestly sized suitcase. I have people here in all of our markets who provide invaluable help, and I’ve gotten smarter about doing it. Specifically, having made virtually every mistake imaginable over the course of 15 shows, I’m equipped to write an entire book on how not to put on a poster show.)
The first indication I had that something good was when I started to see the work. Knowing that most creative types have a casual relationship with time, I’d asked the artists to turn in their posters about a month before the show. I set up a chair in a corner of One On One on a Saturday morning and waited for people to show up with art. Some of the artists were friends, but a lot were friends of friends of friends whom I’d never met before. As artist after artist walked in the door with their posters, I started to feel like a kid on Christmas morning. Presents kept appearing, and I kept getting to open them. The work was, in a word, unbelievable. One of my biggest fears had been that I would end up with 35 versions of the same idea. After all, how many different ways can you make a poster about bikes? But every single one was completely unique and amazing in its own right. Even today, after seeing hundreds of posters, my first look at the work for every show still gives me goosebumps. Awesome never gets old, I guess.
All the way up to the day of the opening, I had no idea of how it would work out. With no experience to draw on and being naturally prone to expect disasters, I was preparing myself for the worst: No one would show up. The evening would consist of me and a few of the artists awkwardly milling around an otherwise empty room with our hands in our pockets, food getting cold on the counter, cash registers silent.
The shop closed at 5:00 to finish setting up for the 7:00 opening. I’d been busy hanging the posters and tying up various loose ends throughout the day, and I finally got to spend a moment just taking in all the amazing work with a combination of hopefulness and pride. At 6:30, my wife and Jeff Johnson came by to drag me next door to Cafe Havana for dinner. There wasn’t anything more for me to do beyond pace nervously anyway. I figured the doors would open at 7:00 and people would maybe start showing up around 7:30 – assuming they’d show up at all. So I sat down to a vodka martini and a towering plate of grilled vegetables, rice and black beans, and tried in vain not to look at my watch. At 7:15, I couldn’t wait any longer, so we settled up and walked the 25 feet back to One On One.
It was a cold spring evening, and the shop’s front window was so fogged over by condensation that I couldn’t see inside. When I walked through the door, the place was already packed front to back with people. I didn’t know who they were, but they were all there to see bike posters by local artists, and I wanted to kiss every single one of them. Making my way through the crowd, I ran into Gene, who was wandering around with his two-year old daughter Hannah on his shoulders. Sporting the slightly dazed expression of someone struggling to adjust his view of the world to what his eyes were telling him, he yelled “What have we done?!?!” in my general direction. Then, as now, I could only smile and shake my head.
I spent the next seven hours accepting thanks and congratulations from the artists, friends and people I’d just met, ducking behind the counter to bag posters when things got especially busy. Luckily, I had a 10,000-watt grin and a tidal wave of adrenaline to get me through.
Somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 people enjoyed ARTCRANK that night, and almost all of them went home with at least one poster. Everybody at One On One handled the evening in stride, but agreed it was the biggest crowd they’d ever had for a show. It’s an experience I’ll never forget, and one that I’ve tried to top with every show since then.
You can see photos from the 2007 Minneapolis ARTCRANK and every event since right here.
Guest writer Charles Youel is quite obviously the man behind ARTCRANK.