Yaaaaaaaawn… the alarm goes off early. The fact that it was set to wake me up for my annual volunteer shift at Broad Ripple Art Fair doesn’t make it any easier to get out of bed so early. It just makes it worth it!
By tradition I am working the 7 to 10 shift Saturday morning. Every year I volunteer as an Artist Assistant. After the Art Fair opens the volunteers for the artist areas work as runners and booth-sitters. First thing in the morning, however, the job is a little different.
Yes, 7:00 a.m. is early for artists too, and for the first hour my main duty is directing people to the hospitality table where donuts and coffee are waiting. This year I’m assigned to the Artists’ Field. It’s the largest of the artist areas, and one I’ve never worked. At the time I arrive most of the booths are still zipped shut. The artists are at check-in or working inside their tents. It’s my job to patrol the ghost town, and as the tent-flaps open, I introduce myself. I offer my assistance and ask the artists if they need any help setting up their booths. Usually the answer is a polite “No.” The exhibitors are very self-sufficient, and that just reinforces what they tell me — that having volunteers at a show is both rare and welcome. It makes such an impression that I am often recognized by artists when I am wandering around Talbot Street or Penrod, even though I am not wearing the neon-chartreuse T-shirt which, by the way, is not really my color.
After about my ninth lap around, people find questions or small tasks that they need help with. I gladly roll up a few tent flaps, move boxes, and kill a yellow-jacket or two. One artist asks if there would be anyone around in the afternoon to bring him bottled water. I assured him that there would be volunteers all day. He need only put out his flag, and someone would gladly stop by. I’m not sure why he had that particular request. His booth was only 50 feet from the Lemon Shake-Up stand!
Starting about 9:00 a.m., the artists congregate and meet their neighbors for the weekend. They discuss their season so far, upcoming shows, the weather, and their expectations for the day. Most of the artists like to talk about their work and are happy to have someone ask about it. So I chat for a few minutes, asking if they’ve been to Broad Ripple before, or what brought them all the way from Kansas or wherever. I learn a lot just by listening. For example, some shows are better than others, and different cities appreciate different types of work. Other things you can only learn by being there — like EVERYBODY packs a step ladder in their art fair kit. I never would have thought of that on my own.
As the day goes on, people ask where to eat dinner. I answer that people who visit me in Broad Ripple always want to go to Bazbeaux for pizza. She replied that she was not in the mood for Italian. I was knocked back by that response. It was a criss-cross of assumptions. Her’s that pizza only comes from everyday Italian eateries. Mine that Bazbeaux is synonymous with gourmet.
Soon all that’s left to do are the little last minute details performed just before the opening. I can see most booths are in shape and start to enjoy the show and to evaluate the artists’ work. I am impressed, and I say so. Some of the photographers are fantastic! I would like nothing more than to pull out some of my photos and ask for opinions. I resist the temptation. These people are here to work, not to workshop. But, I grab business cards and make mental notes to hit them up later online.
As my shift ends, I walk around the fair. Specifically, I go back to the Grove where I’ve volunteered in years past. I want to see my artist friends there – to check in on them and make sure they came back, and that they’re having a good year. In particular, I was hoping to see Vicky, the creator of the Freaky Frogs. She was one of the first artists I made friends with when I started volunteering five years ago. She’s been back every year since and seems to really enjoy coming to Broad Ripple. Besides, frogs are a totem for me, and I love seeing the new ones she brings. I found her back in the shade of the Grove and had to wait a minute until the customers cleared out of her booth. Then she smiled and told me she was wondering where I was this year.
On my way home I thought about the last year and the progress that I’ve made. Sure I’m still volunteering and not showing. But one year ago being one of the artists in the Fair was just nebulous goal. It was something had thought about, but only a little bit. This year it’s something that I’ve taken action toward. Instead of a collection of photos I think might work on, I have a mini-gallery in my living room. There is a spreadsheet on my computer with a list of steps I need to take, prices for things I need, and dates I have to meet so I can come back to the fair one day as the artist.