Bucktown: Highlights, lowdowns and WTFs

The key phrase for Bucktown seems to be “Close, but no cigar”. The 100% volunteer run show is a sort of neighborhood arts organization, whose profits go to benefit arts programs in the area. Which is awesome. And it’s been this way since the 80s. Which is also awesome. The awesome might stop there, though.

Highlights: The enormous staff of volunteers was extremely present and helpful. These guys were swarming all over me like friendly ants, offering help with absolutely everything. There was never a point in the day when I didn’t see a Greenshirt wandering by. All these shows have volunteers and all volunteers tend to be super nice and willing, but I’ve never seen this many of them. So A for enthusiasm on that score.

Food at this show was both a blessing and a curse. It was nothing but food trucks for the most part. Which is awesome because you can get much more variety that way, and a better quality food. Food trucks are enormously difficult to keep in business in this city, so the ones that exist tend to be top notch. However, they are also redonk expensive. $10 for an (admittedly freakin’ delicious) alligator sausage is absurd, and who ever heard of a $4 taco? But overall I was very happy to have the kind of quality selection that the food trucks offered. Often at shows you have nothing to choose from but burgers, burgers and some burgers, or byol. Which, I don’t mind packing a lunch, but due to space issues I prefer to have to bring as little from home as I can get away with.

Lowdowns: I had heard load in at this show described as “gross”. Understatement of the month. The downpour didn’t help, but that’s nobody’s fault. HOWEVER, having 200 vendors loading in, food trucks jockeying for position, stages being set up, fencing being delivered and assembled and porta potties being offloaded and filled all at the same ignorant ass hour of the morning in a residential neighborhood is craptacular to a fine degree. The storm was, at that point, just icing. When I asked, the lack of Friday setup was blamed on zoning, but I don’t buy it. You can get anything blocked off in this city for enough cashola and at $350 for a spot and only volunteers (that is, people not getting paid) running this rodeo, nobody gets to tell me they don’t have any. If Glenwood can do it with $100 a head, then nobody has any excuse. Not to mention that I think if you asked the neighbors, most of whom seemed to be pushing double strollers, they’d really rather all the noise happened at a decent hour. Note to self: buy galoshes and a proper raincoat. I managed to get through 22 years doing outdoor shows without either one. Maybe I’m just getting old.

Alas, load in wasn’t the only con on this show’s balance sheet. I was placed in an experimental row of booths that had formerly been the food truck area. It was a funny little cul de sac that you had to be standing in front of to notice was there, that was weirdly blocked off by the barriers they had set up in awkward fashion to corral the food area. Stated mission was to keep beer drinking restricted to the area of the food and stage, though why anyone would want to do that is beyond me. People like to wander and shop with their beer. People drinking beer shop more. Everybody wins. The logic of restricting the beer baffled me. The layout logic of my row also baffled me. It baffled the crowd too, obviously, as very little of it found my row of shops. At least one of the other vendors was so completely pissed off about it that he spent the weekend berating every Greenshirt he could grab, and trying to enlist the rest of the row to, I dunno, revolt I guess. My attitude was a more relaxed one. I had a Greenshirt actually thank me for having such a great attitude about it. I guess they were getting it from more than the one pissed off guy. But while I refuse to shoot the messenger, neither did I have the compassion of the Buddha about the whole thing. I thought it was all piss poorly organized from top to bottom. Because of this layout, I have no clue as to whether the crowd was good or not, so little of it came my way. What I did see however was not my demographic. I need child free professionals with expendable incomes or empty nesters finally enjoying their money for optimal profits, and what I saw was a lot of double strollers and pregnant women. Couples with small children don’t make self indulgent purchases they can’t justify. A fancier car than you strictly need can be written off with the excuse that you need a car, but art isn’t so easy. Which is not a judgement, it’s just a fact. It’s one of the reasons I do so poorly in the suburbs. From what I gleaned talking to other vendors, the profile of Bucktown had changed a lot in the last few years, going from the kind of hipster/nightlife area that best suits the kind of thing I sell to a gentrified family neighborhood. I wish I’d known that earlier, but the game of Musical Shows is never not an expensive gamble.

And an expensive gamble this turned out to be. While Sunday pretty well made up for a lot of Saturday’s crowd woes, considering the higher cost of doing this show, it wasn’t terribly impressive. The shop total, while not as good, was close to Glenwood’s which is nice, but the nut was over 3x Glenwood’s, which makes for a much lower overall profit.

WTFs: In the park section of the layout, a booth had been marked with a huge ass tree smack in the center of it. Did they send drunk squirrels with spray paint cans to do the layout, I wonder? Wait, no. I’m pretty sure the answer is yes.

The aforementioned beer restriction. According to one Greenshirt, having beer everywhere is no more expensive permit-wise than having beer in just one place. From my limited wanderings I’d have to say there was a crowd both days, but they were staying where the beer was. The stage area was packed all day, both days. Gee, funny how that works. If I had one piece of advice for these guys, it would be to Free the Beer. Which even the artists weren’t allowed to remove from the beer area. And there were volunteers stationed at all exit points to enforce this. I did anyway, because I am a rule disrespecting jerk and also a ninja. Sorry man. If I’ve been on my feet for that many hours in wet boots making that little money, I’m going to enjoy my beer in the comfort of my own booth. Attempt to stop me at your peril.

Lastly, potties. They were not pumped after Saturday. This created a condition so revolting on Sunday that people were leaving the show. All fine and good for patrons, but what about the artists and food vendors who have nowhere to go to pee? Props to the Greenshirts for handling the situation as best they could with spray bottles of bleach and constant monitoring of the banks of porta johns to keep them as usable as possible, but there wasn’t anything they could do about the actual pile of shit rising from the murky depths almost to the seat. They said the company had simply failed to show up to clean them, but given the other issues I saw with organization, I wonder if someone didn’t just forget to schedule the pumping of the pots.

Final verdict? Hard to call. I’ll have to think very carefully about this one. I heard a wide range of opinions from a wide range of artists. Everything from “Yes this show is great you just need a better spot” to “This show was great but the demographic has changed too much and these people are just here to look”. Saturday was pathetic, but Sunday was alright. Not fantastic, but alright. Pain in the Ass factor is very high though, and it ain’t a cheap show to do. Most shows send out their applications to artists from the previous year, and I’ll have to see if a booth request is part of it. I definitely don’t want to do it again if they put me in the same backwater, but might consider it if I’m on the main drag. This is going to be one of those situations where I might have to do it again and see what happens. Current profit to expense ratio says it wasn’t a particularly worthwhile show, but Saturday and Sunday’s crowds were like two different neighborhoods. I don’t know what’s up with that, but provided I can secure a better location, it might bear investigation.

Next up, Lakeview!

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List!

I’ve decided to compile a list of Underappreciated Reasons To Choose A Career In The Arts. Oh, because life and things got in the way of my being a very good employee for myself this year, but since I’m the only one who works here AND I run the place, I can’t fire myself, so I’d better just give myself a pep talk and get on with it.

Eh-hem.

Mornings. I hate them. While I’m no longer the vampire I was as a youngster, and do in fact like to get to bed at a humane hour, I hate getting up any earlier than eight or nine. I also need a good two hours to gear my brain up to deal with people and the world (not metaphorically, my particular mental health issues require it because I’m overly sensitive to noise and smells when I first wake up, so like, I legit need to ease into the day so I’m not a total dick to people). When you’re an artist, with the exception of shows (and that’s only if you do street fairs), you don’t have to get up in the morning. If you want to you can, but the choice is yours. I get to wake up whenever the dog wakes me up, which is a damn sight more pleasant than some mechanical slave driver of an alarm clock so I can go pour espresso shots for commuters or some other such thing. Been there, done that. Got fired.

Social media. Most people get busted for Facebooking at work. For a self employed artist, social media is a legitimate part of your job and necessary to your life, since that’s the main way you promote and grow your business. I could spend half the day on FB and writing blog posts and call it productive without even slightly lying, because so long as what I’m doing brings attention to my business page, it’s work. Even if I’m posting pictures of cats. Think of all that time you waste on FB sharing cat gifs while you should be collating something. Now take away the collating and the guy who’s going to get bent because you’re not doing whatever collating actually is, and give yourself a high five because that three hours you just spent sharing cat gifs and writing a blog post about why it’s your job to share cat gifs upped your page views by like 500. Pretty sweet, right?

Sassy outfits. So I mostly live in jeans and t-shirts, because I mostly do things that get me covered in various kinds of muck, dust and shmoo. But when I’m not doing that I am a peacock. It’s not a girl thing, it’s that I believe Stevie Nicks is my real mother and it’s my job to represent. I own, no joke, 9 different black, tattered/lacy/frilly/gothy/Stevie in her Gypsy glory days, full length skirts. And people, that’s just the black ones. I didn’t count the antique white, wine, purple and grey ones, or the ones that just aren’t foofy or long. I have three fedoras, two bowlers, a cowboy hat, a top hat, and an adorable cloche. I’ve got six sets of hair flowers and more antique Afghani and Indian jewelry than any tribal fusion dancer you’ve ever met, save possibly Rachel Brice. Lets not get into the cute jackets, stompy black boot addiction, or just how many sweater/goth pirate trench/long Asian inspired 20s-esque coat things I own. Do I have a problem? Hell no! “I’m an artist” gets you all the slack when it comes to what you wear. But more pragmatically, I’m a very decent reflection of my work and people get way into that. So my Stevie wardrobe addiction is actually a tax write off.

Tattoos. I only have one “job killer” tattoo on the back of my hand. Otherwise all my ink can be covered by clothing. So long as I dress like Steve Urkel. Yeah, not happening. I’m one of those obnoxious gen x-ers that refuses to cover up tats or remove piercings. Because they in no way affect my ability to do any job, or indicate my level of intelligence or education, and it’s discriminatory to refuse to hire someone based on their choices in body mod. It’s become far less of an issue today than it was when I first entered the job market, but it will still get you stink eye. Which is insane given the kinds of jobs I end up applying for. I’m not going for law firms, I’m going for bars and cafes, ffs. In my current profession, not only do people not care, they kind of expect me to be wild looking, so the ink adds to the overall vibe I create in my shop and is an easy conversation starter for a lot of people. Also, I get to do a thing I deeply love to do, support other artists. I carry around a stack of my tattooists cards, so when people ask where I get my work, I can pass potential customers along.

Time. Most people need to wrestle time for the things they’re passionate about out of the limited amount of “me” time left in their day, if they’re not too tired. I do the things I’m passionate about for a living, and because I make my own schedule, I make time for the ones that aren’t my job when funds allow. I’m a workaholic, so I don’t abuse the work for myself thing. Plenty of people are undisciplined or unfocused, and can’t work for themselves or they’d get nothing done. I on the other hand have a hard time being told what to spend my time on, so I actually work harder for myself than I have for most of the employers I’ve had. Not all of them. I’m a kick ass employee so long as the boss is not a douche canoe. But lets be real here, there are so many more douche canoes in charge than non.

Job satisfaction. At the end of the day, something exists in the world that wasn’t there before. That thing is doing no harm, and is causing good feels. Mine, because I don’t call anything I don’t like finished, so I get my sense of accomplishment (yay dopamine!). And some random onlookers, because at the least it shows someone something they’ve never seen before, and at most someone connects on a visceral level with what I made. My stuff is mostly pretty abstract. I rely on a symbolism, visual harmony and storytelling that isn’t necessarily obvious, and needs to be looked at carefully and more than once to be picked up on sometimes. A lot of it can be read in multiple ways, too. When someone sees something that touches them, it’s because their brain and my brain had a weird conversation that maybe no two other brains could have had in just that way. It’s like making a poem out of a jumble of words and having some random person passing by understand it as a poem. Which is pretty freakin’ cool if you ask me.

So relax, kiddo! Yes, you’ve got a lot going on the next two months. Yes, your season got  wonky and you’re relying on just four shows to make your year and that’s TERRIFYING. But hey, look on the bright side. You get to wear a narwhal hat to work and nobody will care. And some random lady got all teary eyed and hugged you that one time because you made something that just rocked her world. That’s a thing that no steady paycheck can buy.