Exhibition openings are refined affairs with wine and cheese, don’t-touch objects tastefully displayed, and artists charming the well-heeled.
And then there’s the rip roarin’ raw Artomatic 419!: three bustling Saturdays with thousands of visitors, 150 musicians and poets, and 450 visual artists showing what, and sometimes how, they create, in a former beer warehouse where a fading Falstaff ad high on a wall seems entirely fitting.
IF YOU GO:
■ When: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., April 13, 20, 27.
■ Where: 911 N. Summit St., two blocks north of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Bridge. Also in two adjacent buildings on Locust Street.
■ Admission: Free.
■ Parking: On streets and in a nearby pay lot.
■ Food: Sandwiches and snacks will be sold.
■ Wheelchair/stroller accessibility: Most areas.
■ Information on performance times, artists, workshops, demos, and parking: theartscommission.org and 419-254-2787.
“It’s like exhibition boot camp,” says Ryan Bunch, coordinator of performing and literary arts at the Arts Commission, which has wrangled this accelerating art and music fest since 2006.
“The buildings have imperfections, and the people are so eclectic,” adds Michelle Carlson, programs coordinator at the Arts Commission. “It expands your understanding of the arts community.”
The sixth Artomatic 419! featuring an outdoor parade and an indie-craft mart with 50 vendors (both on April 20), workshops and demos, a screening room for films, a cafe, and nearly nonstop entertainment on three stages, will be 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on the next three Saturdays.
Venues change for each Artomatic and are temporarily donated by the owners of unused or underused buildings, such as the 50,000-square-foot former Metropolitan Distributing Co. just north of downtown at 911 Summit St., and two adjacent buildings.
In recent weeks, scores of hardy volunteers have cranked up the boom box and prepped the cavernous unheated spaces (heat will be on for the festival): constructing, installing, and painting 164 double-sided “walls” that stand 8-feet tall by 4-feet wide. Artists volunteer for 10 hours and pay a $25 fee. Unlike in a gallery, there’s no commission to be paid so they stand to gain more from sales and reach an audience that’s expected to be well over the 10,000 that attended in 2011.
Natalie Lanese kneels on the concrete floor, painting fluorescent arcs on the wall panels she’s been assigned; she’ll collage the surface with retro imagery, possibly from old Life magazines. New to Toledo, the assistant art professor at Siena Heights University in Adrian says Artomatic nudges creativity: it’s neither juried nor censored. The information desk can tell you where mature content is.
“Anyone can participate. I think that loosens it up for me. I know there’s going to be really fantastic artists and emerging artists. It’s almost like the pressure’s off a little bit; I can experiment and try something new.”
An aerial dancer will swing from fabric 20 feet above the ground, experimental theater will be staged by the Glacity Theatre Collective, a student-constructed robot will paint stencils, and Detroit band the Hard Lessons will play acoustic at 7 p.m. on April 27 followed by electric rock at the nearby Mickey Finn’s after-party.
Artists can’t help but pick up fresh ideas, from the absurd to the sublime. Perhaps best of all, they’re almost certain to make friends, especially valued by artists who usually toil alone.
“When you work with somebody on Artomatic, you spend so much time together, you’re like family,” says Kelly McGilvery, a cofounding organizer.
Speed painter Klaire Russell is a veteran.
“I’m surrounded by artists and they’re an inspiration,” she says. “In 2009 I’d just gotten into the arts and I was way in the back but I was so happy to be there and I met so many people. Now, more people know me than I know them. And I love it because people always have something good to say.”
From noon to 4 p.m. April 20, Russell and others will be “performance” painting on orange survival suits to experimental music at the Main Stage.
Information at the Summit Street entrance will indicate where all artists are located (rooms will be color coded), about times for guided tours, demos (painting, caricatures, found-object painting), and workshops for adults and kids (creating paper monsters, collage, painting Japanese apple blossom trees, Hungarian folk-egg decorating, zen hand painting, mural painting, acrylic transfers).
Artomatic’s become so popular that artists and musicians quickly signed on to perform.
“The community kind of took hold of it this year. We’ve done very little to get the word out. Event sponsors came to us,” says Bunch, adding that this year’s participants include a few dozen from Detroit, Chicago, and Cleveland in an effort to build some rust-belt connections.
Average age of participants skews under 40, but there’s a modest representation of mature artists, something organizers would like to see more of. Area colleges, from Lourdes University to the University of Findlay have reserved spaces for their students. The Organization of Latino Artists is on board, as are several high schools, and mainstream groups such as the Toledo Museum of Art, PRIZM Creative Community, and the 110-year-old Athena Art Society.
Artomatic 419! was patterned after Artomatic in Washington, D.C. held every few years since 1999. Last year, 1,300 artists, performers, musicians, filmmakers, and fashion designers took over a 10-story suburban D.C. building slated for demolition and held court for five weeks. George Koch, a cofounder of Artomatic in Washington, helped launch Toledo’s version and will attend one of the Saturdays to evaluate the event.
Contact Tahree Lane at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6075.