Art Openings. I used to think they were about The Art. Nah. They’re about the people who come to see the art – and just possibly the artists.
The Art matters mightily, don’t get me wrong, but The Opening Moment affords a certain focused richness and therefore matters more in real time. It’s this Moment that I address here, which is informally subtitled, “What Really Happened at the First Friday Opening for my 99 Cans of Beer on the Wall Exhibit at Roscoe Ceramic Gallery in Oakland, CA.”
Before launching into the happy details, know that The Moment really does not stand independently, but is a result of a crap-ton of effort and planning. In this case it took about a year and a half. The thinking, the gathering, the making, the schlepping, the emailing, the installing, the home-brewing: all were crucial run-ups to a date certain.
And, also know that after the debut in the glam and the spotlight, The Art will be there for the rest of its run, even if the artists and First Nighters are not. (The Art will wait for the later arrivals of the otherwise-engaged, the crowd-shy, the contemplatives who want to individually commune with a well-considered objet. The Art will wait.)
But when it is a gallery’s worth of MY Art being debuted, I need to not only be there the entire time that the Moment lasts in its honor, I also need a personal plan for welcoming and engaging people.
A plan for playing well and surviving. In other words…
Here’s what I try to do for The Moment:
Deal with pre-game jitters! I love my relaxation techniques, calming herbs and teas, my humor – dark and self-deprecating if needed, and my self-pampering. Works for what a college roommate called “Surprise Party Tummy.”
Get enough sleep.
Leave early to arrive early, park well and glide in with gusto.
Wear unfussy clothes and comfortable shoes that feel like me. Pockets help.
Make myself a custom nametag – no one else will be wearing one and it helps them.
Remind myself to stand tall and open my shoulders every time I feel my head and eyes aiming downward and my arms crossing. (If this sounds like Charm School, it probably is, but it works.)
Eat nourishing and reliable food beforehand and drink lots of water (but not too much, of course.) A small water bottle is a good prop, too.
Stand near but not in front of my work, and not in passageways.
Let people talk to me, ask me their questions, tell me their thoughts. Accept it all.
Answer folks sincerely, helpfully, lightly. Even if I have heard the same comment or question 4,728 times, I want to respond to it afresh and I am often surprised at what I say.
Be agile with the segue-talkers I awaken and try not to get buttonholed.
When it is natural, trade business cards and online connections. Another reason to have a pocket.
Move around. Take a break and sit down. OK, I go hide for a bit. But I come back quickly!
Let people alone to make their buying decisions. An individual needs to peruse, consider, decide for themselves. A couple will often step away to talk it over.
Ask folks to take photos of the whole scene and to send them to me – give them my camera too! I love the photo of me and Flora Benzal up top. (I’m the one with the nametag…) I had just met her after a year of Facebook interactions involving her MFA thesis “Typoramics.” It was a special moment and we both are glowing.
Here’s what I cannot do and therefore should not even have expectations regarding.
Make people come out to the event.
Make people pause and really look at the art.
Make people talk to me.
Make people understand me or my art.
Make people like me or my art.
Make people buy my art.
I Also Cannot Control:
The May Day Protestors, intentionally disrupting First Friday festivities to bring attention their causes.
The guerilla performance group doing a little bit of their schtick in my space.
That guy in black and white Beetlejuice stripes and top hat taking seven selfies with the Generic Beer Can.
My job is to make the most awesome work I can, present it well and show up as myself. When the Opening Moment has passed, I’m aiming for a satisfied mind. Near as I can tell, I won’t get it unless I do my job and let the rest go hang.
–Liz Crain, who, regardless of her good intentions, best art and right livelihood sometimes needs a refresher course from Stuart Smalley: “I’m Good Enough, I’m Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me!”