How to Participate in Artomatic

This is a popular post from past Artomatic blogs at TammyVitale.com.

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2009 promises to be one of the best Artomatics yet. Each time I participate, I learn a little bit more about how to work this huge event to support my art and increase my network of artist friends.

For the un-initiated: Artomatic is a D.C. original, a massive, volunteer-organized, un-juried art show that features hundreds of visual artists, musicians, and performers of all types. Artomatic 2009 occured May 29th to July 5th at 55 M Street, S.E., a new – but unoccupied – 275,000 square feet office building developed by Monument Realty. The building is located atop the Navy Yard Metro stop and within a block of Nationals Park, home to the Nationals baseball team.

Artomatic events occur regularly, but not on a set schedule. There are two good ways to stay up with what’s happening with Artomatic. First: be subscribed to the Artomatic website (http://www.Artomatic.org), and second: belong to artdc.org (http://www.artdc.org), where many of the Artomatic regulars go to chat between shows. There’s a special Artomatic topic there, but participating in any of the calls for shows is more than likely to put you in the same rooms as other Artomatic artists. Makes for a great grapevine!

Once I know Artomatic is going to happen, I start planning postcards, business cards, brochures and signage.

tammy-one-piece-hungNext comes the wait for registration day. Each year more and more folks have registered and this year, visual artist slots filled quickly. I sit with my computer so that I can register early. This merits an early site selection slot and a large range of volunteer slots to choose from. In 2009 so many of us tried to register at noon opening, that we crashed the site. I finally made it in around 2:30. Alas, my new part time jobs (thank you economy) severely limited the times I could volunteer and I found many of the slots I had hoped to get already taken. Undaunted, I nevertheless found 3 workable slots and could relax for the day.

After registration is site selection. The volunteers who put the sites together – label and layout, and these last two years build the partitions and install electic – are amazing. They give untold hours of their time because they believe in this event. Each year everyone learns a bit more about how to deal with this many people (and don’t you know working with artists is like herding cats) effectively and efficiently. There are different strategies for making a site selection, but I’d say almost all are based around: how do I get my art where there will be lots of traffic and I can show to my art’s best advantage? Last year I tried for the top floor only to have several more floors above me open after I had already done site selection. This year we will be on the 2nd floor, which also has cabaret and a bar – not too close to the bar, but within shouting distance.

Now the fun begins. Some artists live in town and can be on site easily and regularly from the time they open the site up until opening. I, on the other hand, live almost 2 hours away. So I plan one trip (planning being harder this year not only because of my part-time job – now down to one – but also because this time  (2009) we (Artomatic) are across from the Nationals’ Stadium and game days seem to be non-stop. Parking in the building this year is a “bit” more than in past years. One must suffer for one’s art. There is almost a month to complete your site prep and hanging, and a month to load out, on either side of the month-long show itself.

Because I have sold retail for about 5 years now, I always have a lot of work hanging around waiting to be “out there” but I still use Artomatic to push my own envelope a bit, trying to see what direction new work might take. This year, in addition to masks, several torsos and some tile work, I will be showing my new efforts at glass work (slumping), along with some abstracted clay work that I am, as I type, still trying to figure how best to mount for hanging. I love going to Artomatic to see how other artists display their work. There is so much innovation in presentation (which happens to be perhaps my weakest skill) that it becomes like taking a class in how to show art.

tammys-art-hungI make a list of things that need to come with me to install my work. Anything forgotten can put a real glitch in the plans. It all has to fit in my car (with the back seat out) including my marvelous handtruck which changes into a flatbed and can carry the world and make it feel like a feather. Having done this for other shows, including the Philadelphia Buyer’s Market, I’m getting pretty good at knowing what needs to come, and even better at stashing things afterward in self-contained groupings that make gathering it back together for a show like taking things off the shelf. For several years I have managed to plan my ArtOmatic load-in to occur with several of my volunteer dates so I go early, stay late, and get two things done (one trip: paint and then do shiftwork, one trip hang and then do shiftwork). This year that wasn’t workable, so I’ll just take a full day to paint and hang all at once (on a non-game day when hopefully the garage won’t be charging premium price).

My first two Artomatics were labors of love. I sold nothing. But the last two I’ve done very well. And, it is still a labor of love for me and I’m still always delighted when someone finds something they can’t live without (last year I had two return buyers from the year before – collectors!)

As a way to get to know other artists, and because I blog, I wander through Artomatic several times during the show, taking photos and making notes. Often I contact the artists and many have been kind enough to do interviews via email with me. This has led to getting to know other artists better. Originally my hope was to become more active in the DC art world, but my own inclination not to travel there regularly put an end to that. Now I do it to honor the artists whose work I enjoy and as a way to get to know more people at Artomatic.

I’ll admit that during the hard work of set up I often wonder if it’s all worth it. I think my returning again and again is its own answer!

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This post was also on bourgeononline.com .