One thing that no one can say about Anchorage is that it lacks a solid art community. Take a stroll through downtown and there are galleries on nearly every street. Local art is hung in our cafes, restaurants and even some of our homes. Anchorage supports its own, and that sentiment extends to its artists as well.
First Friday is a monthly celebration of art in which many galleries around the city premier a new art show, and many art patrons walk around from gallery to gallery to experience the work and, typically, speak with the artists who create it, this also includes dance, music and poetry, though not as frequently.
That changed on Friday, Sept. 2. The International Gallery of Contemporary Art helped fund and sponsor Brick U-Haul Festival, a First Friday event that unified artists of several disciplines in one secret location for just a few short hours.
The event was so secretive that known participants were hesitant to speak about it at length ahead of time, even to friends and family. They were especially careful about the location.
“I can tell you that it’s within 20 miles,” said Becky Kendall, the director of Momentum dance Company, “that’s it.”
Teeka Ballas, a UAA journalism graduate and owner of F Magazine, was slightly less mysterious. “It’s only about a ten minute ride,” she said.
“We like the aesthetic of it. We like the sort of mystique,” said event organizer James Riordan, “We’re doing it largely for fun.”
Kendall agreed. “Coming to the bus stop at the gallery and getting whisked away somewhere else, it’s kind of fun,” she said.
Brick U-Haul Festival was inspired by a similar project that Riordan participated in two years ago, where one U-haul was rented, transformed into an art gallery, and which traveled from gallery to gallery all evening, never stopping in the same place twice. Patrons who wanted to see the work inside had to hunt it down.
The event was such a success, that Riordan wanted to try out something similar, but on a much larger scale.
In addition to assisting with funds, the IGCA converted its Guest Room into a bus stop from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., where those ready for adventure stepped onto a bus that arrived once every half hour to take them to a mystery location where 12 U-Hauls of various shapes and sizes were set up, each one a different art exhibit from a different artist or group.
However, despite the IGCA’s generous donations, there was still roughly $2,000 that the artists had to cover out-of pocket to make the event a success. The cost of renting the U-Hauls alone was massive. In hopes of offsetting the cost, the artists put together a Kick Starter page to raise money. As of Friday, Sept. 2, they only had $1,201 in donations.
Despite this set-back, the art wasn’t compromised, and the event remained completely free to the public. Some U-Hauls had food, some were configured into art galleries, and one was even turned into dance studio.
Momentum performed various dances throughout the entire evening in their 20 foot U-Haul studio, no dance more than once, though the company stuck to a general theme.
“It’s a collection of ideas,” Kendall said, “Our theme is sticking with the idea of travel, and we have a kind of circa 1930s theme. Sort of that vaudevillian idea.”
Ballas’s F Magazine, a local art publication that originated from a course project at UAA, also sponsored a U-Haul, turning it into a 14 foot cafe with musicians, french-press coffee and seating. All for free.
*insert more details on musicians here*
*go through at least one other unique U-Haul exhibit here*
After the closure of MTS Gallery earlier this year, many artists and groups that had been involved with MTS and whom had used its space came together for a massive celebration to send off the building and the fond memories it symbolized. The celebration was a hodgepodge of art forms, both still and performance-based, that rallied a community that many didn’t realize was as unified as it is. Brick U-haul Festival was the first major art collaboration since that event, and those involved with putting it on were so pleased that they hope more opportunities like it arise in the future.
“They say on average that we live here for five years,” said Ballas, “there’s a huge increasing turn-over every year, and a big reason I hear from people all the time is that there’s no culture, there’s not enough entertainment, there’s not enough arts. Ok, boo, go live somewhere where they’ve had a hundred years to build that; we’ve had 50. A big passion about this is to keep it going, so that people will learn more about everything we’ve got to offer…I hope more and more of these will start happening.”