2015 Tulsa Blue Dome Art Festival review – “Blue Doming Stronger Than Ever Before”

I’m glad to be back!

blue dome 2015 - skyline

2015

In 2008, Blue Dome was my third show ever:

third show, but second ez-up

2008: third show, but already my second ez-up tent

The lay of the land, if you’re not familiar with it:

  • Tulsa International Mayfest is the big downtown show (the second-most-popular show in Oklahoma, right behind OKC Festival of the Arts). It is a juried fine art show on Zapp which brings in artists from all over the country.
  • The Blue Dome Arts Festival is four blocks away in the Blue Dome District. It is geared toward Oklahoma artists and craftspeople; and if it has a jury at all, it’s very loose. The neighborhood gets its name and character from the blue-domed former Gulf Oil gas station on the corner of 2nd and Elgin — This stretch of 2nd Street through downtown Tulsa is also known by its much more historic name: Route 66.

I knew I wasn’t ready for Mayfest when I started so long ago, but it still sparkled in the distance, offering the promise of untold fame and fortune. Blue Dome seemed to be a stepping stone for those on the way to the big show. I applied to Mayfest in 2009, received the inevitable rejection letter, and settled on Blue Dome. In 2010, same thing — did the little show again. It wasn’t until 2011 when Mayfest said “yes!” I was over the moon, and didn’t look back! I marched in, holding my head up high like a kid strutting into middle school for the first time.

I haven’t done Blue Dome in five years.

During my tenure at Mayfest, I was sitting pretty up on the perch, reveling at the rumors of how “the beginners over at Blue Dome are losing ez-up tents right and left because of the intense 12 mph gusts.” (Yeah, it is a requirement that your tent take flight at least once in order for you to progress. That’s how *I* learned.) </smug>

Last year, I didn’t do either show. My friends’ annual trip to Italy was moved up to mid-May, and I was met with the decision: Should I do Mayfest or go to Italy? …uhh, that didn’t take long to figure out. Mayfest happens every year, it can wait.

So, this year…

I discussed with my friends the option of going to Italy in June so I could go back to Mayfest, make bank, and further refine my Scrooge McDuck impersonation. There was a little reluctance (Italy is warmer in June, and the airline tickets are probably more expensive), but we reconciled.

Yay! Both Mayfest AND Italy this year! And the minute the Mayfest application showed up on Zapp, BAM! I pay the $35, and impatiently wait for the confirmation email.

Fast-forward to late February — Email from Mayfest! OPEN OPEN OPEN…

mayfest-alternate

Uh, what. That wasn’t supposed to happen. That’s the “you’re not good enough” email, and it’s supposed to go to someone else.

Nope, I didn’t get in. I just inconvenienced several of my closest friends for nothing. It’s too late to move the Italy trip back to the middle of May; we already bought the tickets and reserved the apartment. What was I to do for this now-empty weekend? That little show next door?? I’m not a beginner anymore, I wanna go play with the big kids!

(Alright.. Calm down.) I started recalling that first year of art festivals, especially that energetic feeling of, “I don’t know what I’m getting myself into, but I really appreciate that people like my work!” There is a peculiar relaxed atmosphere to Blue Dome; a lack of urgency. And when that is combined with a healthy respect for the creative process, you’ve got magic. Mayfest on the other hand can be so busy that it feels like a day job (especially dealing with the crush-level crowd on Saturday). If Mayfest feels like going to work, then Blue Dome is like going to a friend’s back yard —

— assuming your friend invites over local musicians, has an array of art cars, walks on stilts, wears tie-died underwear, has nose piercings, and gets along with all their other neighbors.

heck, he might even drive a rat car, dropping potatoes behind him! (Blue Dome 2009)

heck, he might even drive a rat (Blue Dome 2009)

You can’t argue with the power of that.

I apply, get in touch, they get in touch, and we get in touch

THE GOOD: The Blue Dome Arts Festival application process is turbo easy. They’re not on Zapp, but unlike several years ago, you don’t have to mail anything. Just hop on http://bluedomearts.org/ and go from there. The other convenient part is that their application is still open after Mayfest sends out their rejection letters! (..I think they do that on purpose)

Another good: They are under new management — even better than before! They ramped up their marketing. They have a consistent look across their website, their emails, and mailings.

THE (potentially) BAD: This doesn’t seem to be a juried show. It’s first-come first-serve. If you made some stuff, have a tent, a folding table, and can tolerate sitting in the street for three days, you’re in. Heck, I vaguely remember a toggle button on the application that asked something to the effect of, “Do you make what you are selling (Yes/No)?” It’s puzzling that it’s even a question. Hopefully the “No” button closes the browser window.

The (potentially) UGLY: In their latest email one week before the show, they are proud to announce that the show has upwards of 250 artists. TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY. For the lack of a better phrase: What the F?! What used to be the tiny craft show down the hill is now twice the size of Mayfest.

..more powerful than you can possibly imagine

The last time I did such an enormous show was Tucson in 2009 — that damned thing had 400 booths, was 3/4 of a mile long, and my only sales were two small prints to a few (possibly) distant cousins that my mother was chatting with over a genealogy site.

Damn, I inconvenienced my friends so I could not only do a satellite show, but go disappear in the massive crowd of booths.

Set up – Friday morning

Mayfest is the weird show — not because it’s waving the weird flag, but rather because it isn’t

Check-in was at the Blue Dome itself, and that alone has class to it. Just walking into the Blue Dome building made me feel like I was doing something important for the community.

So here we are, back at Blue Dome five years later. I walked around the block and stood across the street from Joe Momma’s Pizza — where my booth was in 2008. All that excitement from my first year came rushing back. (raindrop.) It was a meditative state akin to the last few seconds of the final Mad Men episode, and I felt like I was on the cusp of creating something magnificent. (drop drop) I soaked up the environment, and came to the realization that this was no longer the little hippy show that I did so long ago (drop drop drop), this place grew up as much as I did. I felt at peace. From the Blue Dome point of view, Mayfest is the weird show — not because it’s waving the weird flag, but rather because it isn’t.

dropdropdropdrop “..ah, crap, Jason! get out of your head! It’s raining and you haven’t yet begun to start setting up your booth!” Thankfully the street had proper drainage. And management allowed us to park right next to our spots to unload.

The next thing to hit was the smell of patchouli and sandalwood trying desperately to cover the pot smell. (..folks are blue doming this early in the morning? it’s all good though. I’m the one who’s on their turf.)

 

Blue Doming hard, coming on strong!

 

The character of the show: It’s all about local artists, and most have homemade crafts. Since this is likely a part-time side project for most of the attendees, the most elaborate tent arrangement might involve simple decorations on their ez-up. Granted, it might be a tie-dyed embroidered awning made of fair trade, no-conflict materials; but this place is an ocean of ez-up tents. With my Light Dome canopy and Pro Panels, it’s an understatement to say that I stood out.

The rain let up just as the show was starting, and we are all so thankful that the weather forecast was wrong! However, the wind remained.

The neighbor to my left was Natalie Large, a local mixed-media artist — and this was her very first outdoor art show. She was displaying her work on easels, and had an ezup-style pop-up tent with only one sandbag for weights. Every time a wind gust came through, her booth moved and changed shape. Within hours, she packed up the easels and used zip ties to attach her work to the tent legs. Those pieces wouldn’t fall over as much, but by only being attached to a pole, they would spin halfway around.

Natalie's artwork going for a spin

Natalie’s artwork going for a spin, doubling as my door

By the end of the show, her booth had shifted two feet forward, and she was totally exhausted at having to spend all day holding everything together. It kept reminding me of my first year of art shows, so I wanted to pay it forward and help out where I could — I offered to roll up the side of my tent and allow her to hang her pieces on the other side of my panels. (I had plenty of velcro hooks.) She was so appreciative that she gave me a bottle of wine. (She owns a local wine distributor; good person to know!)

By the second day, I sold out of a few images: all my copies of “Tulsa Electric” (the PSO station) — which I was left showing people a thumbnail of on my phone — and I only had the canvas copy of “Union Vista” (OSU campus).

Here’s where I post my interview with the Tulsa World.

chin out and down makes you look thinner.. I wasn't watching.

chin out and down makes you look thinner.. I wasn’t watching.

Sales so far: Absurdly exceeding expectations. I not only made twice as much as I ever had at Blue Dome (5+ years ago), but I exceeded my highest Mayfest sales. This is within spitting distance of my highest sales ever (Edmond Art Festival 2012).

Saturday Evening — Local Artists Collectively Take Structural Engineering Test

This is when we’re reminded of which state we live in.

Earlier, a 3/4-mile wide tornado was barnstorming just outside Altus (in southwest Oklahoma), and that exact storm cell decided on a full-sprint toward Tulsa at 45mph. ETA: 9:00pm.

PUCKER FACTOR 9. BRACE YOURSELF. BATTEN DOWN THE HATCHES, CAUSE IT’S COMING.

We got the weather report around 7:00pm, and within minutes, large swaths of the show (including my immediate neighbors) started to tear down their booths. Tension was in the air. Some people would hunker down, and reduce their tent to half height, others would clear out completely. Rumors circulated like tornado debris, “the wind would be 40mph? I heard it’s gonna be upwards of 60! I’m out!”

Thanks to the Edmond Art Festival back in 2011, I know my booth can take 40mph winds. Anything more than that and I can’t guarantee that it won’t take flight and blast itself through a nearby shop window. It takes three hours to completely dismantle this tent and pack it safely in the van, and with the storm two hours away, a complete tear-down was not an option. It had to weather the storm. (This is one advantage of using an Ez-Up canopy: it’s “Ez-Down” …whether you want it to or not.) My neighbors to the right had small cinder blocks and sandbags, and they donated them to me. On the left, Natalie took everything. She had enough of this wind! (and I don’t blame her.)

The show had turned into a Structural Engineering test. My thought process for passing the midterm: Leverage the power of triangles. If you want to reinforce pretty much anything, a good rule of thumb is to use as many 45-degree angles as you can.

During any show, I usually have 15-foot straps crissrossing the left and right side walls. I didn’t have them up on the left so Natalie could use that wall, but I had them on the right and back. I had four more straps — that’s enough for left and front, covering all sides of the tent.

ratchet straps everywhere!

ratchet straps everywhere!

Most of the show remained

Most of the show remained

I’m sorry to leave you. Hold together, buddy!

it looks upset.

it looks upset.

Welp…

I spent half the night rehearsing the phone call to my insurance company

Insurance is just a good idea, even when there’s not a tornado coming. I use ACT Insurance — it’s designed specifically for art festival artists. $39 per show, or $265 for a whole year. I haven’t had to file a claim, but I know that if I went a year without insurance, it would just be my luck that that’s when everything would go to crap.

Saturday’s tornado went through the southeast suburb of Broken Arrow.

1:07am, we got this email from the director (emphasis mine):

Hi Artists – 

While the weather yesterday and today was amazing, the storm tonight was fairly brutal. While we tried to talk to every vendor about the incoming wind and rain, some had already packed up. So… I just wanted to send out an update to let you know that the storm did some damage to quite a few tents. Chris and I, along with Price Jones and his wife Melissa, as well as Cornelius and our TPD officers tried to save as many tents as possible. The majority of the damages were due to heavy fast rain as the tents collected so much water so fast that many collapsed. We got into a lot of your tents to push water out from pooling rooftops and were able to save a high amount from either having no damage, or seriously reducing it. It’s been a very long and wet night here in the Blue Dome, but I would encourage you to arrive early tomorrow to assess your situation. 

The weather looks great for tomorrow. Please bring your optimism as we will all be dealing with a lot tomorrow. And please remember that this is due to an Oklahoma spring and weather that cannot be controlled by any of us. We will see you in the morning and are here to help each of you as best we can! 

Thank You,

Jo Armstrong 

That just set them apart from every other show I have ever done. Management and volunteers ran around in the heavy rain trying to save tents? WOW. That is love. Thank you, Jo!

There was no word about any specific tent, so my creative mind imagined what kind of twisted mess would result from my over-tightening everything on my tent. Would the canopy torque and twist? Was it wound up so tight that it simply exploded?

Here’s what I found the next morning:

 

HOLY CRAP.

Let’s review, shall we?

count the triangles, include the ceiling.

count the triangles, include the ceiling.

  • ratchet straps, vertical from ceiling to weights (70lbs each, not including the donated weights)
  • ratchet straps, angled from corner to corner, every corner.
  • three-foot double-sided velcro wrapping the the corners of the panels to the tops of the tent legs
  • Propanel tent hooks, from the top of each panel to the tent frame
  • Propanel support bars, short bars at 45 degrees in each corner, and long bars across the booth
  • ..extra weight, kindly donated from neighbors (and it was all returned the next morning)

….aaaand breathe. Day three

No wind, and only a little humid.

Most of the show recovered well from the storm.

sadly, the volunteers couldn’t get to all of them

The sales didn’t hold a candle to the first two days. Still, completely awesome experience all around.

I’m convinced that this isn’t the “Mayfest crowd”, it’s just “the crowd” and they’re here to see both shows.

Will I bother applying to Mayfest next year, or just jump into Blue Dome? Hrmm… Each show has its own flavor! :)

Quotes and things:

  • “Wave your freak flag here, and we’ll wave our funk flag on the other side! freak and funk, y’all!”

 

This entry was posted in Art Festival Reviews.