Fridays Weekend Column
About a Minnesota Man Exploring Life in the South
Here I am in the big city, Atlanta, Georgia. I have been told the metropolitan area is home to over 4.5 million people. If you ask me, every one of those people has a car and is driving around all day long.
Here is a tip. If, like me, you are from a small town, don't come to Atlanta unless you have a lot of patience and a GPS map system to help you navigate this city. My system is called a Garman, and because it has a woman's voice to tell you directions, Wanda named it Judy. It also helps if you have somebody in the passenger seat. An extra set of eyes, looking for street signs or an opening in the next lane is always helpful.
I am up here because Wanda's company has its main office in Atlanta, and she has meetings to go to all day. So, I used the time to do some gallery hopping. I made a list and after dropping her off, I put the first address into the Garman and headed off.
There is a lot of road construction going on in this area. Maybe it is part of the stimulus package Obama is touting, but if these are "shovel ready" projects, I have to say I saw no one with a shovel in their hands. With road construction going on, it seemed like only my exits were closed, and then the lady in the Garman would say, "Recalculating" as I passed by the exit I was supposed to take. I would swear her voice picked up an increase in attitude with each time she had to say, "Recalculating."
You have to remember, I lived in a town with a population of 280, and nobody used a turn signal, because everyone knew where you were going to turn anyway. I don't know why they don't use turn signals here, because they certainly can't all know each other, but they don't use them.
So, the first gallery on my list was 7.2 miles away, and it was a snap finding, but it had closed a month ago, and for some reason their web page was still up. The next gallery was closed, too. This second one was still in business, but they were closed just on Thursday afternoons. After this bad start, things got better, and the other five galleries on my list were all open.
What I was doing was what you are not supposed to do in the art world. I was making cold calls on galleries looking for one that might like to show my work. What you are supposed to do is send a disc with pictures of your work, along with a list of your shows and commissions, and some sort of cover letter.
I was never good at all that, and I really enjoy getting to talk with people. So when this trip came up, it was kind of short notice. But the night before we left, Wanda helped me put together a disc of photos. Wanda is my computer tech, and the only pretty geek I have seen.
So, I made seven copies with my name on the front of each with a copyright symbol and my e-mail address. I have always figured that my work was what would get me in a gallery, and that has proven to be true. The list of shows and commissions were just a bonus for the gallery owner who liked what I did. Galleries want to show work they think they can sell, and usually they know their market. Most owners, if they look at my work, can tell right away if it will be a good fit for their place.
What is nice, even if they can't use me, many will see the quality and the potential for sales and will help me find a place locally that would be happy to have me. Three of the galleries I went to were filled with oils and water colors. They had no wood pieces of any kind, and so I never even brought up the fact that I was looking for a gallery. Another gallery sold only women's work, even though it had a man's name in the gallery title. I told them I could be the "token" man in the gallery, which they laughed at, and we had a good time talking.
It is funny how the conversation in an art gallery can run the gambit from politics to sports before you actually get around to talking about art.
The next two galleries were a much better fit for my work. The first didn't have anyone there who could make a decision, but they were happy to pass on my disc to the owner after seeing what I do. The last place was run by two women who were both there, and we talked art, galleries and my work for a long time. They would be happy to show what I do, but they warned me that sales were way down.
That was the story at every gallery I stopped at. Sales are way down. In fact one gallery told me they had just asked every artist they had to lower their price by 50%. If the artist didn't want to do that, they were welcome to show some place else. I guess those first two galleries being closed said it all. In many galleries, they are open fewer hours now, because the owners are working other jobs in order to keep the doors open some of the time.
So, back to driving around Atlanta. First off, it is stressful, and it can be scary. I have no idea of how the city is laid out, but I do know some people became rich if they were in the concrete business. There are many roads with five lanes going both ways, and then there will be your exit that swoops up high over several roads to come down into bumper to bumper traffic with a very short merge lane.
I think if you really knew the city, you could maybe get around on streets with less hassle than the freeways, as some of the main streets I did go on were easy driving. I think it is the mass of the city that bothers me. I saw more cars and people yesterday than I would see in years, if not a decade, up North. Speed limits are a joke here, and I do not remember seeing one Highway Patrol car or city police car all day long. Of course, I was in a frazzle trying to see street signs and listening to the lady in the Garman tell me where to go. You would think they could have given that lady a more pleasant sounding voice, but then you might ignore her when she told you where to turn.
Today, Friday, I am sitting in an office at Wanda's company writing out this column. I am not going to venture out on the city streets alone today. The truth is, yesterday's driving exhausted me. I guess I'll never be a city boy. I don't think even a town boy. I'm just a country boy, and that is fine with me, and it seems to be just fine with Wanda.
Everywhere you look, Atlanta is filled with "For Lease" signs, and two huge co-op antique malls were empty, as were numerous store-fronts all over the city. It seemed like every store had a "Sale" sign in the window, and there were many people standing on the curb side in goofy looking costumes trying to entice you into their store or restaurant.
Late in the afternoon I took Wanda back to the motel we are staying in, and on the freeway we passed a General Motors assembly plant. It had a huge parking lot, with just two cars in it and nothing going on at the loading docks. The place was shut down.
The whole look of the city was, "Times are Tough."
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