In the era of food trucks, pop-up shops and temporary restaurants, when even underground dance parties are thrown in the bays of parked U-Haul trucks, it’s surprising that more of the art world isn’t getting on board with this wonderfully lo-fi business model that optimizes exposure through social media and the internet and requires minimal entry costs. (The going daily rate for a U-Haul box truck is still $19.99, with nominal fees for mileage).
Enter Show and Tell, an ambitious foray into the world of the DIY mobile gallery organized by Sierra Stinson, a Seattle-based artist and part-time gallerist, and Victoria Yee Howe, a New York-based conceptual artist and former pastry chef. The eclectic, thoughtfully curated show reflected the vested interests of its co-creators: The printed works, organized by Yee Howe, was heavy on food ‘zines (to my delight); the remainder of the art, organized by Stinson, was a conscious 50/50 split representing artists from Seattle and New York.
The truck roamed the streets of lower Manhattan and Brooklyn for two days in mid-August, luring visitors and curiosity-seekers with TwitPics and the promise of cake (more on that in a moment). Being something of an aficionado of pop-up and mobile enterprises, food projects in particular, I was curious as to how these art-preneurs adapted the pop-up model to create a successful art project on wheels. Here’s how the creators of Show and Tell worked it:
Establish a web site and social media channels. Even the most DIY project benefits from a legitimate online presence. Plenty of blogging platforms, the easiest being Tumblr, will “host” your domain name, meaning you can run your site for free using a Tumblr layout and the Tumblr platform but using an official URL. It should go without saying that social media — Twitter, in particular — is an essential communication tool for a pop-up or mobile project.
Generate advance buzz. Show and Tell‘s weekend project snagged a mention in a story in New York magazine last month, “Analog Renaissance,” as well as several small mentions in local press. The creators then tweeted and otherwise shared the good news, including a simple press release, and were Google-searchable thanks to their established Internet presence.
Tease the goods. On a very basic level, Show and Tell is another variation of the product-consumer relationship: It is a gallery and a shop and we are consumers of art. Therefore, appeal to our senses; cultivate our interest. Since late July, Show and Tell‘s Twitter feed has been peppered with Twit Pics of art works and ‘zines that later turned up in the truck.
Have a promotion. The inclusion of Yee Howe’s Chinatown Cake Club, a incognito dessert club she hosted monthly during 2010, was an ingenious move on the creators’ part. Tweets like these will motivate certain food-minded creative types to make a visit. Additionally, gallery openings and food have a long, symbiotic relationship: Visitors generally linger longer if there’s something to snack on and will leave with a greater sense of satisfaction, albeit one of the stomach.
Day of, be on top of your updates. The Show and Tell curators were precise and timely about posting updates to the Twitter feed as to their latest location and plans to be on the move. Additionally, you could text a phone number and receive a personal SMS response. These channels help ground an abstract, on-the-move project with the real world, in real time.
Inclement weather aside, Show and Tell ran with relative ease — which bodes well for future food-truck/mobile gallery mash-ups. The big-picture goal would be to take the show to other cities in the US, Stinson mentioned. I say, let there be cake.
The Show and Tell mobile gallery ran in several locations across Manhattan and Brooklyn from August 13 – 14, 2011.