Hopping and crawling

A lot has changed in the Triad since 1997. I don’t remember if there were any historic or defining events during the year, but I can say with uncommon certainty that something significant happened in my own life. That spring, the UNCG Art Department had offered me an extremely generous scholarship, I accepted, and my entrance into a respected MFA program and into the Triad art community became official that fall.

Unfortunately, what I quickly learned about my new hometown was not exactly what I wanted to learn.

Simply put, back in the ’90s, outside of campus, the city of Greensboro had next to nothing to offer a young artist. The local art community was sparse. Sure, there were artists who had called the Triad home for years, but they were spread out, hard to find and essentially members of a different generation. The only young artists in town were on campus.

I still vividly remember the first “Art Hop” I participated in. Organized by a recent grad, the event was a one-night special… a once-a-year affair that brought out a handful of young artists who pretty much all wished they lived in SoHo. At the time, I was one of them. We all set up our work in a few abandoned buildings on South Elm Street, and while we hung our stuff on dirty old walls, we thought we were preparing for something cool. We thought hundreds of anxious viewers would show up to appreciate our work. We even imagined that some rich patron might discover us, buy up a few of our masterpieces and help us pay for more art supplies and maybe a few beers.

Man… were we wrong. We quickly learned that we were pretty much our own audience. We checked out each other’s work after we helped hang it up, and then we walked across the street to the next half empty “gallery” to say hi to a few undergrads and the four faculty members who were kind enough to show up. After a couple of hours, we took our stuff down, wondered why we had spent money on frames and then went to someone’s house to get drunk, flirt and, most importantly, complain about how bad Greensboro sucks. Those were the days.

In the ’90s, once you graduated from UNCG… you left town as quickly as you arrived.

But, then something weird started to happen. A handful of interesting people decided to stick around. A few bars and restaurants opened downtown, Southside sprung up, the Green Bean became a cool little downtown hub and the next thing you know… everything didn’t seem so bad. Sure, we still didn’t live in New York, and we still liked complaining about Greensboro, but at least there were more of us around, and at least it seemed like each year things were getting better.

Man… were we right. It’s pretty weird when you think about it. Greensboro has changed. Winston-Salem has changed. Sure the economy is struggling, but there have been some impressive things happening during these last few years — especially in the art community. Triad Stage, Lyndon Street Artworks, Urban Artware, SEED and the Werehouse have all become creative centers of surprising importance for each city.

The First Friday events are helping build both towns as well. Elm Street and Trade Street host an event every month, and they don’t suck at all. In fact, just the opposite. They allow the hidden treasures of each community, the young artists who never left town, to come out of the woodwork.

So, check out this column each month and check out the list of events that accompanies it. If you shift your focus and really start to look, you may be surprised by how many good artists call the Triad home.

wanna go?

Frrst Friday Art Hops happen the first Friday of each month in Greensboro along Elm Street and in Winston-Salem emanating from the corner of 6 th and Trade streets.

“Self Portrait 2006” (detail) by Edward L. Marxen, II. (courtesy image).