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What Happened, Arts! Arcata? 

Nine ideas to help liven the place up a bit

September's arts events in Arcata typically inspire crowded streets, as Humboldt State University students have rolled back into town and locals feel the rainy season breathing down their necks. True, wine and bathroom seekers filled Jacoby's Storehouse last Friday, where Northcoast Environmental Center staffers kept pouring vino and providing the toilet key, but outside, attendance was so sparse for Arts! Arcata, even the wandering Arcata High kids commented how few people had come out and about.

But people were out -- Absynth Quintet's "String Thing" show packed Arcata Theatre Lounge and getting a table at either Rita's or the Alibi required patience and planning. The Plaza proper, however, remained a relative ghost town, despite fine work on display throughout at least, um, 20 venues.

Maybe that's the problem -- in contrast, Eureka's Arts Alive! had 60 galleries, stores and cafés listed for September. Maybe more businesses need to get involved? The fact that finding Arts! Arcata listings online (outside of is nearly impossible doesn't help -- is defunct and is no help.

Perhaps the wine crackdown of last year? Some killjoy pointed out that Alcohol Beverage Control requires a special event beer/wine license, which is why the norm has switched from merchants merrily offering libation to nonprofits collecting donations from arts patrons who desire to fill their cups. Good for the do-gooders, but at least a few people were overheard grumping about how "everyone wants you to pay them for wine now!" Sour grapes much?

Since the art major remains one of HSU's most popular, the inability to get Arts! Arcata off the ground is not only depressing, but a potential economic boost fizzling out instead -- and again, totally weird considering how many other successful events take place in the township recently named "Best City" in these very pages.

So, some ideas:

First, get the kids involved. Invite the Hunter Plaid Gallery folk to take over a section of the Plaza. They're youngish, talented, smart and into multimedia. The South G space is great, but their energy is needed in the middle of things, not on the edge.

Bon Boniere and the other shops that support Arcata High School's Arts Arcata Institute should be applauded -- and let's get more work by the teens out there in creative ways. Let them transform display windows for the night. Instigate an ongoing Project Runway-type event where the students are given an assignment that forces them to combine maximum creativity and minimum budgeting over the course of the month. They can track their progress on blogs MySpace Facebook Twitter and throw a fashion show -- can we make it happen around Missing Link Records and Three Foods Café, two of the coolest, most inspired businesses existing in Arcata?

Create a space for HSU students to display their work. Simply showing it on campus isn't enough, especially when getting the average Arcatan up to Student Business Services or the Karshner Lounge is nigh impossible. It could be classy, like First Street Gallery, or crazy hip fun. In any case, regular infusions of fresh energy and art could transform Arts! Arcata into a must-attend event rather than just a stop on the way out to dinner.

Second, invite more nonprofits to pour wine in more places. People want it.

Third, call up Dell'Arte and ask them to send their students over. Costumed commedia on every corner! They can promote their shows while helping to draw bigger crowds.

Fourth, see if any Kinetic racers are willing to pedal their machines about during Arts! Arcata. Another worthy cause and attention-getter.

Fifth, give Lush Newton carte blanche to establish a guerrilla art squad.

Sixth, make it easier for people to pop over to Arcata Playhouse. Jackie and David's combined brilliance and penchant for entertainment should be more fully utilized. What if Green Wheels members could build a fleet of bicycle taxis to transport attendees to the Old Creamery Building and back? Get the bike shops in on it.

Seventh, work with Arcata Theatre Lounge to show art-related movies that end at 6 p.m. or shortly thereafter. Get people out early and turned on to experiencing art.

Eighth, don't let any empty retail space go to waste. Talk to building owners about utilizing it for the evening in a way tailored appropriately.

Ninth, invite all the sportsy stores to come up with an outdoor promotion. Skate ramps, barbecues, bike clinics, whatever -- the point is make something happen on every street within a couple block radius of the Plaza and connect to any outlying participants.

Finally, if we really, really, really care about the art, let's do more to promote attention to the artists. And when I say, "we," and "us," I'm looking at you, Arcata Main Street. At the very least, fix your Web site. The people putting their time and energy into making what this monthly event is supposedly celebrating deserve that much.

Speaking of neglect, I must apologize to the people behind McKinleyville Arts Night for failing to devote any attention to them. I look forward to exploring Macktown this Friday night from 6 to 8 p.m.


Coming up next Arts Alive!, which takes place Saturday, Oct. 3, a special opening featuring the drawings of Ferndale's Jack Mays. The exhibit runs in honor of One More Line, a documentary about Mays and his work. Director Carrie Grant describes it thus:

"Jack Mays sits on Main Street for 15 years with his white plastic chair and drawing board. Sometimes, he sits for two years in one spot, seven days a week, 12 hours a day, drawing every detail ... He works constantly, producing a unique interpretation of small-town life, creating a body of over 400 drawings.

"Diagnosed with inoperable cancer, Jack is given three months to live. Townspeople organize a living wake, and three years later he has outlived his death sentence ...

"The film is a journal of a small town through the eyes of one man who had the patience and discipline to sit still for more than a decade, drawing one line at a time, as the life stories of a town emerge on paper. But the heart of the film is about finding one's place within a community, and maintaining the sense of belonging to that community."

One More Line premieres Friday, Oct. 23, at the Morris Graves Museum of Art. The exhibit of Jack Mays' drawings is on display in the Tom Knight Gallery through Nov. 8. More next month.

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Jennifer Savage

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