Published Date Written by Timothy GillisGet your art on the go this Friday, April 5, at the First Friday Art Walk. Better weather should bring art buffs out in droves, and many will take a tour of the new art truck, created by Local Muscle moving company.
"Our moving company just rededicated our original moving truck to be an art truck," Ned Swain said. "We've repainted it and are exclusively making it available for artists to show work and do public performances."
Swain started the moving company at summer's end in 2009, and they now have four trucks in their fleet. Operating out of Portland, Local Muscle has just expanded to Burlington, VT. One of the four partners, Jake Holz, is moving there. Swain and Holz are joined by Alex Sargent and Jon Donnell in operating Local Muscle.
When they started, they thought about how to promote themselves and their moving company. They tossed around the idea of guerilla street theater.
"We thought, 'We can do this,'" Swain said. Since the company's inception, Swain has been mixing street theater and art appreciation with the more mundane tasks of lugging furniture around town.
Now they are maintaining that mission with an art truck, which is available to artists at no cost, to display or sell their work.
"The purpose of the program is to give artists more exposure and to encourage people to contribute to the arts economy," Swain said.
Lisa Dombek, an artist friend, mentioned the idea of a pop-up art gallery, and so the original idea was hatched.
"We made a decision to do more with the truck," Swain said. "We realized pretty quickly that we had fun doing things like this (guerilla street theater)." They also recognized that such high quality interactions with people was a better form of advertising for their moving company.
The dedicated 16-foot art truck served as Local Muscle's original moving vehicle, but as the company grew, the decision was made to retire it and devote it to free public art displays.
"We also wanted to put art on the street and make it more accessible," Swain said. "You can buy art for say $20. First-time buyers then become more likely to buy more."
Portland's art scene has become more appreciated through such events as First Fridays, and Swain thinks his art truck can open even more doors to the would-be connoisseur.
"The galleries are great, but for a first-time art buyer, they are intimidating," he said. "Most fine galleries around here – a piece of art may be more than someone makes in a week."
In addition to affordability, the art truck offers mobility. "It's a mobile venue, not just a gallery," Swain said.
Local artists have already made good use of the space. Pilar Nadal is a printmaker who exhibited her work on Swain's truck last August. Nadal is from upstate New York and moved to Maine two years ago. She is in the MECA Master of Fine Arts program.
She pedals the Tired Press, a print shop on a bicycle, and worked last summer with a couple other artists on an installation in the back of the van.
Sigrid Harmon, a young local artist, and Carlos Pileggi, a Maine College of Art MFA student from Brazil, joined Nadal in one of Swain's first forays into the mobile art world.
"I approached Local Muscle about doing a show," Nadal said. "I walked by and said 'Oh my gosh! I want to put my bike in that truck sometime.' They are concerned with how to utilize the space effectively. I thought the three of us could exhibit our individual works, as well as our collaborative works."
That August First Friday was sweltering, but the sweat was all worth it.
"It was 92 degrees in the truck, but it was really great," Nadal said. "Sigrid makes 'zines. She had a wall full of them, and also took on the role of giving tours of the truck. Carlos is a printmaker as well. He had one side of the truck with all of his prints. It was a 'put your own 'zine together' with his works. People were invited to staple his prints into a 'zine. My bike in the back has a relief press. I carve blocks or use movable type. At the time, I had two images on blocks, so I inked them up, put the postcard on top, and then printed. When I was there, it was non-stop from 5 to 9 p.m., and we had to turn people away. For thousands of people to see your work and interact with it is really exciting."
Local Muscle's move into the mobile art world is driving people towards a positive response.
"I think it's great because it creates an accessibility that, even in our super-supportive arts community, we can utilize," Nadal said. "A lot more people will see a lot more work. It's a chance for artists to pop their work up temporarily."
Nadal said she is really into the idea of movable art, as it creates a whole new level of possibility. Local Muscle plans to make the truck available to local artists at Art Walk events in Portland, Biddeford and Freeport, as well as special events throughout the summer. They also plan a road trip to Vermont.
"To put art in these places that might not be seen otherwise, and to take art to another state – I love that. They have a great thing going," Nadal said.
Graphics for the art truck were designed by MECA graduates. Local artist Jared Goulette and Will Sears, a professional sign artist, painted the truck.
Swain said he has been talking to PortFringe about also doing some sort of musical performances in the vehicle.
"We make the truck available at no charge for artists, and take no cuts of the sales," Swain said. "We're actively asking for ideas for some kind of cool, creative thing. When we started doing this, we had no idea that galleries take 50 percent as a standard fee. We immediately decided we didn't want to take any compensation for it. Our aim is the attention it could bring (advertising for the moving company) and the goodwill."
In addition to the art truck, Swain and company organize "Local Love Muscle Valentine's Day Film Festival," which just had its second run. "It's another way to celebrate the local talent, the local community of what makes Portland awesome. We are definitely a product of Portland. I don't think we could have started a moving company somewhere else. Portland is a can-do community, and we're proud of that."