Tuesday, April 7, 2015

BTC 2015

Well, it's Easter Sunday and I'm at home by myself.  I've gotten a couple decent night's sleep and I've watched all the episodes of Game of Thrones and House of Cards that I hadn't had a chance to watch for some time, so I find myself in the odd position of not having anything better to do than write a blog entry.  And I have been remiss in not writing about our graffiti event, so I will do so.  Actually we had two events, let's see if I can get to both of them.

But first!  I spent the day today riding my bike through the city with a backpack full of spray paint - I left a whole bunch of 'bombs' (quick, simple, graffiti paintings consisting of a fill color and an outline, at their simplest) along my route.  I have no pictures of my adventure, as someone 'borrowed' the memory card of the phone I brought with me to record the event.  Blast!!!  Not that they are very exciting as individual paintings, but they get more impressive in the aggregate.  And why was I biking across town?  To go to the police station to pick up a copy of the police report from my accident that I had revised.  I went there last week and did the actual revision, and I had to go back today because they had no toner for their printer at the time.  I decided that since I had to go, why not take the bike and some cans?  Easter Sunday was the perfect day to ride around the city, as there was very little traffic.  I don't like traffic, especially when I'm on a bicycle.

Questão, Reiv, Filó - Salvador
So - the graffiti event that we spent months planning and almost didn't happen.  There was a fair amount of drama leading up to the event, and fairly little drama during the event, which was good.  We almost didn't get any money to put the thing on, which added greatly to the drama.  At the last minute we were promised some 20 thousand reais, with some conditions.  That was all the money we needed to put the event on, but as things stand right now that's all we got: a promise.  It's money from the city government, so it should eventually come through but then again the government hasn't been doing so great here lately... more on a national level but why let yourself off the Anxiety Hook when you've got such a good reason to be hanging from it?  So essentially a lot of people (myself included) took an IOU and invested out of pocket to make the event happen, but hopefully within a few months or so we will be reimbursed.

As I write this I am finally uploading the photos to my poor, neglected Flickr account - if you think this blog is neglected you should check out my Flickr.  It's pathetic.

I don't know how much this post is going to be a blow-by-blow of how the event came together, I didn't strike when the iron was hot and the brain has moved the experience out of short term memory - perhaps for the best.  Nah, it wasn't that bad.  It was fun!  I was actually a bit removed from a lot of the action as I had to deal with my store and the paint and the aftermath of my car accident but that's okay.  I don't really like being too much in the middle of the action.  I spent most of my time trying to sell paint, but since we were given 900 cans of paint to distribute amongst the participants it turned out that there wasn't much demand for more, much to my chagrin - I had estimated that we might sell two to three thousand cans in addition to the 900 donated, which turned out to be WAY off target- if I sold 500 it was a lot.  But I ordered over 3000 cans, which I now have to pay for, and I have so much paint on hand I don't know what to do with it all.  I tried a big old promotion, but the results were tepid at best.  I'm swimming in paint.  It's freaking me out.

Quinho with Limpo and Nick Alive
I suppose I could give you some background instead of just rambling on, you know, why we did it and all... now might be a good time.  Essentially it's this: there is a tradition of big graffiti events in the major cities here in Brazil and Salvador has not had one in a very long time.  There was one 'International' event in 2008 (you can see the pictures from that here) but we haven't done anything since then.  And by the way, this one was not at all international, unless you count me and my Swiss friend and this Mexican guy who was taking photos.  Actually, my Swiss friend is the only one who counts as he's the only one who painted.  Next year we'll try for international.  This year we are just happy that we pulled it off.

When you put on an event like this, you invite people to participate.  In this case, since it wasn't international (we actually did invite one of the best graffiti artists in the world from Germany, but she said she couldn't make it), we invited people from Salvador and people from the rest of Brazil.  We got about 150 submissions on our website.  We picked 90 of them, which was probably too many.  We also decided to put the event on for four days instead of three, which was probably too long.  Lots of people grumbled about who we chose.  I grumbled about who we chose.  This might be a good time to mention that there were five of us organizing everything up until the last minute - we are calling our collective Vai e Faz, which means Go and Do It. Some of us did more than others.  Some of us did almost nothing.  I did some things, but could have done more.  At a couple points I decided that I would help out this year and then be done with it, leave the collective.  Which I may yet do, although I haven't decided for sure yet.

So once you get the people, and the paint (which came together quickly thank goodness, once we were promised our 900 cans of paint we knew we had an event to look forward to) then you need to arrange food and housing and scaffolding and such.  Costs money.  And nobody was giving us any.

The other thing we needed was a wall to paint.  It's tough finding a really big wall that lots of people will see on a daily basis that the owners will let you cover with graffiti for free, but we had our eye on one from the start.  There's a ferry that runs from the island of Itaparica to Salvador, which has a massive wall and it fronts on a major road into the center of the city.  Perfect.  Better yet, one of our organizing team had already painted part of it.  And the owners of the wall were all for it.  Unfortunately, not everyone who had previously painted the wall thought it was a good idea.

Sank, Salvador
There's a somewhat odd concept in graffiti, at least here in Salvador, where walls become turf.  People who have no idea who actually owns a particular property will talk about "their wall" and if anyone else tries to paint there it becomes a problem.  This became a problem for us with our perfect wall.  Admittedly, we screwed up - two people who had painted large portions (some 60 yards) of the wall were not consulted before we announced that the painting would happen there.  Worse, one of the guys is one of the most problematic in the scene, and the other I found out (to my surprise) is not far behind.  They got pissed that we wanted to paint their wall without asking, and made vague suggestions about reaching some kind of arrangement.  It's pretty clear that what they wanted was money, although they wouldn't admit it, and probably a lot more than we could afford to pay.  We had a much easier time negotiating with the pixadores, the taggers who had also painted the wall.  We gave them some cans of paint, let them participate in the event, and they were happy.  These other guys weren't interested in the same offer, so we left "their" section of the wall alone and painted the rest.

There were other problems with the wall involving official authorization by the real owners, which were complicated and stressful and I don't want to get into it - let's just say that we didn't have it sewn up until the very last minute, and there was a situation involving a big section of the wall that was in dispute right at the last minute, the very morning of the event.  Thank goodness it all worked out in the end.

Viber, Minas Gerais
So I've mentioned the funding - up until about 10 days before the event all we had in the treasury was about 100 reais we earned from a raffle we put on.  This was not only the result of procrastination, although that certainly played a part.  We had a contact in the city government, who suggested that we put on the event in March to coincide with the city's birthday.  We, in our ignorance of how this was intended to work, chose to put on the event in the beginning of March rather than the end, which is when the birthday actually happens.  We did this so as not to conflict with the next graffiti event of the Brazilian calendar, which happens in the neighboring city of Recife.  It was a mistake.

Even though we started planning for the event in November, we were forced to take a long break from our planning; first because of Christmas and New Year's, and next because of the all-consuming Carnaval, which requires more than a month of intense planning before it happens.  This left us with little time to get things sorted.  Additionally, a new political party was voted in this year and they were in the middle of the transition, which added to the chaos.  We had a number of last minute meetings to get some funding which ranged from inconclusive to disastrous, and we found out the hard way that we weren't going to get any money from the city government if the event didn't coincide with the actual date of the city's birthday.  It was too late to change the date - we'd already made our selection and a number of participants had purchased airline tickets.

Much to our astonishment, as we were in the midst of resolving the authorization of the wall and riding in my late automobile, one of my co-organizers received an email stating that we were to receive twenty thousand reais, but only if we put on two events instead of one.  The way they were able to finagle it was to give (promise, rather) half the money for the big event if we scheduled a second, smaller event at the end of the month to coincide with the city's birthday.  We were so surprised I don't think either of us believed it was really happening, and since we still have not received any cash it still maintains an element of unreality which I would be happy to see dissipate say, this afternoon.  I have bills to pay.

So if you've gotten this far you know that we pulled it off, albeit by the skin of our teeth.  So how did it go?  I think it went great for most if not all the participants.  We had an opening event with a round table discussion in which yours truly was on the panel.  It had a theme but I basically ignored it and talked about my experiences with graffiti from the perspective of a foreigner arriving in the scene.  I definitely got the most laughs.  I followed little of what my co-panelists had to say, Portuguese turned to Greek for me in that auditorium.

Mutirão in Itinga
The next day, a Friday, we spent in the neighborhood of Itinga, doing what we call a 'Multirão.' I've written about these events on this blog before.  A Multirão involves getting everyone together and going into one of the humbler neighborhoods in the city and painting people's houses.  These are always fun, although this time instead of painting I spent my time minding a stack of boxes filled with paint and selling little, trying to keep the brutal tropical sun from baking the paint inside their cans.

The weekend days we spent painting the big wall, which of course was the highlight of the weekend and it came out great.  We had some very talented people participating, and the wall was big enough to let all comers paint something.  The section of the invited participants is fantastic, the 'all comers' section of the wall is... less interesting.

Finally we wrapped things up with a show in Pelourinho with a number of rap artists, DJ's, break dancers, you know - the whole hip-hop thing.  I was hauled up on stage with the rest of the Vai e Faz crew and had to speak again but it was okay to bask a bit in the glory of the whole ordeal, I mean, we did pull it off and I was a part of making that happen.  And we learned a lot about how to make it better for next year.

So - I'd hoped to write about the second event we did at the end of the month but this went longer than I expected, so that will have to wait for another time.  Here's hoping I get to it soon, because if not, it will never get written.

The photos have finished uploading to Flickr, have a look if you want to see more.

One last thing: an American guy I met came into the store last week, I was telling him about the event when I remembered that he lives on the island of Itaparica, which means he arrived on the ferry and walked by all the paintings with the paint practically still drying on the walls.  He didn't even notice.

This just in!!  There's a video of the event that just went live, check it out!  It's in Portuguese of course.