Every Ride Has An End
Poster Image: Fall Trail, by Ellen Schofield
After 16 years, we’re closing down ARTCRANK’s poster sales and event operations at the end of August 2023. We’ll process orders through our site through Thursday, August 31 and the shop sections of the site (Original Art, Digital Prints, Merch and Gift Cards) will go offline after that. The About News and Events sections of the site will remain live, as will the ARTCRANK Instagram account.
I was late to the first ARTCRANK show.
I’d been stringing wires, hanging posters and getting the sales area ready at One On One for 10 straight hours and I was so tired I couldn’t see or think straight.
This was the first time I’d ever put on an art show, and I’d been diligently keeping a lid on my expectations for how things would play out. We had 30 different artists in the show, so I figured that would get us 50-60 people throughout the evening, and maybe a few more folks would wander in off the street. But the doors opened at 6:00, and I figured no one would show up for at least an hour. So around 5:30, I ducked into the restaurant next door for some food, a drink, and a bit of a break.
When I walked out of the restaurant a few minutes after 6:00, I expected to walk into a mostly empty room. What I walked into instead was a line to get in the front door of our show. A line that by that point stretched halfway down the block. So I proceeded to go the back of that line and wait to get in to my own event. As one does.
I pride myself on being a difficult person to surprise. But this is the last time I can recall being so completely gobsmacked by something. In my head over the days and weeks before the show, I’d concocted no fewer than a thousand different ways that the evening could have played out. I’ll be the first to admit that “Successful beyond my wildest dreams” was not one of them.
While it took me a while to wrap my brain around it, the lesson that I took away from that experience is no matter how good the plan, the unexpected is always in play. And also that it’s always possible for things to go better than you think they will.
* * *
In 2014, a couple friends suckered me into riding my first gravel century, a beast of a ride in the Driftless region of southeastern Minnesota called The Almanzo 100. And by “suckered,” I mean that they plied me with bourbon until I gave in. A dance as old as time, etc.
For someone who loves bikes and built an international business around bike art, I wasn’t much of a rider in those days. ARTCRANK had grown from a single annual event in one city to a traveling bike-art pop-up with 10+ shows a year in the U.S., as well as shows in London and Paris. We added new cities nearly every year. And the busier things got with ARTCRANK, the less time I spent actually riding a bike.
Fitness level aside, I’d never ridden a bike for 100 miles, much less over gravel roads with something like 7,000 feet of climbing. A tenth of that effort would have done me in at that point, and the spring of that year was one big sufferfest, miserably slogging my way toward something resembling fitness by stacking miles and learning on the fly about what it took to ride long distances.
Perhaps the most important thing I learned from grinding my way through those marathon rides where I could barely turn the pedals was the futility of giving up.
My inner monologue was basically:
Oh, you’re done?
Great. You’re at least 40 miles from home.
And the only way you’re going to get there is to keep your legs moving.
So I did. I put in hundreds of miles in training. I rode until I could barely get off my bike when I was done. I finished the Almanzo 100. I walked a lot of hills and my average speed over the full 100 miles was probably only slightly faster than I could have walked it. But I finished.
And that was my definition of success: Keep riding to the end of the ride.
* * *
The idea to combine bikes and art and stage a pop-up show is a pretty simple one. The reality of pulling it off is usually anything but, even after 16 years of practice. Even when everything goes exactly to plan —which, spoiler alert, it never does — making it work is a physical, mental and emotional marathon that stretches out not just over the hours that the show actually happens but for weeks and months before and after.
As it stands, our last show will have been the one we staged with Fulton Beer in the fall of 2021. Unsurprisingly, the onset of the pandemic in 2020 had wiped out plans we had for a show that spring. And as it dragged on, I had a lot of time to think about what place in the world live events would have in the future.
While we’d shifted from 100% events to online sales with a smaller number of pop-ups, we’d started out as a live show and a lot of people still saw us as primarily that. Doing shows also gave us an infusion of new designs and prints for our online shop. But it was apparent that getting a few hundred (or thousand) people together in the same place for a few hours was not going to work in the ways that it had before. At least not any time soon.
That show was one of the few we’ve done to feature artists from across the U.S. and beyond, as opposed to only artists from the host community. It was a chance to work with artists who’d been part of our shows in places near and far, as well as artists we’d never worked with before. It was a little bit of everything that’s gone into making ARTCRANK what it is.
It was amazing. It was exhausting. And while I hadn’t thought about it as the end of anything, in retrospect it’s as fitting an end as ARTCRANK could have.
* * *
Arriving at the decision to sunset ARTCRANK, at least from a business standpoint, was a lot less surprising than the turnout for our first show, at least to me. Of course, I also had 16 years to think about that one. Not in the sense of being fixated on how all of it would end, but in the sense of thinking about how I would define success where ARTCRANK was concerned.
Suffice it to say that that definition has been revised and updated more than once since I found myself standing in the back of a very long line to get into my own show. More than anything, I didn’t want the idea to overstay its welcome. To be the player that stuck around a season too long. The partygoer who was the last to figure out that the party was over.
The rewards of this madcap notion have been countless. But at the risk of stating the obvious, ARTCRANK isn’t just an idea. It’s a business that requires a continual investment of time, energy and pretty much every other resource you can imagine. And after 16 years, I’ve reached a point in life at which I understand that the business and the idea behind it have gone as far as they can. Or at least as far as I can take them.
Sometimes, success just means being able to end things on your own terms. I don’t think that ARTCRANK has completely worn out its welcome yet. It’s been a wilder, stranger and more wonderful journey than anything I could have made up. And it’s certainly lasted for a lot longer than I ever expected it to. But all the same, it’s time to call it a ride.
* * *
This photo was taken at our last pre-pandemic show in Bournemouth in 2019.
I love it because it captures the moment just before we open the doors to a show. It’s a moment I try to spend taking in and appreciating all the work our artists have done to create a collection of posters we’re about to share with the world. I should also say that it’s usually the last moment I’ll have to myself for somewhere between 6-8 hours. My fellow introverts will understand the value of such things.
It’s a moment I’ve had dozens and dozens of times since 2007. Not all those moments have been serene and reflective pauses, and some are definitely more fun to recall than others. But all of them were moments I felt fortunate, privileged and proud to have. And I am forever grateful to our artists and our audience for making all of them possible.
Charles K. Youel
Founder & Creative Director
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