When Anna Davenport arrived at Trenton’s Roebling Ironworks building to set up for Art All Night last year, she was prepared. Having planned for six months, she knew there would be no surprises … until there were.
Sure, the early crew might have some questions, but “What should we do with this abandoned kitten we found?” wasn’t supposed to be one of them.
She answered with a question: “Can I keep her?” The reply was “yes,” followed by a sigh that animal control would not be called.
After all, volunteer teams would soon be arriving, quickly followed by artists delivering art, vendors preparing spaces, and crews creating stages. For Davenport, a volunteer headquarters had to be set up fast. And now a starving kitten?
What might have been a burden turned out to be a boon. Davenport named her Aan (after Art All Night) and posted photos of the cleaned up feline on the Art All Night website, yielding 2,000 hits. Then visitors came to the event wanting to see both art and Aan, and volunteers were eager to share the job of feeding and cleaning her.
While Aan won’t play as big a role in this year’s marketing campaign, she’s a photo presence on Davenport’s blog posts because people want to see how Aan has grown.
But the kitten is not the only thing that is growing.
Art All Night — Trenton’s annual community arts Festival — is entering its eighth year and expecting to draw more than 1,000 artists to showcase their art to more than 30,000 visitors between 3 p.m., Saturday, June 21, and 3 p.m., Sunday, June 22.
In addition to the wall art and sculpture, the 24-hour extravaganza features live music, a film festival, a kid zone, and interactive events. The admission is a donation request.
While the artists who volunteer their art and talent are the main attraction of this growing special project organized by the non-profit organization Artworks, it is the people behind the scenes who make the event.
That is something that Artworks’ lead volunteer coordinator Davenport knows, and she eagerly explains how volunteers do more than lend a hand.
Davenport says that the first group — the “unofficial” volunteer team made up of friends and family — join her and other team captains before the event to set up the facility. That includes the volunteer headquarters, a space where workers can relax between shifts. “This year, we’ll have chaise lounges, earplugs, blankets, water, and snacks supplied by local businesses,” she says.
Official volunteers arrive Friday and work in four-hour shifts through Sunday afternoon.
Before Art All Night (AAN) opens its doors to the public, the first shift arrives to accept and place the art. Then during the event volunteers work in teams and assist with the various attractions: master classes, the kid zone, musician and bands presentations, retail and refreshments, outdoor and indoor maintenance (emptying trash cans and keeping the bathrooms stocked with supplies), and audience monitoring. After the event, volunteers help break down and clean up.
Davenport is present during the entire event, keeping the volunteer headquarters in order and ready to lend a helping hand wherever needed. “The 24 hours is exhausting. But it’s a big party all at the same time,” she says.
When asked how the teams get everything done on time and keep everything going, she says it’s all about preparation. “The team captains and the executive committee have done most of the work before AAN begins, even before the crew arrives to set up on Friday,” she says. And when volunteers arrive to work their shifts, “they work their tail feathers off.”
The Art All Night team has been planning the 2014 event since December, she says. The group includes the creative director, an interactive events planner, a planning board, and a representative from Artworks.
In her role as the head volunteer coordinator, Davenport recruits workers at area events that fall between the St. Patrick’s Day parade in March and the end of May. She also works on and off line to fill the 350 volunteer slots. “I reach out to people in person, via E-mail, phone, text, Facebook, Twitter, and my blog, prettyunlimited.com,” she says.
In the spring she and volunteers start posting signs and distributing flyers at churches, libraries, colleges, high schools, and their neighbors’ lawns. They even pass out flyers at the unemployment office making a pitch that volunteer work can be used on resumes.
“We don’t buy ads or use paid advertising. The message is spread by the signs we post and word of mouth. We have some big mouths, and I’m one of them,” Davenport says. All the marketing material is handled by volunteers, including the original signs and flyers design by Joseph Kuzemka, who operates the Trenton-based graphic design company Rockhopper Creative and coordinates the Trenton Punk Rock Flea Market.
“We get permission before we post, and we take the signs down after the event. We post signs at stores and on our own and our neighbors’ lawns. We’ll post any place where people will let us,” she says. Even local grocery stores get in on the act and put flyers in customers’ shopping bags.
The commitment is contagious. Davenport’s husband, Khris, is an unofficial Art All Night blogger. He will be writing and interviewing talent as editor-in-chief for Complex Media’s Ezine, DoAndroidsDance.com. Her 24-year-old painter-sculptor daughter, Martika, will be exhibiting; 22-year-old daughter, Kalila, volunteering; and 7-year-old son, Jayden, helping the set up crew before the event.
Having her family involved in the process is no small advantage, says Davenport, who holds down a full-time job as an office manager for Neyra Industries, a Trenton-based company that makes asphalt sealer.
What keeps Davenport going is her commitment to the town where she grew up. Although she and her family live in Hamilton, she was born and raised in Trenton and went to Trenton Central High School. Her stepfather worked for the city as a mechanic, and her mother was a stay-at-home mom.
Davenport became involved with Art All Night in 2012. “I had been wanting to connect with something,” she says. She came across an Artworks Facebook ad that asked for help with the St. Patrick’s Day parade. She volunteered and soon became a loyal Artworks supporter. She started as a “regular volunteer” and later became a shift captain. Today, she is the lead volunteer coordinator for all Artworks events.
“There is so much negative stuff about Trenton. But there are so many awesome things going on in the city, and these things don’t get reported on. We want people to see the good things. The volunteers love Trenton. The town has lots of history. It’s not as bad here as some people make it seem,” Davenport says.
One of the most rewarding things about AAN for Davenport is seeing the reactions from people who come to the event. “People come from New Hope, Levittown, Morrisville, Hopewell, Princeton, Hamilton, Brooklyn, and New Castle, Delaware,” she says. “It’s cool to see people from other areas come into Trenton. They are almost awestruck. The week after the event is done, there is a meet and greet. So people who bought the art get to meet the artist. It’s fun to watch the interaction.”
You can expect to see at least a few photos of the kitten on Facebook this year, but she won’t be making an appearance at the event. Thanks to all the TLC from Davenport and the other dedicated volunteers, Aan has become very healthy — just like Art All Night.
Art All Night, Roebling Wire Works building, 675 South Clinton Avenue, adjacent to the Roebling Market, Trenton. Saturday, June 21, 3 p.m. through, Sunday, June 22, 3 p.m. Donation requested. www.artworkstrenton.org/artallnight.