Behind the scenes of Art on the MallBy Vicki L. Kroll : July 26th, 2016
In the pre-dawn hours of the last Sunday in July, the silence on UT’s Centennial Mall is broken: “Y’all ready for this?” rapper Ray Slijngaard of 2 Unlimited asks as the synthesizer-driven psych-up song “Get Ready For This” blares near the Student Union.
“We have a little playlist — Amanda Schwartz in our office puts together a mixture of ’80s jock jam-type/pump-you-up dance music,” Ansley Abrams-Frederick, director of alumni programming, said. “We’re in the bus loop and it’s pitch black, and we’re playing music and dancing and getting into the spirit of things. Everybody’s in a really good mood; we’re all looking forward to Art on the Mall.”“Everybody jump, jump, jump, jump,” DJ Kool encourages in “Let Me Clear My Throat.”
“Since we get to campus at 5 a.m., I try to find some music that will wake us up,” Schwartz, associate director of alumni relations, said. “I also start that day with a Monster energy drink.”
C+C Music Factory’s “Gonna Make You Sweat” is up next.“Oh boy, there have been some hot ones,” Abrams-Frederick recalled. “In fact, we were joking about it. Sometimes we bring a change of clothes to freshen up a bit and change.
“I’d take the heat over rain any day of the week; the rain is a killer. We always want to have a beautiful day.”
Here’s to a sun-filled forecast for this year’s event on Sunday, July 31, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Centennial Mall. The 2016 Art on the Mall is sponsored by The Blade, Huntington, 13 ABC, Buckeye Broadband, 101.5 The River and Homewood Press.
It all began more than two decades ago when participation in the UT Hole-in-One Tournament fell off. Mary Bell, former UT Alumni Association trustee, suggested replacing the golf event with an art fair that would bring graduates and community members to the University’s gorgeous grounds. She aced it.“We are very fortunate. Many alumni associations around the country are looking for a signature event that draws a large number of alumni and friends back to campus, and ours is now in its 24th year,” Dan Saevig, UT associate vice president of alumni relations, said. “Art on the Mall brings people onto our beautiful campus, in many cases, for the first time since graduation, and showcases the work of our artists, most of whom have ties to the University.”
More than 12,000 annually frequent the juried art fair, where an average of 110 artists set up booths.
“Centennial Mall is transformed for Art on the Mall: It’s got music floating in the air, the food smells great, you’ve got all these tents, and the people are excited, kids and families, older people — it’s a very welcoming atmosphere,” Abrams-Frederick said.
“We invite everybody to come back. You don’t have to buy anything. Lay in the grass; people watch. It’s an awesome place to people watch, and I think event guests know that and they come back each year. They can park for free; plus, there is no admission fee, so they have more money to spend at the show if they want to — there are a lot of positives.”
And Abrams-Frederick would know: She has helped with The University of Toledo’s marquee event since 2003 and overseen it since 2008.
Each year, her work on the show begins in January. That’s when artist applications become available through April, and sponsorship development starts.
“Initially, it’s a two-person job,” Abrams-Frederick, a 1992 graduate of the UT College of Arts and Sciences, said. “I couldn’t do this without the assistance of Shirley Grzecki, events coordinator, who keeps all of the artist information organized.”
As the artful day draws near, co-workers in the Alumni Relations Office get in on the action, and more than 150 volunteers help make it all happen.
“The volunteers do a really nice job for us,” Abrams-Frederick said. “Pop sellers, shuttle drivers on golf carts, greeters who stand at each mall entrance and hand out programs and answer questions, artist relief — they walk around and talk to artists, pass out water, they’ll sit at their booth for them if they want to take a break, get something to eat, use the restroom or even get inside a little bit. In the children’s area, we have volunteers who will help the kids with activities, blow up balloons, face paint. We have event setup and teardown. And we have volunteers checking IDs and serving beer in the beer garden.”“I’ve been helping with Art on the Mall for 10 years,” Sally Berglund, administrative secretary with the UT Foundation and 1990 graduate of the former Community and Technical College, said. “I usually am a greeter or artist relief. It’s great to see all the things that people create.”
“The diversity of the artists and the attractiveness of UT’s beautiful campus are some of the things that make this event so special,” Marcus L. Sneed, associate director of alumni relations, said. This summer will be the eighth time the 2007 alumnus of the College of Business and Innovation will pitch in.
Overseeing the event has its perks.“You get to see the latest, greatest creations that the artists came up with this year. In the jury process, you’ll see images come through and notice new techniques,” Abrams-Frederick said. “And they do change: The artists have a new process that they’re trying, or they have a new theme, different color scheme. It’s really cool to see the differences over the years.”
What has she learned from running the show?
“Events are fun because they change all the time. You can do the same event 10 times, and you will have different results, experiences and outcomes,” Abrams-Frederick said. “People make up a big part of that — different personalities, people’s ideas or expectations might not be the same, so there are always changes. And the one thing that it continually reminds me: You have to be able to roll with it. Everything is fluid.“Centennial Mall is a living, breathing thing, and it changes — the location, the land, the shrubbery — it all changes from year to year,” she said, adding that construction projects also can pose challenges.
“The nice thing is: We work with great people on campus — Facilities, Grounds, Student Union staff — who are trying hard to put our best face forward. They all have this feeling that this is an important event, that we’re bringing in a lot of people from the community to campus, we all need to work together.”
“Without the efforts of our sponsors, volunteers and so many UT staffers, a major undertaking like this would not be possible,” Saevig said. “The way the Toledo community responds to Art on the Mall each year is truly special.”
“It’s just an adrenalin rush; it’s a long day, but it’s an awesome day. And after it’s all done, we’ve been known to actually dance in the office,” Abrams-Frederick said then laughed.
Cue up Tag Team’s “Whoomp! (There It Is)”: “Party people!”