artbeat (2006-34)

The Yarisworks Roadshow blurs art with marketing

Like a First Friday, with Test-drives

by Kevin Crowe

"We wanted to enable people on a local level,” says Steve Kleinberg, CEO of Drillteam, the marketing firm behind the Yarisworks Roadshow, “to encourage creativity, to speak to people’s creative thought processes.”

The Yaris, a new car from Toyota, is marketed as easy on the wallet and extremely fuel efficient, which means that it’s easy on the environment, which also means that it’s easy on the collective consciousness of young, idealistic adults. And the marketing strategies currently used to promote this car have some artists feeling uneasy about the corporate arts. Can a festival designed to promote and sell an automobile be a good thing for our local art community?

“We knew that one of the basic marketing thoughts behind the car was that it allowed people to spend their money on what they want to spend their money on,” Kleinberg continues. “Based on the markets that we looked at, 18-24 year olds were prominent in the markets [chosen to host the Yarisworks Roadshow], markets with a heavy creative community. This isn’t about someone in New York saying you do this and you do that.”

“The whole theory behind it is experimental marketing,” says Anne Kristoff, a self-described indie publicist from New York. “There’re all these cool things happening in all these markets. The Yaris ties into this, because it’s a car that gets you where you want to go. It complements the creative arts, because you don’t have to be feeding your car all the time. You can have money left over for yourself.”

There are 12 cities on the Yarisworks Roadshow: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Lawrence, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Tucson and Knoxville. “For them to target Knoxville is a great thing for the city,” says Allison Sprouse, a local marketer and promoter. “I think it brings the local artists together, brings a lot of commerce for the artists downtown. It’s bringing a ton of ideas together.”

The Yarisworks festivals have brought about artistic conversations since the beginning of July. “It’s all about innovation and how design works,” Kleinberg says. “We wanted to put something behind it that’s real and tangible…. Whether it’s art, music, video or design, it’s bringing people in who weren’t normally exposed to the arts. That was the most striking thing that we’ve seen so far. People may not be paying attention to marketing messages, but we’re filming real bands. We’re letting people make clothing with clothing designers. And it’s all because of this car. We’re merging these worlds that don’t have to be kept separate.”

This Thursday through Sunday, the road show will be in town, with workshops in screen printing, filmstrip collaboration, scarf dyeing, linoleum-block printing, copper sweating and percussion. The local artists include Shinara Taylor, Chris Lowe, Sonja Foard, Amanda Benson, Megan Hunter-Parish and local percussion highflier, Julia Hungerford.

“On top of all that,” Kleinberg goes on, “you got a car company that’s coming out with a car that’s designed really intelligently, especially for young people. There’s virtually no talk of selling out.” Virtually none, maybe, but there is some talk, more than Kleinberg lets on.

“I don’t know anything about it, really,” says a participant who wishes to remain anonymous. There is, at the very least, some talk of selling out. “All I know is that I’m getting money out of it. I wasn’t so sure of the corporate involvement until a couple of weeks ago. I don’t know what to say, man.”

On Sunday, outside YeeHaw Industries on Gay Street, you can help decoupage and then test-drive a Yaris to finish off the weekend.

Amanda Benson, who will be teaching welding and copper sweating courses on Saturday, offers some simple advice to sum up the festivities. “I think that if you’re going to drive a car, then you should probably drive something like this,” she says. “It seems like an innovative way to market. It’s the first time I’ve seen this kind of thing.

“I’m not really sure what to expect,” she goes on. “I think people will like it.”

What’s become a common sentiment among the participants in Knoxville’s Yarisworks is uncertainty. The mantra seems to be, “I don’t really know much about it” or “I just don’t know what to say.”

But once you get past the commercial spectacle of the Yarisworks Roadshow, once you peel back the thick marketing veneer, it’s really just another art festival, which is never a bad thing, so long as people are being exposed to the artistic process, no matter how small their role may be. Is that the underlying ethos of this festival? Probably not. But it can be. That’s the good thing about uncertainty; if we don’t yet know what to expect, then there’s the possibility that some good can come out of using creativity as a marketing tool and labeling our bohemian spirit as a lucrative demographic. It may not sound récit artistique on paper, as we see art deconstructed into corporate dollar signs.

At the same time, as long as it’s always about the art, no one should care.

What: The Yarisworks Roadshow