artbeat (2007-14)

Come out and Play

Swap-o-Rama-Rama is a new kind of First Friday event

by Lisa Slade

We're not saying that drinking wine isn't a lot of fun. We're also not saying that winding your way down Gay Street after several glasses of said wine isn't a good time. And finally, we're not saying that you shouldn't stand and look at artwork, and if you're feeling brave, comment on it. All we're saying is that it's nice to have some other options.

This First Friday, instead of drinking the night away, looking at, but not touching, the art all over Gay Street, those who desire can walk, ride, or drive to the Fourth and Gill neighborhood for a little participatory art.

"We wanted to encourage social events that weren't drinking or sitting in bars, listening to music," says local artist Katie Ries. "We also wanted to host a creative function, one that people could participate in." The function is Swap-o-Rama-Rama, held at The Birdhouse on the corner of Fourth and Gill. While Ries, and other organizers Brian Formo and Aaron McIntosh, can't claim credit for the idea of the swap--the first one was started by Wendy Tremayne in New York City--they do get credit for bringing this idea to Knoxville for the first time.

Swap-o-Rama-Rama functions off the concept that everyone has too much clothing, especially people who follow fashion, or those with disposable incomes. Everyone brings at least five articles of clothing, and for this particular event, they also bring $5. Several screenprinters will be there showing people how to screen (including Ries, local musician Chris Lowe, Ethan Pignatoro, Meredith McGill and Sarah Shebaro), and there will also be sewing machines for people to use. Formo says, "I have this band shirt from a Philadelphia band called Need New Body, and it's essentially eight shirts cut up and sewn together. Everyone really likes it, so that gave us the idea to have the sewing machines there. You might have clothes that aren't that great, and you don't want to screen on them, but you can cut them up and put together something new."

All of the articles of clothing people bring will be sorted by color, and then event attendees can choose from the pile what they want to alter or screenprint. People are also welcome to bring CDs or books, because they're planning on hosting a CD/book swap on the upstairs floor of the house.

Swap-o-Rama-Rama has been steadily gaining momentum since the first event in 2002. It's now a worldwide event, with satellites in Vancouver, and all over the United States. It not only allows for a more creative, open, and communal art process, but it also provides a symbolic gesture against problems with the textile industry, such as excessive waste and sweatshops. After all, the best protest against something is often avoiding it entirely. "It just shows that you can have your own creative clothing, without buying it," says Ries.

The Birdhouse is a newly converted art location. Formerly a day care, it is now co-rented by several local artists, musicians and dancers, all of whom wanted a space in which to practice and perfect their individual crafts. The house is one of those beautiful older homes, with open rooms and wide windows, letting in plenty of natural light. While the inside is still unfinished, the house's potential is obvious.

"We knew that the location might throw some people off. But I think it's important to have some things off of Gay Street, where you can't just walk around from place to place," says Formo. "People are talking about the new Knoxville art scene, but it's so centralized that it's really not a scene. The way to make a scene is to spread it out with more places, and more things being put on independently by people who love what they're doing. We're really excited about it."

The $5 cover goes to pay some of the expense of hosting the event, but some of it will also go into creating a Birdhouse fund. The group hopes to host future art exhibitions and First Friday events there, and they are saving money to put track lighting in several of the spaces. The leftover clothes will be donated to Habitat for Humanity.

What: Swap-o-Rama-Rama