How Far for Art?

By Karen Middleton in Misc > Art Opinion

In pursuit of our artistic dreams, we’re all prepared to go the extra mile. But what if that mile stretches into the hundreds?

When my agency invited me to join them at Bologna Book Fair in Italy, I was thrilled. I’d been creating dummy books and children’s illustrations for them on a spec basis, and with Bologna catering specifically for the children’s book market, they thought the fair would be good experience for me and give me a chance to meet the rest of the team who lived in the US and were also due to attend.

I truly felt that they saw me as a worthy artist, and were prepared to invest in me and my talent. So I swiftly set about booking my flights, along with a room at the nearest hotel to the fair. I couldn’t wait to go, and I was thrilled they considered me “cool” enough to be one of the gang.

When the date of the trip arrived, I had a full day of traveling ahead of me. Starting at my home in the UK, I needed to rise at 3:30 am and get a taxi to my local train station 5 miles away (I thought parking my own car at the station for a week wouldn’t be a good idea.)

From there I had a 3 hour train journey down to the London airport. The flight from London to Italy was straightforward but I became a little worried upon arriving in Italy when no one was there to meet me as planned.

Undeterred, I caught a taxi to take me to my hotel. Growing more anxious as the miles increased, I counted my cash, uncertain of its denomination or how much I would owe. With the language barrier, I had no way of finding out, so at the end of the ride I handed over all the money I had, only to hear the driver start shouting as I exited the cab.

Grasping that I hadn’t paid him enough, I was forced to open my case on the pavement and retrieve my “emergency fund” to pay him. Of course the street was extremely crowded at that precise moment, making it all the more difficult. Not only that, but the hotel was in fact 25 miles from the fair. . . nowhere near as close as I had thought it would be.

At last in my hotel room, I was ready to quit and go straight back home. In tears, I rang my agent who suggested I get a taxi (I had no money left so it had to be on them) and join them for a meal.

I’d bought gifts for them all (I wanted to show my thanks for including me) and looked forward to meeting them, so I agreed to go through with it. I had no idea they were heavy partiers, however, and only got back to my hotel at 3:30 am. By that time I had been on the go for a full 24 hours. . . little did I know that was how the next 7 days were to pan out as well!

Each morning I rose at 6 am to get to the fair by 8:30 am. Often the rest of the team wouldn’t arrive on the stand until mid-morning, but I gallantly held the fort and promoted the agency to potential clients and artists for all my might.

After the fair each day, I was expected to party away the night with the rest of the team, returning to my hotel room each morning at 3 or 4am. £100 tips in restaurants were nothing to these guys, but far outside my own budget, which meant that as the week went on, I had to ask for cab fare just to get me to the fair and back each day.

I hated asking. . . and silently counted the hours, as well as the finances with each taxi journey.

By Tuesday I was battling to keep my head down against the tempers and orders barked at me, and enduring regular put-downs for being quiet, but I hoped my hard work and dedication would win them over. This was after all, the agency who were investing in me and who I hoped to get potential work from.

Suffice it to say, it was a long week, and nothing like I expected.

The last day of the the event was “one for all”—products were left out and traders could sell them to each other for whatever they could get.

My team was due to go straight over to another country for a few days break, so I was given the task of manning the stand for the final morning. I watched them leave, and then set to work dismantling what had taken six of us an entire day to put together before organising its shipping, partially back to the states, the rest back to the UK. All this, and I still had a plane to catch at 3pm.

My team did, however, tell me that I could keep any cash I made from the “one for all” sales. Thankfully, it paid for the last taxi I needed.

I made the flight, and arrived back in London before taking the long but final journey by train back to my home city. When I got in I picked up a text from my neighbour—she’d changed her mind about collecting me. I understood, it was midnight after all.

The station guard closed the station doors on me, and I kicked myself for not leaving my car there for the week. So armed with my mobile and the local taxi firm’s number, I called them. What’s one more taxi? I could see the light at the end of the tunnel (despite the darkness of the hour).

The next morning, given I was quite used to around 4 hours sleep by now, I rose early. It was pouring with rain, but I was home! I was safe, free and a million miles from anywhere of any importance.

There was an even worse experience to follow before I finally left his agency, but the great thing is, we eventually recover from bad experiences, whatever they happen to be. And sometimes we can look back and see what we learned about ourselves because of it. . . so I’d still advise anyone to go for any opportunity they’re given.

I would never have considered accepting the invitation had I known what was ahead of me that week. But perhaps that’s for the best. Because in the end, the entire experience taught me so much about myself—about my resilience, perseverance, and inner-strength—that I think it was worth it.


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