(Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010)

Patrick Kahn

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It’s no secret. Hosting an art event in this city can be difficult. Time and time again, I’ve watched a lot of great people, put on a great event, only to have a minimal, albeit very supportive, audience show up. It’s unfortunate. I don’t know any other city that struggles with this issue as severely as we do.

There are two types of people that live in Orlando. The people who attend and welcome cultural affairs with open arms. And then the victims of urban sprawl that fail to experience any cultural events because they either live too far away from downtown or can’t be convinced to rise up off the couch. Now that I’m working on the Urban ReThink project (urbanrethink.com), getting people to events is something I’ve had to consider more than ever. The questions I’ve had to ask myself as we plan the new space are: how can we ensure a healthy number of people will attend events? And then, how do we make that experience so solid people want to come back again and again? When I discover the answer to those questions, I’ll let you know in the form of a tell-all book, which obviously would sit next to Oprah’s book/audio/DVD collection Final Farewell: Guide to Success, available for iPad only. But hey, at least Orlando will have a successful community space.

So until that happens, you should pay attention to Patrick Kahn. He took on the “Orlando Arts Challenge” last May when he founded Snap!, a four day photography festival that hinges on showcasing photo galleries, famous guest speakers, workshops, and lectures. He’s hopeful for Orlando’s future, so much that he’s dumped his whole heart into this one project.

Jana: What drew you to Orlando?
Patrick: My wife, she’s from here. Way back in ’95, I had an office in LA and a small office in Miami, and was moving in between, back and forth.  I met her in Miami. After a couple of years of dating, going back and forth, we sealed the deal and I brought her to LA. Ten years later—six of those years we were single and then we started having kids—little by little, she started to pull me back to Orlando. She wanted to raise the family here. I was not very keen on it at first.  But … the economy. The house was just getting too small for two kids.  It just technically wasn’t a good idea to stay in LA with the family.

I came here after twenty-five years of living in LA. I thought it was going to be so difficult starting from scratch, but I like new challenges.  I lived for four years here and did not give the city too much time of day. I thought, this is not my cup of tea. Then, I realized that I needed to immerse myself in the community more.  Once I started to do this, and networked with a couple key people, I was very surprised. I had expected to meet ultra-conservative type people but some were young and energetic. There was one person who had lived in London, and I was just like, “Wow. This is the type of people working for the city? I want to work with the city.”

So I approached them about bringing a photography presence to Orlando. It’s lacking. There’s no gallery. There’s no museum for it. It’s unacceptable for a city like this. So I talked to them about putting together a big celebration of it, without much of a plan, just talking. They were so into it, it pushed me to go ahead and do it.

What kind of background do you come from?
Basically, when I was a kid I always wanted to have an advertising agency. In France, I grew up seeing huge billboards. I had a dream to one day have my art on those billboards. My first love is drawing. I realized being a painter or being an illustrator is not something that is going to reward me.  So I took a step back, and took more of the producer standpoint, so that I could still have my vision, but have other artists do it.

That’s how I started the ad agency I had for twenty-five years. Then through my agency I published a magazine. It’s a celebrity magazine, and so we were taking pictures with Gary Oldman, Kevin Bacon, Christina Ricci, and in order to get those celebrities to commit you have to have the best photographers. It’s allowed me to have access to some incredible talents, in LA, New York, Paris and London. Now that I’m here, I have this whole wealth of connections, and I thought, “Ah! What am I going to do? You know?”  Then I had this idea.  I did a book in LA. Now, I’m going to do a book in 3-D in Orlando. I wanted to create a book on walls, and that’s how the exhibition started.

Where did the name Snap! come from?
Once I started creating the team, I brought on board a local design agency. I was so floored by the talent of creatives here. They’re so much on the cusp of a different level. The name of the agency I chose was Wilkie Birdsall. It’s a tandem, a guy and girl. They came up with the name, Snap!, based on what I told them I wanted to do.

Friends of Snap! Portrait #19, executive director of Page 15 Julia Young

Were they responsible for the Snap! t-shirt campaign prior to the event?
The Snap! t-shirt campaign was them and me.  Let’s put it this way, they had the concept of the shirt. I told them I wanted a shirt, but it became this organic thing. I wanted to give my friends the shirts so that there was a presence. One day, I saw a couple of my friends here [at Stardust] with them on and I was like, “Hey! Can I take a picture of you?” And then I started putting them on my Facebook. The way I took the photo with my iPhone was with a special filter. A couple of the pictures looked artistic, and once they started going up on Facebook, I had so much of a response I had to keep doing it. It became a viral campaign.

I thought it was brilliant. I kept seeing all the people I knew in those shirts, and I was like, “What is this Snap! thing?”
Exactly. It started as just a few friends, but then I reached out to recognizable people in the community.

Tell me more about Snap!’s first event.
The original intention of the event was to bring something of a very big caliber and size [to the city] and have people notice it. So we took seventeen galleries, and when I say seventeen galleries I mean there were seventeen different spaces including Avalon, City Arts Factory, NV and then we took part of the Church Street exchange building. This building was completely empty. So what we did was take nine rooms and individually curate those spaces into galleries.

The way it played out was that Avalon and City Arts Factory are regular galleries so they have revolving and changing art each month. We could not do international artists there because I couldn’t have the photographers here for a month. So we did locals there.  The Church Street Exchange was open for three days, Friday through Sunday, and that was where the international presence was and also that was the nucleus for the whole show. We flew some people in from LA, one of them was Douglas Kirkland, who is seventy-five years old, and a legend. He photographed Marilyn Monroe, and once those were published in Life magazine, he became a celebrity photographer and well recognized. The thing about him is that he’s a wonderful gentleman. So he did lectures, a book signing, and nobody knew him here. Douglas Kirkland! And nobody knew Douglas Kirkland. [Laughs] He is a very famous person, and having him here was a very big deal. Because of it, we were able to attract a few other photographers. A total of ten people came from LA and New York, and we even had one come in from Switzerland. That was nice.

That was the exhibition part. We also had a series of lectures at the UCF center for Emerging Arts. We had workshops. We had competitions… Did you ever see the brochure? Let me show you real quickly. [And he does pull up a PDF on his lap top and gives me a first hand account of the first Snap! festival.]

How much does it cost to throw an event like this?
We raised $50,000 cash. I was pretty happy about it. We spent $55,000, so basically I gave about $5000 of my own, which is nothing compared to what I thought I was going to put in, $25-30,000, which I didn’t have. [Laughs] That’s the cash value. We had to attach a value to what was donated in kind, and that’s when we realized how much it really cost, $300,000, for a total of $355,000.

For an event so costly, did you think enough people showed up?
No.  There were 3,000 people that showed up to the event, which was good and bad. Good for our first year and having no presence before that. Bad because with everything we benefited, all the free advertising and our marketing, which was very strong, I was wanting to double that number and have 5-6,000 people in attendance. But here’s what happened. The Fringe Festival happened exactly at the same time as us. We chose our dates with The City and everything was clear. We asked, “Are those dates clear?” And they said, “Yeah, those dates are great.” Two weeks later, The Fringe Festival gave their dates, which were the same as ours. And we dealt with it.

After the event, I met with the producer of Fringe. I said, “Can you tell me your dates for next year? I just want to make sure we don’t have the same dates.” We can work together and help each other out instead of competing. And she said, “Our dates for nineteen years have always been ten days before Memorial Day. “ The City didn’t know that. But now I know. [Laughs]

So that’s one thing we’re doing for next year. We’ve cleared other events. No Film Festival. No Fringe. No Easter.  We are falling on a time where there is no major competitor, except for Sunday, which is Mother’s Day. But we’ve turned what could be a minus into a plus by dedicating the day to mothers and kids.

What does success look like to you?
Success looks like what happened this year to tell you the truth. I don’t judge success by the numbers, but by the impact it had on those who actually attended it. The impact was maximum. First of all, the people were captivated, in awe, inspired, enthralled—is that good word? [Laughs] The response we received by email was, “Thanks. We’re so happy. We can’t wait until next year.” So in terms of quality, it was a huge success. In terms of quantity, it needs to be worked on.

In LA, when you go to a gallery or exhibition, what you see is people standing around, having their glass, chitchatting and what not. At the end of the day, you don’t really know if they are looking at the art. Here, everyone was art first. The people were glued on the art, then they socialized.

That’s one thing I like about our city.  As much as everyone complains about it not having culture, I like to think the cultural events that do happen here are fairly genuine and are done with good intent, because the people doing them know there is little reward in regards to making money or gaining any kind of recognition.
Exactly. I agree.  The problem is appealing to the critical mass of people out there, and then trying to get them to come to a place that they can appreciate art.  And I’ll tell you why. The expectation level is low. They already have an idea what photography might look like. They think … eight by tens of landscapes. You know what I’m sayin’? [Laughs] It’s a concept I have to fight. I have to find a way to convince them that’s not what it’s going to be like. In New York or somewhere, that’s never a problem.

What do you think will get people off their couches and into galleries?

Did you see that recent Forbes.com article that named Orlando the sixth coolest city in the country?
Yeah. That’s crazy. I wish. [Laughs]

[Laughs] You do seem hopeful for Orlando, though. What keeps you so hopeful?
I’m actually passionate that I see, relatively, a blank canvas. I’m very hopeful. Orlando has all the ingredients of a big city. It’s just not acting like one.  I think the impact of the Dr. Phillips Art Center will change its entire landscape.  The whole perception will change, and that’s what the problem is. Orlando has a perception of being just Disney and conventions. It’s been hard to infuse in anyone’s mind that it could be a leading cultural center. It may not be now, but it will.  There are a lot of cool things going on in this city. It gives me the energy to keep trying, whether I’m successful or not.

And your wife, is she happy now that you’re both here?
Yeah, she is. To her, it’s all about the children. Some days she says, “Oh my god.” [Laughs] I’m sure she misses some of the lifestyle and things we used to do in LA.

That or maybe she thought by moving here she was going to have you all to herself. Instead, you’ve just created new projects to work on.
Maybe. [Laughs]

*Interview date: September, 14, 2010

Visit the Snap! website to learn about the upcoming festival in May.

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