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It’s an ‘art emergency’

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Sandy Sanzero and his wife, Libby Sanzero, waited from 9 o’clock Friday night to be among the first to get in, spending the night in their car.

Robyn Howe was one of the first through the doors with the Sanzeros. She came in from Edgewood on Thursday and camped outside on a cot so she, along with her daughter and father, would be in the initial wave Saturday morning, too.

“It was hard,” she said of the little bit of sleep she was able to get before tickets to get in were finally available.

Not tickets for a concert or midnight screening of a new tween film, but for something more tangible and longer-lasting.

They were part of the first and most motivated group to procure art during “The 285 Show,” Weems Galleries and Framing’s yearly event that makes artwork from local artists whose prices might otherwise be unaffordable all of a sudden accessible to many more people at just $285 apiece or less.

“It’s the whole concept of the gallery: affordability for everyone,” said Mary Ann Weems,who opened a 400-square-foot gallery 32 years ago with a $5,000 loan from her parents.

The event is now in its 11th year – in a much more expanded space near Montgomery and Louisiana – and it has always sold at least 100 pieces of work from about 50 artists whose work Weems represents and who agreed to take part.

On Saturday morning, a half hour before the gallery’s 10 a.m. opening, dozens of people were lined up on the sidewalk. They were given numbers, the first 15 of whom could go in ahead of everyone else and select their first choice. Within an hour, 100 pieces were sold, Weems said.

“It’s so exciting,” Libby Sanzero said. “I’m just stunned there are not 500 people in here. This is a gift from artists, a thank you gift to the community that they’re making their art available at these ridiculous rates.”

In an hour, the couple had selected 16 pieces. “It’s like we hit the lottery,” Sandy Sanzero said.

The event brought out the likes of Janet Napolitano, the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, who on Friday announced her resignation from President Barack Obama’s Cabinet to take over the University of California system.

Coming to the event for what was either her third or fourth time, she said, she found a small, simple drawing of a chair by Paul Murray.

Like many of the other buyers, Napolitano had come into the gallery ahead of time to see the options, but because she didn’t show up extra early, she wasn’t in the first wave of people to enter the store.

Still, she had good luck. “I picked ten things in case my first choice wasn’t available, but this was my first choice,” she said of the chair drawing.

Of the many artists whose work was represented, B.C. Nowlin, 63, showed up. He makes a living, as he has for the past 30 years, selling large oil paintings of motels, burning vehicles, horses and other subjects, he said. The night before the event, he handed out coffee and doughnuts to early birds. He returned on Saturday morning to see familiar faces and a flurry of customers.

One of his paintings, ordinarily priced at $6,300, was among the first to be snatched up.

“They meant business,” Nowlin joked of the energy people put into getting what they wanted.

“It’s artist fantasy camp. You just wish things worked this way, people standing in line to get art, like it’s an art emergency. They’ll do it at Best Buy,” he said with a laugh. “Why not do it for art?”