Big changes in store for the downtown Art Walk, kicking off Friday
Posted: Wednesday, April 22, 2015 7:30 am
The Daily Times
By Steve Wildsmith | firstname.lastname@example.org | 0 comments
The downtown Maryville Art Walk returns for a new year on Friday evening, but there are changes on the horizon for the long-running event.
Patterned after the “First Friday” event in downtown Knoxville, the Last Friday Art Walk began in 2008 as a way to celebrate the arts in downtown Maryville. Held on the final Friday of each month, the event highlights the visual arts, performance art, actors, writers, dancers, musicians and more.
Two years ago, Maryville Arts Coalition organizers shortened the season, and the art walks were held from April through August; last year, the season was extended and the event was held in tandem with other Blount County activities, but organizers concede that struggle to attract patrons and visitors has necessitated changes for 2015.
“Over the last couple of years, the attendance has been like a yo-yo: Sometimes it’s absolutely fabulous, the streets are crowded, and it’s wonderful. Other times, if there’s a home high school football game or a raindrop falls, there are very few people there,” said Sherri Gardner Howell, president of the Maryville Arts Coalition. “We’ve struggled with getting businesses to make a commitment to the financial end of it, because they have to pay staff to work when they’re not normally open, and if they do food, they have extra costs there, too. They’ve always wanted to do it, but they get disheartened if they’re open and only six people come in.
“This year, we’ve reached a crossroads. We don’t think we can continue the Art Walk on a monthly basis. Part of it is just the sheer volume of work it takes to do it, because we have no paid staff, and it’s all run by volunteers, and it’s really very time-consuming. We want to work with businesses and artists to make sure it’s a quality event, so the Maryville Arts Coalition is transitioning into a group that’s going to be a support group for quality artists. What that means in the practical form is that we’re going to partner with other organizations when there are events going on downtown, Summer on Broadway being the best example.
“When there are other things in town that are going on that art should be and could be a component of it, we want to be the voice for the artists and help them be on the streets or the sidewalks or whatever the event calls for,” she added.
That does not mean, however, that Friday’s Art Walk is the only one taking place this year. The Downtown Maryville Association, led by President Bob Hirche, is stepping into the breach to carry on the tradition, and Hirche said he sees the potential to build it into a better-attended event as a win-win opportunity for artists, businesses and the city itself.
“We look at it as a great opportunity, and the transitions that are occurring are already in place,” Hirche said. “In the past, the Art Walk has been primarily an indoor event, and now we want to transition to an outdoor event and utilize all the services and space that has been built by the city over the years.”
One of those changes will be the creation of an arts area in front of Broadway Towers, Hirche added.
“First and foremost, one of the issues with the Art Walk for many years has been that not a lot of folks know that it’s going on and where it’s going on, and in part, that has to do with the dynamics of our downtown community,” he said. “Where previously they may have had eight locations over a three or four or five block area, we’re going to attempt to consolidate, and our first run at that is to use the area in front of Broadway Towers, which is about six parking spaces and the wall against Barley’s. Hopefully over time, we’ll work out the logistics and use the grassy area by the parking deck on Broadway, and maybe even reach the point where street closures are possible.”
The goal has always been to create a true downtown event on the final Friday of each month, but the logistics of working with the city to close streets and bring in bigger and more art tents and entertainment stages is a difficult one, Howell added. The hope is that with the DMA on board and the MAC serving in a support capacity, the Art Walk will grow to a point that it’s economically and logistically feasible to make such a celebration happen.
“Something like that would be a big commitment for the city, but I think if we focus on larger events that will get interest and cooperation from the city, we can get it to that point,” she said. “One of the biggest things will be getting permits so our artists can sell things, because one of the problems with putting our artists outside businesses or in public areas is that they can’t sell their works — and the artists don’t really want to come if they can’t sell their works. We want to look to larger events and make it a cooperative effort, and I think by working together, we’ll also get some real help from the city as far as closing streets and making some other things happen.”
While Friday’s Art Walk will make a quaint opening salvo for 2015, organizers have their eye on June 26-27, when the “Summer on Broadway” weekend will combine the Art Walk, the Big BBQ Bash, a craft brewery event, a car show and other city-sponsored activities, such as a family film screening in Jack Greene Park. There’s talk of an October event as well, something that will help ease the sting of the first year of the Foothills Fall Festival’s absence.
“Things are changing to where I think these activities will be better attended and more frequent,” Hirche said. “Summer on Broadway is certainly not a replacement for the Foothills Fall Festival, but it’s a transitional change, and I look at (the Last Friday Art Walk) also in the same light, as a transitional change from where we’ve been.”