Friday marks the return of the ArtWALK, an event where downtown art venues open their doors to the public for visitors to explore the local art scene.
The ArtWALK was founded in 2006. Tourism of Walla Walla came up with the idea after the town had been ranked one of the 100 best small art towns. With a volunteer to organize the event and a logo by local artist Squire Broel, ArtWALK was born. Now, ArtWALK is run entirely by the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation.
The foundation's Events and Public Relations Manager Jennifer Northam said that while in the past they experimented with various formats, this season is back to basics. The event draws a relatively high number of visitors, including tourists and people who normally don't attend galleries.
"Most galleries see it as an opportunity to get people through their doors," Northam said.
Kary Beckner, owner of Willow Gallery, echoed this idea.
"ArtWALK is one way to promote our local artists and venues and helps make art accessible to everyone in our community," she said.
For the opening ArtWALK, Willow will host talks by exhibiting artists Candace Rose and Katherine Wildermuth beginning at 6 p.m. Beckner said that there will be more surprise events and workshops at Willow on Fridays throughout the ArtWALK season.
This year's ArtWALK will feature most of the past participants; however, not every venue that was on last year's map will be returning. While some have closed since last season, others have chosen to simply not participate. Village Winery and The Black Door Gallery/Museum of Unnatural History both elected to be taken off the map, because they didn't get enough foot traffic to feel a part of the event.
Northam explained that locations outside of the most populated downtown strip tend to get ignored.
"Anyone that's off the main track from 2nd and down doesn't get the attention they deserve," she said.
Black Door owner Gerry Matthews said that the low number of visitors made staying open on a Friday night more of a chore than an opportunity.
"I love having people to come see the stuff, but I don't like to stay away from my easy chair that long," Matthews said.
ArtWALKers willing to walk a few extra blocks will be rewarded. Alder Street is a new hotspot on the ArtWALK, with first timers Todd Telander and Gary James Lee both listing their galleries on the map.
Another Alder Street newcomer is real estate broker Williams Team Homes, who will be putting on a multi-media display featuring the photographic series by Brian Gaines called "Downtown Walla Walla After Dark," live piano by Dennis Fisher and wines by Three Rivers Winery.
Of course, wine and art go hand in hand at the ArtWALK, as more than a handful of wineries serve as venues, and many of the art venues serve wine. Thus, many of the people who check out the ArtWALK tend to be wine tourists. But for locals who participate, the ArtWALK is a great opportunity to get involved in the community of artists.
Beckner said that while ArtWALK may help sales by getting more viewers in the door, the real value is its ability to connect people to artists.
"We try to focus on ArtWALK as more of a community event to help members get involved in the arts community by learning about art technique and various media, as well as meeting and talking directly with artists," Beckner said.