Back in 2003, only four Downtown Jacksonville venues carved out a little space for local artists to display their work for a new event on the first Wednesday of the month.
“We were excited to hear that 300 to 400 people came out,” said Terry Lorince, executive director of Downtown Vision Inc. (DVI).
The Jacksonville Landing, the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville, Snyder Memorial and 100 Laura Street hosted the artists. DVI chose Wednesday because MOCA had already scheduled a community celebration of the arts that night, Lorince said.
Now, First Wednesday Art Walk draws more than 10,000 visitors with more than 50 participating vendors and many more unofficial locations that take part.
With the art walk’s larger numbers, the event will occasionally close streets to traffic to allow folks to move freely.
“Having too many people is a good problem,” Lorince said. “The goal is to bring more venues together and attract more people to visit and experience the beauty of art walk.”
Through a decade of word of mouth and the dedication of artists and art lovers, the event has multiplied and celebrates on Nov. 6 with a “Cheers to 10 Years” theme.
Liz Grebe, Downtown Vision marketing and events coordinator, said galleries, bars and restaurants are encouraged to have a celebratory theme and promote their favorite artists from the past 10 years. “Ten years down – 10 years to grow,” is Grebe’s tagline.
Grebe said about 40 venues submit applications each month, and others participate on their own, displaying art or hiring musicians. On Oct. 2, the Oktoberfest-themed art walk with 50 participating vendors drew an estimated 12,000 people — the biggest event in 10 years. Hemming Plaza featured a biergarten with tables and benches and a German band, luring visitors — including many zombies and clowns — to dance and drink while perusing the art.
Downtown resident Dardanius Smith has attended almost every First Wednesday Art Walk for nearly eight years, watching it grow in size and popularity.
“I remember when the art walk would only cover one block,” Smith said.
November is also the fourth anniversary for the Southlight Gallery, which recently moved to a new Hogan Street location closer to Hemming Plaza, the art walk’s nerve center. Gallery Manager Pam Zambetti said the gallery has moved four times as part of the Off the Grid program, a partnership between artists, property owners, Downtown Vision Inc. and the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville to fill vacant spaces in the urban core and provide artists with work and exhibition space. The Nov. 6 art walk serves as the gallery’s grand reopening in a prime street-level space to promote its more than 30 artists, Zambetti said.
Art walkers have made Burrito Gallery a popular destination with its open-air back patio and its Adams Street outdoor tables. During the October event, Molotov Cocktail Party performed fire tricks, and Samuel Ronquillo’s art adorned the walls.
Print Studio Jax was set up nearby, creating custom T-shirts on the sidewalk. The printmakers started as students under Patrick Mik at Florida State College at Jacksonville.
“When One Spark rolled around, we thought it would be a great opportunity to take the subject we all love, printmaking, and attempt to open a public print shop,” said Brittany Gorelick, a drawing, painting and printmaking major at UNF. Print Studio Jax plans to showcase its work again in November in front of Burrito Gallery.
Riverside resident Patrick Wells looks forward to art walk every month. He said interesting themes get people involved in the community. As a musician, he has played a few gigs at local bars over the past years.
DVI encourages venues and artists to take the initiative and find each other. Lorince said that’s evidence of the event’s success.
“It is everyone’s art walk,” she said.