Some people might see art as nonessential, but the growing popularity of artwalk events shows the arts’ power to connect people with communities.
Moscow’s 14th annual artwalk last Friday drew an estimated 5,000 people, said Moscow Arts Director Kathleen Burns.
Four blocks downtown closed to traffic for the one-night event pairing artists with businesses throughout the city. During artwalk, businesses hold receptions and showcase an artist’s work. Many offer free food and drinks. Some keep the art hanging all summer. Artists range from respected local painters to quilters to youth.
“You want artwalk to be for everyone. If people appreciate art at any level it just improves the importance and value of art to the community,” Burns said.
Downtown Lewiston will hold its eighth annual artwalk Oct. 5-6. It’s expanding to two days this year, said Courtney Kramer, executive director of Beautiful Downtown Lewiston.
“It is easily our most popular event, primarily because it brings the community together,” Kramer said. “We expect 2,000 to 3,000 people.”
The event has grown substantially in the last three years, and her group is devoting more resources to it. Previously, businesses had to find their own artists, musicians and drink vendors. This year Beautiful Downtown Lewiston will pair them.
“One thing we want to do this year is help businesses use artwalk as their kick-off to the holiday shopping season,” Kramer said.
Moscow’s artwalk began with six businesses and six artists, Burns said. Artists had to be juried to participate. When Burns took over as city arts director more than a decade ago, she opened it to all artists.
A key to Moscow artwalk’s success is a diverse board of directors from higher education, businesses and the community, Burns said. They all chip in. For example, the University of Idaho provides sound technicians and equipment for bands playing at Friendship Square. The city street department contributes cones and signs. Zions Bank volunteers fill hundreds of eco-friendly balloons with helium to float at participating locations. The city clerk walks businesses through the process of obtaining permits to serve alcohol.
Burns believes a critical part of Moscow’s artwalk is that it’s not just about looking; it’s interactive. On Main Street Friday, people were invited to draw in permanent marker on the blade of a city snow plow. Supervised kids spray-painted fluorescent polka-dots on a downtown crosswalk. They swarmed around a hands-on exhibit about river systems and a DIY postcard table sponsored by the Palouse Women Artists. There were two beer gardens and bands on three street corners.
“We make sure there are places that people can have engagement and be a part of something,” Burns said.
Moscow Artwalk has become Moscow’s main community event, she said. People plan for family members to visit that weekend. They plan weddings and family reunions, she said.
“Artwalk is just another way to showcase the importance of art to our community. It’s not a big thing; it’s a small thing. But artwalk opening night is a big thing for our town.”