PORTLAND – Heather Broersma of Westbrook stood in front of a wall-size geometric abstract painting by Christopher Pennock at the Whitney Art Works gallery Friday. Surrounded by other spectators, she spoke animatedly to her companion, gesticulating at the painting before delivering her verdict.

“It is really neat,” she said. “It reminds me of those games where you fold the paper to read a secret message. It’s a brain teaser.”

Broersma was part of the crowd that turned out for Portland’s First Friday Art Walk, now in its 10th year. On the first Friday of every month, galleries and other art spaces open their doors from 5 to 8 p.m. 6:30 p.m., the sidewalks are clogged with people and street performers, and it’s packed inside the galleries.

“It’s a scene,” said Andy Verzosa, owner of Aucocisco Galleries on Exchange Street.

Verzosa introduced the art walk in 2000, soon after he opened his business, as a way to help people feel comfortable walking into a gallery, which can be intimidating. “I wanted it to be inclusive,” he said.

The idea caught on quickly and the momentum continues to build.

Art walks have begun in other communities, including Biddeford, Brunswick, Bath, Rockland, Gardiner and Bangor. Portland’s First Friday Art Walk is the oldest and biggest. On Friday, 65 galleries participated.

There was a Times Square atmosphere in the city’s arts district, where in just two blocks along Congress Street passers-by could hear a bagpiper, several solo guitar-playing singers, a couple of string duos and a violinist. Street vendors hawked T-shirts and earrings. At least one Democratic gubernatorial candidate was spotted.

First Friday is part cultural, part social.

The galleries are crowded with groups of teenagers, young families and clusters of white-headed folks. Many, such as Nan Sawyer and Nancy Greenleaf, have attended the art walks for years.

“It is a form of addiction,” Greenleaf said.

Most galleries serve light refreshments. At Harmon’s and Barton’s upstairs gallery, patrons ate bowls of Goldfish crackers Friday and went through about 25 liters of wine while studying abstract watercolors by Linda Murray of Bath. Flower arrangements inspired by the brilliant colors in the paintings were on display.

Dakota Linkel of Bowdoin, who is graduating from Mount Ararat High School in Topsham this year, studied the canvases on the walls of the Space Gallery. Linkel, who is headed to The Cooper Union in New York as an art student, said he was impressed.

“I like them because they are very geometric,” he said.

Rhonda Pearle greeted patrons at the Bridge Gallery, which she owns with her husband and fellow artist, Gary Perlmutter. They moved to Portland two years ago after 15 years in Boston.

Pearle said she is still amazed that she can own and paint in her own gallery in the heart of downtown Portland. The monthly art walk is important to her as an artist, she said. “Just to get the feedback is a bonus.”

Verzosa, who turned over control of the First Friday Art Walk to the Portland Arts and Cultural Alliance in 2007, said he is pleased to see the event continue to grow, drawing thousands of people downtown and bringing business to Portland’s bars and restaurants.

He said he feels like the monthly art walks are his children.

“It is kind of like having kids,” he said. “They grow up and leave, and now they are doing their own thing.” 

Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

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