Wednesday, December 11, 2013
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A small crowd gathers to watch Rafael Alvarez, a student at the Maine College of Art on Congress Street, dance to his boom box outside the school during the First Friday ArtWalk this month. Other street performers eat fire or play music and sing.
Photos by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer
Tom Kruzshak of Falmouth examines art at the Rose Contemporary gallery during the First Friday ArtWalk. The galleries are often crowded on art walk nights.
The Portland Arts and Cultural Alliance, part of the larger Creative Portland Corp., administers the art walk today. It has received grants and attracted paid sponsors to support the art walk, which now involves several dozen venues -- and sometimes hundreds during the busiest months.
Verzosa, who owns Aucocisco Galleries on Exchange Street, helped originate the art walk when he ran his gallery on upper Congress Street. He and other business owners on the street hatched the idea as a way to generate foot traffic on their block.
"It has grown into a people-watching event," Verzosa said. "I still do it and I enjoy it. It's good for me and good for my gallery. It gets people in front of artists' work. Sometimes it results in sales, but not often."
During December's First Friday ArtWalk, last week, Verzosa did make a sale.
Lillian Nayder and Matt Johnson, a married couple from New Gloucester, bought a painting by John Blatchford, who also lives in New Gloucester.
Nayder and her husband made their purchase spontaneously. They didn't come to Aucocisco with the idea of buying art, she said.
"This is our Christmas gift to each other," said Nayder. "I'd rather have that than an espresso machine."
'VERY BEST PARTS OF PORTLAND'
Kristen Honey ducked into Aucocisco that night, shook off the rain and proceeded to greet one friend after another. Her evening plans involved seeing art, meeting friends, grabbing dinner and then maybe a drink.
The art walk provides the perfect opportunity to take advantage of everything great about Portland, said Honey, 38.
"I think the art walk exhibits some of the very best parts of Portland. It's a snapshot of what Portland is really all about: art, food, culture and beer," she said.
Over the course of the year, tens of thousands of people participate in the art walk. Because the event is free, there is no way to accurately count the people. Daniel Fuller, director of the Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art, has counted as many as 7,000 on a Friday.
The Portland Museum of Art, which has offered free admission on Friday nights since before the art walk began, drew a total of 40,000 people on Fridays in 2011, including the art-walk Fridays. The highest number on a Friday night was 3,500, said museum director Mark Bessire.
Last week, 2,539 people entered the museum between 5 and 9 p.m.
There is talk of making the art walk even bigger by adding events at Congress Square and Monument Square -- ice sculptures in the winter or circus-like performers in the summer, for example.
Talk of such events makes some gallery owners cringe. They fear it would detract even further from the original intent.
The growing pains associated with the art walk are a natural part of its evolution, said Jennifer Hutchins, executive director of Creative Portland.
Even among those who worry that it's become too big or too diverse, it's hard to find many people who find it objectionable.
"It is spot-on with regard to Portland's image and identity as an arts-friendly city that is open and accessible, down-home and edgy," Hutchins said. "And perhaps most remarkable, everybody likes it. No one at City Hall or the Chamber of Commerce will tell you that the First Friday ArtWalk is a bad thing. Everybody agrees that it's good for Portland."
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:
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Patrons check out the scene inside the Rose Contemporary gallery during the First Friday ArtWalk this month.