Downtown Charleston ArtWalk celebrates its 17th anniversary this year. The ArtWalk is a free, self-guided walking tour of various shops, businesses, and galleries in the “downtown” area of Charleston. The host businesses offer refreshments and several also have entertainment. The evening always takes on a street fair, party-like energy and many locals make it a monthly “must do” for good reason. The variety of artistic expression is always a surprise. Painting, weaving, pottery, jewelry making, writing, photography….the list is endless. And every month is something totally new!
Although the venues can change with the seasons and depending upon the weather, there are about 20 businesses that are regular sites for the exhibits. This list and a map of the area can be found at artwalkcwv.com.
It is typically held the third Thursday of each month, with November being the only exception. Downtown ArtWalk is part of the Black Friday festivities following Thanksgiving. After shopping for hours at the big box stores, many locals appreciate the beauty and originality of one of a kind pieces of art and prefer supporting the local economy and delighting their loved ones with beautiful handcrafted gifts.
The ArtWalk takes place 5-8pm. Toward the end of each event, beginning at 7:30pm, the Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences continues the adventure with its own “Art After Dark”. This addition to the ArtWalk began a little over one year ago. The Juilet Art Museum offers live entertainment, hands on activities, a cash bar, and a different art exhibit each month. In August, local artist Christybomb will showcase her exhibition “Haneul in the Juliet Art Museum” by transforming the gallery into a fantasy, dream-like wonderland. Interactive workshops will be an integral part of this exhibit.
Kanawha County Schools Counselor Carolyn Burton said, “I come every month. I have been to art walks in several parts of the country. I have been on an art walk in Key West, Florida. Charleston’s is so much better.” Since folks can stroll and visit as their own pace, it’s a great method of getting children exposed to different types of art. It feels like old home week, running into friends and acquaintances as you walk down Quarrier, Capitol, Hale, and Lee Streets.
Local businesses appreciate the influx of customers and diners. Ellen Beale, owner of Ellen’s Ice Cream, said, “It’s always a busy evening. It is fun to see so many people happy and enjoying the event.” Rock City Cake Company, the city’s newest bakery and concert venue, is also one of the regular sites for different types of artistic expression. Many of the businesses hosting an exhibit will have easy to find signage at their front door.
Gallery 11, at 1025 Quarrier St., which also has a gallery at the Charleston Town Center Mall, is a co-op that began 40 years ago. Currently, there are 16 artists operating the galleries. When asked why he enjoys the Downtown ArtWalk events so much, Arthur Evans enjoys the interaction between the artists and the public as they discuss the art. Jerre Watkins, another of the Gallery 11 artists, loves visiting the other galleries with friends, seeing new works, and discussing them.
Susie Salisbury, Vice President of Community Development for Charleston Area Alliance explained the ArtWalk started 17 years ago by four business owners: Steve Payne (photographer), John Auge (jewelry store owner), Callen McJunkin (art gallery owner), and Ann Saville (Taylor Books). Susie says, “We have witnessed so many other types of businesses interested in supporting the arts. We now have law firms, retail shops, a ballet studio, a contractor office, and more, hosting regional artists each month. It has been so rewarding to watch it grow into one of the best monthly events in the state. For the future, I hope to see it stay as an important part of Charleston’s cultural fabric. Just last night, we had several new street performers out which provided such a nice festival atmosphere. Experiencing the unexpected is half of the fun of attending ArtWalk. I hope it stays a free event for the public and downtown Charleston can continue to thrive as the arts and cultural hub for the region.”
Charleston has so much to offer. As the Kanawha Valley continues to draw a large number of out-of-towners due to the World Scout Jamboree, the US Regional Soccer Tournaments, and the increased number of conventions being drawn to the newly renovated Charleston Coliseum & Convention Center, we have a lot to be excited about!
By Leslie Bonham