Accidental scheduling starts successful tradition
By Leslie Grace | A! Magazine for the Arts | June 26, 2013Usually when one says, "accidents happen," it isn't a happy occasion. However, in Marion, in July 2006 when Suzan Sukle of Appalachian Spirit Gallery and Jenny Kirby of Black Rooster Gallery both scheduled an art opening for the same night — something special happened.
"Both events experienced a much greater turn-out than if we'd held them separately," Sukle says. "We struck an agreement to keep our openings scheduled for the second Friday of the month until December. After several successful openings, our gallery board decided to start a monthly ArtWalk and invite other business to participate."
The ArtWalks began in 2007. The initial group of volunteers included Sukle, Kirby, Duane Cregger, Ned Johnson, Cici Vesce, Anne Hull and Avery Cornett.
"Hull, Vesce and I paid personal visits to each downtown business explaining the art walk concept and how they could participate," Sukle says. "In addition to remaining open a few hours later once a month, we encouraged them to sell locally produced art, crafts, literature and music. We gave them a list of suggestions on how they could participate in the art walk and to create their own event. For enticement, I agreed to include their business on an art walk sub-web of our gallery and to promote their event along with ours via press releases, e-newsletter, social media, website and word of mouth at our gallery openings.
"By 2008 eight businesses participated with some providing their own events. Main Street of our compact downtown resembled that of a busy resort area. In 2009 the recession hit, and our budding renaissance ended; and Marion lost several businesses. Not to be deterred, we kept on keeping on and gradually re-established. In 2012 the Marion Downtown Revitalization Association and the Young Professionals Club partnered to sponsor the After ArtWalk Summer Concert Series at the Farmer's Market Pavilion. They are doing the same for 2013." Sukle also has music at her gallery during the Second Friday ArtWalk. Her Music on the Porch showcases local musicians.
"The 2012 ArtWalk attendance exceeded our expectations and that of previous years," Sukle says. "The hustle and bustle of crowded sidewalks attested to the event's ability to draw large numbers of visitors to downtown despite present economic conditions. The restaurants do a booming business as do other places that serve food. We hope to continue that trend for 2013. The opening of the Herb House Trading Company, Spirit Express Model Rail Museum and music store should help. Hopefully, new retail shops will open to replace those lost in the recession."
The spirit of cooperation that began Second Friday continues as local restaurants and gift shops host wine tastings and offer menu specials. "We let each business decide their own event that our gallery will promote," Sukle. "People know about the ArtWalk and where to go because our gallery produces a Business and ArtWalk Guide that is distributed at visitor centers, hotels, motels and participating downtown businesses." It is also on Appalachian Spirit Gallery's website, appalachianspiritgallery.com.
Businesses can participate by hosting a Second Friday event and getting that information to the gallery through an online form, email@example.com, or calling 276-759-3890.
"They might want to try it at least once by remaining open a few extra hours once a month, hosting an event and being prepared to handle extra business that night, "Sukle says. "The event brings people into downtown and creates opportunity for sales. Of course, nothing can replace service for providing a pleasant experience to bring folks back."
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A variety of activities make the art walk fun for all ages.