WANT TO GO?
Downtown Charleston ArtWalk
WHEN: 5 to 8 p.m.Thursday
WHERE: see page 4D for gallery list
INFO:www.charlestonartwalk.com or 304-340-4253 (Charleston Area Alliance)
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Downtown Charleston ArtWalk has been around the block to get to tonight's 10-year anniversary celebration.
The original concept was the brainchild of Callen McJunkin, who owned downtown galleries for years. John Auge credits her with bringing the concept from other cities to Charleston. He owned the now-defunct Distant Mesas gallery on Hale Street for three years in ArtWalk's early days.
"I remember the day Callen and her late husband Tom approached us about the concept," Auge said. "It was exciting to be part of the initiative to get people downtown, visiting the shops, increasing evening traffic. It was the concept of getting people comfortable with staying after work, just moseying about, checking out galleries."
"It was based on her experiences with art. She was quite a catalyst, and Tom was so supportive and interested in anything creative," he continued. "We watched it continue to grow. More people got involved, asking 'How can we be part of it?' We added street performers once. I remember Callen had a guy playing the saxophone on the street corner. It was amazing."
Charleston City Council recently honored the original participants of ArtWalk with a resolution extolling their early efforts, as well as recognizing the current participants who carry on the founders' vision.
One of the honorees was photographer Steve Payne who had a gallery and studio on Capitol Street when ArtWalk started.
"The first meeting was at my studio," he said. "Callen and Tom McJunkin had been to these in other cities, and John and David [Morton, manager of Distant Mesas] were familiar with them. I had heard of them but never attended one. It was an effort to put some energy into the downtown arts scene."
Payne pointed out that the 10-year trek has been a long road, indeed.
"It's super weather dependent, and that's a big issue for attendance. Some were really good, and sometimes it was, 'Well, it was fun setting up that table.'"
Anne Saville, owner of Taylor Books and its Annex Gallery, was part of ArtWalk from the beginning and has the only original gallery still participating. She downplayed her role, though, instead praising former Annex Gallery manager Angie Mullins and current manager Dan Carlisle for handling the set-up, promotion and participation in ArtWalk.
"They just carry on down there so well," Saville said with a laugh. "They do all of the work, everything. They ask me when they need a cheese tray," she said, referring to the refreshments that are typically part of the ArtWalk events.
McJunkin was humbled by the praise from her fellow ArtWalk originators.
"It's very generous of them, but you can't engage an entire downtown by yourself," McJunkin said. "I travel a lot to look at art, and I said there's no reason why this wouldn't work here.
"Most of us wanted the art to be accessible. We wanted to make it easy for folks to just walk in the door. Many people thought a high-end gallery would have impersonal help with no prices listed on the wall. They just didn't know the protocol. They didn't know if they could just come in and walk around, ask how much something cost. We wanted to break down barriers."
Now that McJunkin doesn't have a gallery in the downtown district, she said she can't choose which one of the ArtWalk venues is her favorite.
"Everybody's got something to offer. You have to look at it all to train your eye."
ArtWalk is held from 5 to 8 p.m. the third Thursday of every month (except in winter) with assistance from the Charleston Area Alliance. This month's participants are Art Emporium, Purple Moon, Modern by Design, Gallery Eleven, Studio 1031, Romano & Associates, Visions Day Spa, Chet Lowther Studio, Mission Savvy, Stray Dog Antiques, Taylor Books, White Oak Photography, House of Luxe, and the Charleston Ballet.
Participating galleries for the March 15th installment of ArtWalk are: