Tonight a number of galleries and artists will host the fourth monthly Downtown Duluth Arts Walk. The event continues to grow, and includes art, studio tours, music and more. This week, we hear from Amanda Hunter and Joellyn Rock, co-chairs of the group organizing the Arts Walk, and Alison Aune, artist and member of the collective. We’re also featuring some photos from past events. The Downtown Duluth Arts Walk happens tonight (Friday) from 5 to 8 p.m. at a number of venues downtown. For a list of locations, visit the website, or find a map at most of the venues.
How many studios or locations have been participating?
The Downtown Duluth Arts Collective, which puts on the Downtown Duluth Arts Walk, is comprised of 26 different arts businesses/groups, individual artist studios and cultural centers. We have two more prospective venues joining next month, and have had an average of two additional groups joining us each month since we started the Downtown Arts Walk in June. We see this as a positive sign that creative businesses and organizations in our neighborhood see the value of what we are trying to do and want to support and be a part of that endeavor.
The main requirement to join our collective and be a venue in the DDAW is that the venue must have ongoing, year-round arts or exhibition programming. There are several venues that decided to begin arts programming in order to join in with our group, which is something we did not foresee happening when we were getting started. The idea that this initiative is inadvertently growing the locations in which folks in our neighborhood and community can access or encounter the arts on a daily basis is pretty humbling, and in some ways feels even more aspirational than what we set out to do originally, which in itself was a pretty big undertaking. DDAC includes: 315 Gallery at the Washington Co-op, AICHO Galleries (Dr. Robert Powless Cultural Center, Indigenous First Art & Gifts), Alison Aune Studio, AROLA Architecture Studio, Art in the Alley, Blush, CF design ltd, Dubh Linn Brew Pub, Duluth Art Institute, Duluth Coffee Company, Joseph Nease Gallery, Kirsten Aune Textiles, Legacy Glassworks, Lizzard’s Gallery, Mavis Designer Showroom, Nordic Center, Pineapple Arts & Supply store, Prøve Gallery and Collective, the Rathskeller, Red Herring Lounge, Rockingchair Studio, Studio 101, The Tight Squeek Press Shop, Tischer Photographic Gallery, Wagner Zaun Architecture and Zeitgeist Arts.
How was the event organized, and what are the goals?
DDAC/DDAW is a grassroots initiative that came about through conversations between arts/creative spaces downtown. There’s been a rich history of arts in our downtown neighborhood generally and also of visual art crawls. Back in February, several of us around the downtown neighborhood started having conversations about starting up an ongoing, year-round, monthly event to highlight all of the cool arts groups that are currently located in downtown. Those early conversations were just to see if folks were interested in trying to do something like this.
I remember casually talking or emailing with Penny Clark and Jeff Schmidt at Lizzard’s, Flo Matamoras and Taylor Kline at Prøve, and Bob Monahan and Cam Rose Conlon at the Red Herring, and we all expressed interest, and started reaching out to other arts venues in downtown. Before long, folks from Blush, Tischer Photographic Gallery, Pineapple Arts, AICHO, DAI, Kirsten and Alison Aune Studios, the Tight Squeek Press, Nordic Center, Legacy, and many more venues listed above expressed interest in trying to start something up. We all got together for our first official meeting in mid-April of this year. Let me tell you, the enthusiasm and dynamism, the great ideas, of the people in that group blew me away. The energy was palpable. I left that meeting feeling giddy, like I was walking on air.
We talked about the history of previous gallery crawls in our geographical area, what proved successful in the past, and what might prove successful today. We talked about what kind of event we wanted this to be – inclusive of all people and genres of art, highlighting the vibrancy of downtown’s art culture and how it was growing, welcoming to folks in our neighborhood and beyond, providing our Duluth community with a fun and affordable Friday night-out experience. We talked about what kind of organization we wanted to be – a group of colleagues, each venue with an equitable stake in the organization, committed to promoting downtown arts, coordinating with and being supportive to other Duluth arts districts, and reaching out to our larger community to help promote engaged viewership of Duluth’s art. We continued to meet a lot, email a lot, and discuss a lot.
A couple of new venues joined the walk each month. Our decisions were made largely by consensus. As trust has developed within our collective, we have assigned various organizational roles, and team roles to help with preparation for each month’s walk. A sort of steering committee is made up of: co-chairs myself and Joellyn Rock, treasurer Jeffrey Schmidt, and co-secretaries Faith King and Penny Clark. We also have teams that work on various projects such as social media, financials, and business outreach. That said, we continue to check-in, raising concerns or thoughts for group discussion.
We have a bimonthly group business meeting for that purpose, to make sure we have an ongoing space in which any collective member can show up and be heard. The months when we don’t have a whole-group business meeting, we’ve started having a whole group social-hour/meet up. We don’t want to forget that we are also an arts community, a group of colleagues and neighbors, not just talking about “business,” but also sharing about our lives, values, the art we’ve recently seen or created, the great bands we’ve heard. We all have insanely busy schedules but still want to build upon the camaraderie we started out with as a downtown arts community. We are starting to look at hiring an intern to help with some of the aspects of day-to-day management necessary to put on an event like this. The programming is of course the “easy” part, it’s what we are here to do, it’s the art that each of these venues and artists are passionate about and do so well. The additional promotional and logistical work to put on a monthly event like this, and to do it well, needs daily shepherding. The right intern will be a great help in ensuring those aspects flow smoothly.
The event grew out of grassroots conversations in the downtown Duluth arts scene. The Downtown Arts Collective was formed and continues to grow with new members that are located in the downtown footprint. This June the collective launched the first arts walk, agreeing on the final Friday of the month to test how the monthly tradition could get going in Duluth, modeled on art walk events in cities all over the country. I think the goals are to establish a consciously supportive environment for evolving arts venues and emerging artists in the neighborhood. The collective has its mission and member venues listed on downtowndulutharts.org.
Was the Art Walk inspired by a similar event somewhere else?
In starting the DDAW we did do a lot of research, seeking wisdom as to what other successful art crawls, and studio tours were doing (and not doing) nationwide. At the same time, Duluth is a pretty unique place, with an independent and entrepreneurial spirit. Duluthians like to make their own thing, their own way. So we made sure our name was clear but distinctive from other groups in other places and that our art crawl represented the diverse spirit of our downtown neighborhood.
One way in which we are a bit different than most other art crawls in the nation is that while this discussion started out between visual art spaces, when we all got together we decided we wanted to take a broad view of the arts, which means we have many types of art happening in any given arts walk, including visual, musical, performance, design, poetry readings, film, maker spaces, artist studios doing demonstrations – you name it. At the same time we are doing this event monthly, where as most arts events that have that wide of a representation of different art forms might focus on one big yearly event. I suppose that as a group we looked upon the landscape of downtown’s creative community and said we don’t want to leave anyone out, what makes this such a vibrant and energetic space is that we have this plethora of art forms and creative spaces. We figured we were all stronger together and we also wanted to make sure the rest of Duluth knew about all of these amazing creatives doing these amazing things in downtown. Another thing I would say is unique about DDAC is how many of our members are nonprofit arts organizations organized specifically to benefit our community – 7 out of 26, or 26.92 percent. That’s a really high percentage compared to other art crawls throughout the country and is reflective of the arts culture of Duluth and also of this great downtown neighborhood we’ve all put roots down in and love.
Will it continue through the winter, and if so, will the format or focus change?
The short answer is, yes. Of course, this is our first year and we’re still figuring everything out, but we figure since when has winter ever stopped Duluthians from getting out and experiencing beauty? That’s kind of our thing! In downtown, we’ll certainly still be creating things and putting up art through the winter, and we hope that folks will come out to see what we are up to and that the arts will be sustaining to our neighborhood and larger community on those days when the weather (or life) gets a little dreary.
The winter season provides challenges, as the weather and holidays may bring adjustments to our monthly calendar. It’s also a great time to avoid cabin fever by getting out to engage in the arts! People should check our website and Facebook events to note what exhibits and venues will be open each month.
Any surprising reactions or challenges with the event?
We feel really fortunate that the neighborhood and larger community have been so supportive to DDAW already. We’ve had really good numbers turning out at each walk. A conservative estimate puts us somewhere in the neighborhood of 600 unique visitors over the summer months. People are so surprised when they go into studios they did not know existed downtown, or that they see the high quality of work produced downtown. Folks have been so enthusiastic that we’ve started this up. After each Arts Walk, I’ve been visiting some of our venues that are a part of the downtown late-night scene and have started to see some of the folks who were at the walk staying out to enjoy music or food and drinks. It’s nice to walk around and see that downtown buzz. People have been amazed that there are so many creative spaces downtown.
I wasn’t surprised by the positivity or support by Duluthians, knowing their long history of supporting the arts, but I’ve been really pleased to see the joy people have in participating in this event. We’ve also been thankful for the support of local hotels, who have started to give our brochures to out-of-towners who have been attending the DDAW in increasing numbers over the past few months. Now that school is back in session, I’m hoping to see an increase of students from our local universities and high schools and families with their younger kids. We want folks to know this is a walkable, inclusive, free night of entertainment that is open to all ages – there really is something for everyone!
With a couple events under your belt, any changes for future walks?
As we learn from each DDAW, we will implement changes to make each walk better. After our first event, for instance, we got feedback that the staggered time-schedule for venues we were trying out was confusing to visitors, and so we changed the time to be 5 to 8 p.m. for every venue. We’ve found over the summer that 6 to 7 p.m. seems to be the sweet spot for most visitors, and I’m interested to see if that continues to be the case through the winter! In some ways, this event is an interesting social experiment! We also are looking at additional ways to promote ourselves within and outside of Duluth, so far we have only used word of mouth and organic sharing over social media platforms. We absolutely value the word of mouth from our visitors and will begin to build upon that great base of support through other promotional avenues in coming months!
What is this month’s Art Supply Drive about and how did it come into being?
This month, in addition to our usual arts offerings, we are sponsoring an Arts Supply Drive to benefit public school students. All of our collective members do a variety of things to give back to our community. As mentioned earlier, quite a few of our collective members are even nonprofit groups or cooperatives deeply engaged in community building work – 315 Gallery, AICHO, Blush, Duluth Art Institute, Nordic Center, Prøve, and Zeitgeist. I work at a for-profit gallery at Joseph Nease Gallery, and as a newbie in downtown, we wanted to give something back to our community too, so what we came up with was an Art Supply Drive.
We contacted the school district and they connected us to Art for Ed’s Sake which is a local nonprofit created by public school visual arts educators to raise funds to further support art education and visual literacy for students in Grades K through 12. As this started to come together we reached out to Faith King and Jamie Rosenthal at Pineapple Arts Store to see if they wanted to partner in this with us, which they did. And as we talked about it, it just seemed like the DDAC and the Arts Walk might be a natural vehicle for something that supports Duluth’s youngest and future artists! We offered it to the group and got an enthusiastic response, and a lot of generosity. Several of our members put up money to offer a sort of matching donation to any supplies or monetary donations that folks bring in on the night of the Arts Walk – so here we are. We are thinking as a group that this could become a yearly initiative that we can continue to build upon.
Info for the Art Supply Drive:
Donations may be dropped off in collection bins from Sept. 26-28 at the following locations: Joseph Nease Gallery, Pineapple Arts Supply Store, Art in the Alley, and Zeitgeist.
Matching donation for every $5 of art supplies or money donated up to $550, sponsored by Joseph Nease Gallery, American Indian Community Housing Organization, Wagner Zaun Architecture, Tischer Photographic Gallery, and the Nordic Center.
Go to the Facebook page @downtownduluthartswalk for info about how to donate online, and to see supply lists.
Some of the activities happening on Sept. 28:
Hands-on arts making activities facilitated by Alison Aune and UMD Arts Education students at Pineapple Arts.
New art exhibits at AICHO, DAI, Red Herring Lounge, Dubh Linn, Duluth Coffee Co, Wagner Zaun Architecture, Art in the Alley and The Nordic Center.
Sneak peak exhibit at Lizzard’s Gallery.
Last chance exhibits at 315 Gallery, Joseph Nease Gallery, Legacy Glassworks, Prøve, the Rathskeller, Tischer Photographic Gallery, and Zeitgeist.
Open studio at Kirsten Aune Textiles, Studio 101, the Tight Squeek Press, Mavis Designer Showroom, and Rockingchair Studio.
Music at Blush and Red Herring Lounge.
Rockingchair Studio is hosting a pop-up exhibit this month, featuring abstract figurative paintings by designer/artist Victoria Lehman. In Lehman’s paintings, female figures are surrounded by layers of vibrant color and abstract brush strokes. Motion in and around the figures creates tension as the figures reach out to escape the imposed structure. The paintings strike a timely note, speaking to the female experience of preconception and constraint.
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