Event a Win-win for Businesses, Artists and Art Aficionados
Downtown Norman isn’t typically a destination on a Friday night, especially when that night is dark, cold and rainy. The second Friday of each month is an exception. What started as a Winter and a Spring Art Walk has turned into a highly successful monthly arts and cultural event that draws large crowds and offers local artists and musicians a venue to display their talents.
“The past seven years have seen a huge growth in the Downtown Arts District, which is now officially a Cultural District recognized by the State of Oklahoma,” observed Erinn Gavaghan of the Norman Arts Council.
Since its start in 2008, the Art Walk has seen a growth of six to seven participating business locations to approximately 30 each month, and from a few hundred visitors to a couple thousand. Peggy Doviak, with D.M. Wealth Management and a business participant since early 2013, says that more than 500 people walk through their offices each month to view the featured artist, and they are thrilled to have the opportunity to give artists and musicians a chance to showcase their work.
The Art Walk continues to expand up and down Main Street, as well as further afield. Participants now include the Firehouse Art Center on Flood Avenue, and the Jacobson House and Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art on the University of Oklahoma Norman campus.
At the January Art Walk, the students of The Healing Studio of the Firehouse Art Center held their annual exhibition. The Healing Studio is a program for older adults and adults with learning differences.
“We always work to ensure every student has a piece in the exhibition, and several of our students have multiple pieces on show,” said Jane Lawson, artist and studio instructor. “It is an important experience for our students to have the chance to showcase their work in a professional gallery. Several of our students have sold pieces over the years, and that gives them such a confidence boost.”
Artist Rebecca Wilson exhibited her work at the January Art Walk for the first time since the walk was only a twice-a-year event.
“Everywhere you go, there is something different to see and hear, and to be inspired by,” Wilson said. “It is also a great time to see and visit with people that you might not run into that often.” Wilson also noted that she was surprised to see the big turnout for the walk, given the inclement weather.
For the past two and a half years, musician Frank Lawrence has been a fixture on the corner of Main and Peters. Each month, he selects a different musician to join him. Local up-and-coming entertainers Annie Oakley have been known to appear alongside Lawrence.
“Some of the artists I have known for years; others, this was the first time I have sat down with them. … It keeps things real fresh and it keeps me on my toes,” Lawrence said.
“When you step onto Main Street during the Art Walk, you literally hear music in the air!” Gavaghan said. “There are independent artists and retailers on the sidewalks. Second Friday is free and open to the public. Most participating businesses offer refreshments and snacks throughout the evening, and the restaurants are all very lively. If you haven’t been, you are missing out on one of the true gems of the Norman arts community.”
During the warmer months of the year food trucks arrive to offer additional food choices.
Doviak said that as a business owner, the benefits from Second Friday happen on many levels.
“It allows me to fulfill my vision for the role I wanted my business to have in the community. I love the atmosphere … it has become an evening that more people are adding to their calendar each month. I like that people come into our offices because they enjoy it, and it cements us into the community.”
When asked if there are any big changes in store for 2016, Gavaghan said that the Norman Arts Council has long wanted to expand the Art Walk further along Main Street.
“BOLD-Multimedia (a marketing consultant group located in downtown Norman) will host live music, artists and food trucks on some months, and we have high hopes there will soon be activity in the old lumber yard that will pull people to the businesses and shops at that end of Main Street,” she said.