Thousands Drawn to Downtown ArtWalk

Flower shops, coffeehouses, retail clothing stores and even a portion of a sidewalk were joined to form a sprawling public gallery Saturday that drew several thousand people to downtown Ventura for a stroll and an art show.

Sunny skies and 75-degree weather greeted visitors to the daylong ArtWalk, a city-sponsored event along Main Street that brings culture directly to residents by having local businesses display the work of dozens of local artists.

"Art saves lives. It enhances life. If all the art were gone the world would be a different place," said a green-haired M.B. Hanrahan, a longtime local artist whose acrylic paintings, masks and sculptures were displayed in giant storefront windows at the Blue Moon clothing store.

Many also found their way to the beach at the end of California Street, where adults and children gathered in the sand for a small sandcastle-building contest. The entries submitted for judging included multilevel mansions with spiral staircases and small, block-shaped designs resembling adobe forts.

At the ArtWalk, next to a neon sign that marked a new movie theater, local artist Nancy "Nicki" Alexander set up a sidewalk display of her oil paintings and painted rocks.

Affixed to her work was a mandala, a Tibetan design that is considered a sacred circle.

"I've done shows in San Francisco and L.A., but I came downtown and it looked so cute that I thought, 'Who knows? Maybe there are some art lovers out here,' " Alexander said.

Indeed, there were.

Judy Kida and Linda Potkey skipped a planned trip to the movies to check out the scene.

"It's also fun to see all the people," Kida said as she held an ice cream cone.

Many indulged in sweet frozen treats as they strolled the streets where 54 shops and spots featured artworks. Included among the offerings were Chinese artifacts at the Gold Lion Gallery and metal art at Kelly's Coffee and Fudge Factory.

At Passion Flowers Gift & Collectibles on Thompson Boulevard, owners Rick and Michelle Zepf greeted visitors who wandered into the store to view small abstract etchings by Tim Mesquit and primitive stick sculptures by Rosa Andrade.

The couple joined the festivities this year for the first time in hopes of attracting more people to downtown's east side, Rick Zepf said.

"We're doing what we can to hold up the Thompson and Kalorama Street corner," he said.

ArtWalk is held three times a year. Those interested in taking part can call the city's cultural office at 658-4726.

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