The streets of downtown Los Angeles overflowed with artists, musicians and assorted revelers Thursday night, signaling a healthy rebound for the Downtown Art Walk, whose future was in jeopardy just a few weeks ago.
Attendance at the monthly event appeared slightly heavier than normal, though exact figures were not immediately available. A diverse crowd milled about the area known as Gallery Row, which is bounded roughly by Spring and Main streets between 4th and 7th streets.
It also drew the usual contingent of food trucks and sidewalk merchants whose presence had become a bone of contention between business owners and event organizers.
In September, leaders of the Downtown Art Walk engaged in a public argument over the direction of the event. The group’s executive director at the time, Jay Lopez, announced on its website that the art walk would shut down for the rest of the year. But members of the board of directors later disputed the statement.
The chronically underfunded organization had been dealing with complaints that the art walk, started in 2004, was getting too big and that the crowds were disruptive to residents and businesses. But the group has since raised about $200,000 in pledges from property owners in the Historic Downtown and Old Bank districts that would help cover costs associated with security and cleanup.
David Hernand, chairman of the art walk board, said there was a “growing sense that the art walk has contributed to the resurgence” of the neighborhood. Plans include expanding the geographical footprint of the art walk to the west and north of Gallery Row to relieve congestion and recruit more businesses to support the event.
“We think there’s potential for the art walk to be a larger part of downtown,” Hernand said.
Most galleries that participate see a surge in traffic during the second Thursday of the month, though not all gallery owners support the event.
“It turns into a zoo. I would like to see it become more about the art,” said Clyde Beswick, owner of CB1 Gallery, who says his gallery has been vandalized on art-walk nights.
But Kim Koga, director of the Museum of Neon Art, said, “If it takes a party atmosphere to get people here, it’s better for the arts in the long run.”
Food trucks that once lined the sidewalks are now confined to several parking lots. “The food trucks kind of hurt the restaurants,” said Teddy Lawson, manager of Origami Bistro. But he added that art-walk nights were still his restaurant’s best nights.
Residents have complained about the trash left by crowds as well as public drunkeness and other rowdy behavior. Organizers of the art walk said they are telling gallery owners to refrain from serving alcoholic beverages. They also are encouraging building owners to hire extra security during art-walk nights.