Has First Thursday's Art Walk turned a corner?
Of the 70 Laguna Beach galleries listed in this newspaper's Artcetera section, only 31 now participate in Art Walk. Or, we should say, only 31 are officially listed as participating in the three-hour monthly event from 6 to 9 p.m., when art lovers are invited to view art, meet artists and generally party in a citywide art mash.
The "official" Art Walk galleries pay a hefty fee of $80 a month — that's $960 a year — for the privilege of being listed in the Art Walk brochure and the organization's website. This newspaper duly marks them with an asterisk on the week that Art Walk occurs.
Other galleries that do not pay the fees are supposed to keep their doors closed. But many don't, and, in fact, no one can force them to turn off the lights and lock the door on that particular night, or any other.
As the economy has soured and galleries struggle, many former Art Walk galleries have dropped off the "official" list. But, despite the gentlemen's agreement not to stay open and put out wine and cheese on that sacrosanct night, many do.
And who can blame them? That is a night of excitement in Laguna, a night when visitors throng the sidewalks, at least some with spending money in their pockets.
But, as reported last week in the Coastline Pilot, Art Walk "piggybacking" has caused a painful rift between the official and unofficial Art Walk participants. This is most unfortunate and, we think, unnecessary.
The Art Walk dropouts — which include some of the most respected gallerists in the city — should not be chastised for trying to save some money while keeping their doors open. This is a matter of survival.
The fact is that Art Walk needs as many galleries as possible to participate, in order to keep the event viable and exciting.
What if the only Art Walk participants were the 31 "official" galleries? The town would look dark, people would not see the excitement brewing and Art Walk would stop attracting crowds.
We think Art Walk should be a citywide event that all galleries can be part of if they wish, and none should be told to stay "dark" on that night. And, because the majority of galleries are unable or unwilling to pay the monthly fee, the city should step in and use the hotel "bed tax," or Business Improvement District (BID), funds earmarked for the arts. Those funds would subsidize the event, either to lower the fees to an affordable level or eliminate them entirely.
The galleries need Art Walk, and Art Walk needs participating galleries. The use of the BID funds for this purpose would be entirely appropriate and may save some of the city's precious galleries from closing down.