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Art walk makes friends for galleries, downtown

Art walks — an increasingly popular strategy for attracting patrons to galleries and retail establishments — contribute to a sense of vitality and community, particularly in urban settings.

In older, industrial cities like Flint — where a determined group of artists and art-lovers are joining efforts to reinvent the central city — an art walk also can be a powerful tool for changing perceptions.

"Art walks not only make friends for galleries, but for downtowns," said Gregory D. Fiedler, executive director of the Greater Flint Arts Council (GFAC), which has held a regular "Second Friday" gallery hop since 2000.

"We've been holding art walks sporadically since 1994, when we partnered with another small gallery to try and increase traffic for our show openings," said Fiedler.

Although many of the city's downtown buildings were vacant in the 1990s, gallery patrons — about half suburban residents and half city dwellers — were "game for a good party," he said.

"When we christened our new downtown headquarters in March 1998, 400 people showed up for the open house, despite a nasty snowstorm," said Fiedler. "In fact, until this year, winter art walks have seen the highest attendance."

While GFAC's art walks have always attracted a solid crowd, Flint's downtown was not always such a hospitable venue.

In 1999, as part of its overall grantmaking in support of downtown revitalization, the Mott Foundation made the first of several grants to GFAC to coordinate a "parade of festivals," designed in part to generate foot traffic and reacquaint area residents with some of the new building projects and small businesses that were breathing life into the center city.

Since 1969, the foundation has supported a variety of GFAC activities in Flint and throughout Genesee County with 41 grants totaling $3.1 million.

Fiedler said attendance at the Second Friday Art Walks exploded last summer.

"It's taken on an organic feel," he said, noting that increasingly larger numbers of young artists are joining in and "just doing things."

"It's grown exponentially," said Fiedler, "and it's youth-driven. And our longtime patrons love it."

Downtown merchants, churches and restaurants are joining the festivities in a big way, hiring musicians and staying open late to provide temporary gallery space for artists.

"It really has all the elements of a good party — free food and drink, good company and lots of activities," he said. "Who wouldn't want to come to the art walk?"

Fiedler said that when the regular art walks started — supported by partners such as the UM-Flint, the Whaley Historical House, Buckham Gallery and the Flint Institute of Arts — there were more than 15 empty buildings along the four blocks between the arts council and the Flint River. While some empty buildings remain, downtown loft apartments and dormitories have brought permanent residents into the central city and increased its hospitality.

"The partners have changed but, through the years, we all held on to the belief that the heart of a city has got to be strong if the rest of the region is going to prosper," he said.

"We are a downtown institution and part of our mission will always be to improve the image of Flint."

(Note: This report is provided as a service to our readers and a service to the group or individual mentioned in the release. Usually, only minor editing is done. The group or individual is responsible for all information provided.)

 

 

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