Madeleine Erps, 6, gazes at artwork on the wall of the Steamboat Springs Center for Visual Arts during First Friday Artwalk on Friday. The monthly downtown event has flourished in its five-year history.

Photo by Nicole Inglis

Madeleine Erps, 6, gazes at artwork on the wall of the Steamboat Springs Center for Visual Arts during First Friday Artwalk on Friday. The monthly downtown event has flourished in its five-year history.

After 5 years, downtown Steamboat still abuzz during First Friday Artwalk

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— Monday is when it begins.

Artists bring in their new work to galleries across downtown Steamboat Springs. Paintings, drawings, sculptures, jewelry and mixed-media works are hung and arranged in a curatorial flurry.

There has to be food, and there has to be wine.

The lighting has to be just right, and the doors open for the crowds to begin filing in just as the weekend slides into view.

It is First Friday Artwalk week. It happens one week out of every month and celebrated its fifth anniversary in December. And local galleries wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It’s worth it, and I think we all feel that way,” said gallery owner Kimberly Saari standing in her new pop-up gallery space on Seventh Street. Every few minutes, new groups walk in. “It’s definitely picked up momentum.”

The first official First Friday Artwalk was Dec. 7, 2007. There were 14 venues on that first walk, and the number has held steady with about 15 to 20 venues and galleries participating every month.

Consistency is the key, said First Friday Artwalk President Linda Laughlin.

Having Artwalk every month — even in mud season — has kept the buzz about the social, communitywide event going throughout the year.

“The locals come every month, whether there’s visitors here or not,” said Laughlin, also the executive director of the Steamboat Springs Center for Visual Arts. Her gallery space on Lincoln Avenue was overflowing with art walkers on a springlike Friday evening this month.

“It’s still very much a local’s event. It’s date night.”

In late 2007, Artwalk was just the seed of an idea, planted by Sandra Sherrod, of the Artists’ Gallery of Steamboat, and included Laughlin, then the visual arts director at the Steamboat Springs Arts Council, Kimberly Saari, who already was trying out Funky First Friday at her downtown K. Saari Gallery, and a host of other gallery owners and players in the downtown art scene.

After the galleries and venues first mobilized, they decided to pool funds to pay for a Lincoln Avenue banner and brochures with maps to hand out at each stop.

Right now, it costs $150 a year to be participate in First Friday Artwalk.

Mainstreet Steamboat Springs, though not a gallery, has been a member from the beginning to show its support for the event.

“It just shows another element of vibrancy downtown,” Mainstreet Manager Tracy Barnett said. “When there’s people walking around, other people want to know what’s going on. It’s become such a social event.”

She said even businesses that don't participate in Artwalk have been affected.

“There’s a lot of businesses that are staying open and places that are not galleries but are having artists.

“It was kind of a kick-starter for evening vibrancy downtown. There used to be, certainly, late night music, and that started at 10. Now there are a few other things to do that are earlier in the evening.”

This month, there were 15 venues on Artwalk, including all of the galleries that have been on since Day One. But there are also coffee shops, restaurants and clothing stores that have made the commitment to bring in artists each month. And Barnett, Saari and Laughlin agreed there are plenty more people walking the streets on First Friday than there were 5 years ago.

“It’s turned into a well-oiled machine,” Laughlin said. “Steamboat’s always been good about that; they support the arts.”

And that’s really what First Friday Artwalk is: a community celebration of the arts.

For the hundreds of art walkers each month, it’s a chance to take in all the new work buy a myriad of local artists and even glimpse some regional- and national-level pieces. But it’s also a chance to catch up with old friends, sip wine and lemon water and munch on platters of goodies.

“It’s the social thing,” Laughlin said. “I mean, you get to eat your way through town.”

To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email ninglis@ExploreSteamboat.com

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