In a town like Birmingham – not that there is a town like Birmingham, really – walking is an act rife with great significance. During the civil rights movement, walking was the means of protesting inequality and injustice; it was incorporated into the design of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, which urges you to walk through history and art to understand where you are.
In a way, one could say some of the same things about Artwalk, which returns to the historic loft district September 7 and 8. Now in its 11th year, Artwalk has built an impressive history of its own. The free festival also makes walking a significant thing, inviting people across the political, economic, and racial divides to stroll downtown sidewalks, with the joint aim of enjoying art, music, food and good times together. When you’re standing together on the same sidewalk, sometimes understanding can happen.
Not that Artwalk is all about sidewalks. It also speaks a lot to the vitality of the lofts lining First Avenue North and the arts community flourishing within, as well as the burgeoning restaurant and retail district which has made Second Avenue the place to be, especially at lunchtime. Artwalk seeks to expand the good feeling and let people experience Birmingham at night.
“It’s a very fun event. There’s not anything really negative to it,” said Joy Myers, executive director of Artwalk. “It’s about celebrating the urban environment downtown and celebrating local and regional artists.” Artwalk, she said, is about “crowding the sidewalks and having people going into and out of the businesses to depict what the nightlife in the city could be like.”
If Artwalk is the template, consider what that can look like: 10,000 people passing through the streets and businesses between Morris Avenue and Second discovering the more than 100 artists in more than 40 locations. “We’re putting artists in locations you don’t necessarily see them such as a law office or the Literacy Council, or … your office, for example,” she said. (The Weld office, at 2312 1st Avenue North will display the work of ceramicist David Self and painter Paul Cordes Wilm).
Artwalk is a juried show, so considerable talent will be on display and for sale. Besides Self and Wilm, artists include Veronique Vanblaere, owner of Naked Art, and instrumental in the early days of Artwalk, John Lytle Wilson, Liz Young, Chris Davis, Lisa Chamberlain Dunn, Christy Turnipseed, Scott Thigpen, Troy Crisswell , and Donna Digiorgio, among others.
As Artwalk has grown over the years, so has the army of folks who make it happen, said Myers, who expressed gratitude for the sponsors, board of directors, committee, and more than 100 volunteers who, in conjunction with neighborhood residents and merchants “go all out to welcome visitors to our little piece of Birmingham. Without the support of the neighborhood, we wouldn’t be hosting this festival for 11 years.”
Locations hosting artists include restaurants, bars, law firms, galleries, studios, and the lofts themselves. This year, the festival is closing off some streets including the Adamson Ford Art Plaza, where visitors will find live music, food trucks, beer, and wine, as well as, of course, art. Artwalk offers opportunities to sample downtown cuisine, buy art at various price points, and even make art, all in an atmosphere of creativity and safety, Myers said. “This is definitely a feeling of what we want Birmingham to be like every Thursday and Friday, and Saturday night. A little bit of something for everybody and it’s just a lot of fun.”
Artwalk runs Friday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., and Saturday from noon until 6 p.m. For more information, visit www.birminghamartwalk.org.