The Rogers-Lowell Chamber of Commerce had been hosting its downtown art walk, Art on the Bricks, for more than three years when the pandemic threatened to bring the incredibly popular event to a halt. But Karen Wagaman, the vice president of downtown development, says she wasn't going to let that happen.
"We had grown so much since the artwalk started in November of 2017," she explains. "Every month, we had more and more artists want to participate. Sometimes, we had over 30 pop-up locations, and sometimes over 100 artists participating. We didn't want to lose the momentum' we didn't want people to forget about us -- because then we'd be starting over completely."
So, since March of last year, the Chamber has been hosting the event online, giving the organization "the opportunity to maintain a visual presence, the opportunity to continue supporting the artists and letting them know, 'We still care about you, we still know that you're a vital part of the creative economy," says Wagaman. An unexpected plus of the virtual event: Instead of displaying the art to hundreds of potential art buyers, Wagaman says the virtual exhibitions get thousands of views a month.
"It was vital for artists to continue to be seen and heard," says artist Kinya Christian. "I am so thankful that Karen saw to it that we had a way to express ourselves. Many of us still don't have a website, aren't the most social-media savvy, and needed that nudge to get us there. We all found ourselves connected even more, just when we needed it most. That's what will make a healthy, successful art community -- when we're all connected. An incoming tide lifts all the boats."
The theme for this month's art walk is "All things bright and beautiful," a nod, says Wagaman, to the hope that a healthier future might be right around the corner.
"It's about returning to some sense of normal -- having something positive to look forward to," she says. "We have a lot of artists and musicians that are severely impacted by coronavirus and their opportunity to make money. The live art walks all went away, the gallery receptions all went away. And while we continued to showcase the work of visual and performing artists online, the opportunity to actually connect with those artists and do commerce with them is somewhat limited. I think a lot of the reason people support small businesses and artists is that personal connection, that opportunity to get to know them, to get to know their story -- that's when you fall in love with them, and so you buy their art or you buy their CDs, or you tip them when they're playing music. With a virtual setting, I don't think people are as likely to spend money and support these folks, and that's a lot of their income. So 'All things bright and beautiful' is trying to look at the bright side, putting a happy spin on it and hopefully we'll be back to normal by May."
While this month's exhibit is primarily online, Wagaman says four local galleries in Rogers opened for the traditional second-Thursday-of-the-month event in collaboration with Art on the Bricks -- a sure sign that things are slowly returning to normal. Into+View Art Gallery (300 N. Second St., Suite A) , Studio 300 (300 N. Second St., Suite B), Arkansas Public Theatre (116 S. Second St.) and Art Collective Gallery (228 S. First St.) all have varying operating hours, some by appointment; check their websites for more information.
"It's kind of like getting back into your favorite tennis shoes after a sports injury," says Wagaman. "We're gradually getting back into live artwalk and then next month, on May 13, for 'Art, Anime and Antiques,' we're going to be live and in person with several more galleries, and we'll have indoor and outdoor exhibits."
Art On The Bricks
See this month’s Art on the Bricks artists’ work now through April 30 at the following locations: