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Gallery hop: When art fills the streets

by Keith Barber

Two years ago, Amy Garland was searching for office space for her public relations and marketing firm in downtown Winston-Salem before stumbling upon the arts district near Sixth and Trade streets. Garland said she felt uneasy putting out a shingle promoting her PR firm on a street filled with art galleries. So, she decided to make the front of the business an art gallery to showcase the work of emerging contemporary artists and opened 5IVE & 40RTY gallery. Inspired by her public relations work for the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (SECCA), Garland sought to fill a void in the downtown arts district. “We’ve got a lot of places in the area, beautiful places that show local art but there was not a gallery in the arts district that showed emerging contemporary artists,” Garland said. “When I was at SECCA, some of the artists that were not quite on the level to show there, I [thought], ‘What do these people do? Where do these people go to show their work?’” Ten years ago, the Downtown Arts District Association (DADA) organized First Fridays Gallery Hop to address this dilemma for local artists. During last Friday’s October Gallery Hop,

Donna Rader characterized the program as an unqualified success, and credited area artists with the creation of the Arts District. “Artists came here first when it wasn’t [popular],” Rader said. “They were willing to push the boundaries. Now it’s Main Street people who have invested in the arts district.” Tamara Propst and her husband, Ron, were among the first artists to venture into the downtown arts district. Owners of The Other Half, the Propsts purchased the building at 560 N. Trade St. 16 years ago and Ron built all the studios and galleries in the building. Tamara said Ron first moved downtown in the early 1980s when the Winston-Salem arts scene was almost non-existent. Like Rader, Tamara credited private investment with fueling the arts district’s growth. “We’ve watched it really change and grow because of people moving in who really want to be here, not because of business but private entrepreneurs,” Tamara said. In the past five years, Propst said she and her husband have witnessed a transformation in the district. “It’s taken a while for people who live here to realize how great we are,” she said. At 5IVE & 40RTY, Garland has installed multimedia outlets and infrastructure and encourages area businesses to utilize the space for

presentations. It’s just one way she hopes to bring potential patrons to the arts district. Garland said Gallery Hop has been highly successful at bringing area residents here, leading to increased exposure for local and emerging artists. Garland’s current exhibition, “Seeing Winston-Salem: Contemporary Artists View the City,” was done in conjunction with Reynolda House, further highlighting the synergy that has developed among the city’s art galleries. “I don’t usually don’t do Winston- Salem art but the Reynolda House said, ‘We’re doing John Sloan’s New York. Let’s tag team with a gallery downtown with urban scenes of Winston-Salem.’ So this is my first attempt of doing Winston- Salem art.” Garland said she constantly receives compliments from visitors on the work of local artists. Propst said the genius of Gallery Hop is that it encourages area residents, not just art patrons, to come to the Arts District after hours. “They come on Friday night to just have fun and they visit places they don’t normally have a chance to visit during the day because they’re working,” Propst said. “I think it’s the greatest advertising we could have and a great way to get to know people.” On a larger scale, a thriving arts community is essential to quality of life and economic prosperity, Rader said. Citing research on the creative economy conducted by Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class, Rader said that when communities are diverse, they are more tolerant, and that fuels economic development. Propst agrees with Rader. The downtown arts district is quickly becoming a tourist destination and an economic engine, Propst said, and the continued success of Gallery Hop will undoubtedly have a positive ripple effect on the area’s artists and local economy for years to come. “You’re attracting people to come here,” she said. “You want people to come for the economic reasons and you want people to come see what we have to offer in the arts because we’re a major arts area.”

To comment on this story, e-mail Keith T. Barber at keith@yesweekly.com.

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