In 1994, when gallery owner Keri Blackman and John Davis started Gallery Night, a small collection of open houses designed to celebrate and spotlight local artists, they “didn’t even know what we were doing,” admitted Blackman, an Alpine gallery owner. In the years that followed, Gallery Night evolved, changed its name to Alpine Artwalk, garnered recognition across the state, and eventually exploded into an annual city staple that is now the city’s largest event of the year. The two-day Alpine Artwalk features as many as 30 locations (including galleries and local businesses that temporarily convert themselves into galleries) and attracts 6,500 to 10,000 people from throughout Texas.
“It’s a cool two-day family-friendly art festival,” said Blackman, Artwalk’s founder, and director. “People book their rooms a year in advance. The entire town fills up; every hotel fills up. Families come in for Artwalk and plan their whole Thanksgiving (around it). They take off (work) so they can be here for Artwalk and be here with their families, which is really cool.”
“It has changed so much from that little grassroots organization to this Artwalk where we have an art car parade and a hot rod show and an art silent auction that benefits our public library.”
The 25th Annual Artwalk 2018, presented by Porter’s Thriftway, is November 16 and 17 in Alpine, 23 miles southeast of Fort Davis. This year’s event will include live music, free art activities for children, alcohol tastings, vendors, food trucks, an art car and hot rod parade (which Blackman called a “gallery on wheels”), and more than two dozen locations that open their doors for open houses or art demonstrations.
“Each location is responsible for their own open house,” Blackman stated. “You have 25 to 30 different things happening. Most everybody is serving some sort of food or beverage. We encourage them to have live music and do demonstrations, have raffles, have food and drink. Each location is actually vying for the attendees to come to their location, to shop, visit, and see.”
Participating locations and artisans come and go, Blackman said, but some have stuck with the event since the beginning. Those include Blackman’s Kiowa Gallery, Front Street Books, J. Davis Studio, Ivey’s Emporium, and, until recently, Quetzal Art & Imports. “Everything is centrally located downtown. Alpine’s a small town so you can park and walk to everything,” Blackman explained.
Organizers close down a street for art cars and shut down another street for the hotrods, lowriders, and classic vehicles so that visitors can view and take pictures alongside them. “It’s a cool way to have all kinds of automobiles that are art to be seen,” Blackman said. “Hotrods are invited from all over. We’ve had them come from Midland, Odesa, El Paso, San Angelo. We call it a show and shine because there’s no trophies.”
Typically, a tri-county artist is spotlighted for each Artwalk, with his or her art featured on a six-by-eight postcard invite that is mailed out to the thousands of people on the Artwalk’s mailing list, as well as other Artwalk promotional materials such as T-shirts, posters, and billboards. “As a group, we nominate three to four different people from the area and vote,” Blackman explained of the selection process. “It gives us a direction to focus on different types of artists and different types of people that normally are out of the spotlight. We’ve had them from Big Bend, Valentine, Fort Davis. There have been at least 20 artists. This is sort of a quiet selection, and they’re surprised, everybody’s surprised and excited about that person.”
This year, however, the City of Alpine is the star. “On the side of my art gallery is a huge mural, and one of the pieces is an Alpine postcard, and we are going to use that for our 25th anniversary,” Blackman said. “We decided to just focus on Alpine, and that’s kind of cool. It’ll be very recognizable.”
Artwalk fans also look forward to simply receiving their invitation in the mail. “We don’t do anything by email. I believe in the old-fashioned way of getting a card in the mail,” Blackman said. “We used to handwrite all of them back in the day, but we have so many on our mailing list we can’t do that anymore. The Sul Ross Art Club takes one evening out of their busy schedule, and we have a pizza party, and we all sit down and label 15,000 invites. I know for a fact people collect them. It’s cool to know people are getting on the mailing list just because they want their postcard.”
The organization of Artwalk is an almost year-long process that each time starts from ground zero with the help of a ten-member board of directors, a large volunteer base, and sponsors. “There’re so many details to this,” Blackman said. “Generally, July is when I go full steam ahead and update the website and put new applications out there for sponsors and vendors and locations. We have nonprofits that are all wanting to raise money as well during Artwalk. Prior to that there’re board meetings and lining up the musicians and art cars and organizing the scholarships and crawfish boil and wine tasting (for sponsors). It’s never-ending.”
Money raised from the sale of Artwalk T-shirts and posters funds its art scholarships at Sul Ross State University and allows for the furnishing of art supplies to Alpine schools. A silent auction has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Alpine Public Library, Blackman said.
If the event sounds frenetic and exhausting, it is. The event has continued to happen every year “because no one will let me quit,” Blackman said with a laugh. “It has such an enormous economic impact (to Alpine), but we all look forward to this event where we all come together as a town, a community, an art community. It gives everyone a focus. Artisans all over tell me, ‘I’m working hard for Artwalk.’ It gives everyone something to look forward to, and they won’t let me quit. Being founder and director, I can’t let people down, so I just continue.”
Blackman conceded that not having Artwalk would leave a void in Alpine. “I think the loss (would be) what’s going to happen that weekend” in Alpine without Artwalk, she continued. “Everyone’s used to that huge event, and everybody’s getting ready for the Thanksgiving shopping experience, but it’s Artwalk that drives everybody to get it done. It’s a whole experience that would go away. It’s a family experience; it’s a gathering of all these people that don’t get to bump into each other, the people that come from out of town, (the making of) new friends. That would be a huge loss.”
For more information about Artwalk 2018, visit the event’s website at www.artwalkalpine.com.