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A walk in the art

Galleries bloom after dark

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The original art walk started in Philadelphia's Old City neighborhood. Roger Lapelle said in a phone interview from Lapelle Gallery, "After Desert Storm [1992], many Philadelphia galleries were suffering because the city's economy was suffering. We created the Old City Art Association and since it was the holiday season, we hung blue blinking lights flashing from clamp lamps to show visitors which establishments were open at night on First Fridays. After a few years it took on a life of its own. I've had 1,500 people come through on those nights, and even though it officially ends at 10 p.m., I've sold a lot of art at midnight."

Less than a year later Raleigh had its own First Friday art walk, which has a claim to being the second such event in the country. It all started when Nan Hutchins, who managed City Market, gathered directors from the Contemporary Art Museum, Artspace, Peden Gallery, the Visual Art Exchange and Raleigh Contemporary Gallery to put together the idea of a First Friday event. Galleries and other businesses within one block of Moore Square stayed open to catch the glow. Doctor's offices, bars, apartment complexes and even a former Woolworth's parking lot have been converted into impromptu exhibition spaces.

It is a massive undertaking to catch all of First Friday in one night. Many venues are open from 6-9 p.m., but others just get started at 9 p.m., providing everyone from families to young hipsters a chance to mingle. The hub is Blake Street, behind Artspace, where a band plays every month but January. Monthly art walks have taken hold across the Triangle since the advent of Raleigh's First Friday, and each town has a way of adding its character to these year-round events.

In Hillsborough, local bands crank original music on the town square for Third Fridays, and Blue Bayou provides foot-moving jazz, blues and classic rock music. Tie-dyed folks, suited lawyers, dusty framemakers and freemasons mingle in harmony. It's great family fun and can easily be accomplished on foot, as it all takes place in downtown Hillsborough.

Durham's Culture Crawl also takes place on third Fridays, and has a large following thanks to a mix of art, music, offerings from Manbites Dog Theater, music at Joe & Jo's and triple-decker Ringside, and restaurants that stay open late. The Transom, a visual arts venue within Durham Arts Place studio spaces at 305 E. Chapel Hill St., opened this month. As the weather warms up, Durham's downtown streets will be downright bustling.

Culture Crawl was instigated by artists Harvey Mercadoocasio and Wendy Kowalski, Jennifer Collins of the Durham Art Center, and Joanne Worthington of Joe and Jo's.

"Merchants are pleasantly surprised that they don't have to pay any dues, and that we run the Culture Crawl with zero budget," says Worthington, who is making a presentation to Duke's Nasher Museum in hopes that they will join the event in the fall.

The Second Friday Art Walk in Chapel Hill/Carrboro is a slow-building success. "Karen Shelton of Sizl Gallery and I worked with Aaron Nelson at the Chamber of Commerce to put Second Fridays together in 2001. It has continued to grow," says Garry Meldrum of Turning Point Gallery. The Ackland Museum at UNC just joined in. Openings often include performances by local bands at places like Temple Ball/De La Luz and Caffe Driade. See www.2ndfridayartwalk.com for a map of participating venues.

Just north of the downtown circle in PITTSBORO, craft vendors, painters, sculptors, educational exhibits and musicians converge in an afternoon street festival.

Pittsboro's First Sundays started in April 2004, opening sidewalks and parking lots to artists and featuring electric music on the circle and bluegrass picking down at the London House. "In June we have an educational booth featuring monkeys, and one guy is interested in demonstrating how his corn mill works," says Catherine Mills from New Horizons. "Nonprofits come with food, and there is a budding farmers' market in the summer."

Fourth Fridays in Fayetteville is worth the drive (and once you get there, the route is entirely walkable). It features local artists and has jazz venues as bookends for the post-gallery wind-down. Don't miss SFL&A Architects on Burgess, where James Dean curates spectacular exhibits accompanied by acoustic music acts.

These monthly art walks give potential art collectors the opportunity to see new works served up with laid-back Carolina hospitality. The nonrarified atmosphere beats stuffy New York City-style openings, where you might be flat-out ignored if you're not a major collector. Art enthusiasts savvy enough to explore promising local artists are often treated to bargains by the next regional stars, especially at galleries presenting the most daring work. This group includes Bickett, Lump and Designbox in Raleigh; Bleeker Street, Branch Gallery and De La Luz in Carrboro; and, at times, Cape Fear Studios in Fayetteville and Side Street Gallery in Pittsboro.

Why should Asheville be the only town that launches economic growth via the artists in their midst? There are four Saturdays and three Sundays left in the mix, so here's to artwalks in Creedmoor, Morrisville, Cary, Apex, Garner... .

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