Dear Readers Jan. 22, 2009

I remember well getting my “Come off the roof” speech ready for my new friend Katie Gamble one year ago this month.

Katie, an artist, had come to me and the team here at Blount Today about an idea she and the good and talented people at Fine Arts Blount had for Blount County. They wanted to start an Art Walk in downtown Maryville, patterned after the successful Gallery Crawl on the first Friday of every month in Knoxville.

The team here thought it was not only a good idea, but a fantastic idea, and we eagerly signed on to be their media sponsor in a big way -- full page, full color ads every month, money to help with printing maps, photographs at every Art Walk, stories every month and anything else they needed that we could provide. We were all excited as they outlined their plans and hopes for 2008 and beyond.

Only one problem: Katie was insistent that Last Friday Art Walk begin in January.

“We don’t want to wait,” she said. “We have the artists -- from Blount, from Knox, from all over -- and we have some businesses who will host them. We want to just Go!”

I balked. I consider myself a fairly reasonable person, and I do have a little experience promoting events. With all my motherly wisdom, I put my arm around this excited, talented artist and said, gently, “No. Not in January.”

I outlined all the perfectly logical reasons: You don’t want to flop first time out of the gate. People lose faith. You need to build some momentum leading up to the event, and we only have two weeks. You don’t want the businesses, artists, the city to think you don’t know what you are doing. In short: No, not in January.

Good thing it wasn’t up to me.

Katie and her committee insisted that the best game plan was just to forge ahead. Yes, it may be cold, but it might not. Yes, the inaugural event might be sparsely attended, but it might not -- cabin fever and all that.

They insisted, so we got the ads ready, pitched in where we could help and crossed our fingers.

I got my best “Come off the roof” speech ready to present to Katie, determined to find her on the night of Art Walk, hoping, praying I could say something to keep this energetic, hard-working young lady encouraged.

On Jan. 25 , 2008, it was 20 degrees at 5 p.m. as Art Walk was getting ready to start. The artists were ready. The businesses and venues were ready. It was so cold. No one would come.

But they did. Lots of people came.

It was truly amazing. More than 250 people were walking around downtown Maryville, dropping by businesses to look at photography, glass blowers, wood workers, painters, dancers and an artist creating a “stacking sculpture.”

And they bought art, too. I, personally, am still kicking myself for not purchasing an Evertt Hirche glass bowl that I still dream about.

There was no need for me to give Katie any speech except “Thank goodness you didn’t listen to me!”

Katie was pumped. She had her own speeches ready. She spent most of the first Last Friday Art Walk at Fine Arts Blount, which was serving as host for the evening. Art Walk was winding down when she finally got outside to see the crowds on the streets.

The next week, she told Blount Today editor Lance Coleman, what she saw.

“The parking lots were full, people were everywhere, the energy and excitement was in the air, and you could see it on every person’s face. It was great. If you were there Last Friday, I just want to say thank you!

“Coming out, despite the cold, shows just how much our community is excited about this. If you didn’t come out, I highly recommend you start making plans for February ...it’s only going to get better!”

And she has been true to her words. I haven’t made it to every Last Friday, but I haven’t missed many. My main complaint has been that I never have enough time in the 3 hours of Art Walk to get to all the places I want to go and visit with all the people I love to see.

There are great things on the horizon for Last Friday Art Walk. Fine Arts Blount still helps and participates, but the event is now organized and led by Gamble and the Maryville Arts Coalition. Fine Arts Blount has now opened a great gallery on Broadway and is soaring in its new direction. The Maryville Arts Coalition is looking toward more ways to lead Art Walk not only in providing venues for artists, but in helping young artists with scholarships. Participating businesses seem happy with what the Walk has brought to them. Maryville city should be ecstatic.

So Happy Birthday, you full-of-faith upstarts! Maryville and Blount County can’t wait to see what you’ve got planned for 2009!

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