Artwalk end draws mixed reaction here - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Artwalk end draws mixed reaction here

September 14th, 2018 SanTan Sun News
Artwalk end draws mixed reaction here

By Colleen Sparks, Managing Editor

Downtown Chandler’s art walk is ending, at least for now, while new entertainment aimed at attracting different crowds will be added to this busy part of the city.

The changes are happening under the leadership of Mary Murphy-Bessler, who became executive director of the Downtown Chandler Community Partnership in April.

Murphy-Bessler told downtown business owners in an email that the ArtWalk needed a break.

“Over the past several years Downtown Chandler has hosted a monthly third Friday ArtWalk series,” she wrote. “Through the years this event has experienced a decrease in attendance. The DCCP will be ‘taking a break’ in producing the event.

“For the upcoming year, the DCCP will put its efforts towards developing downtown promotional campaigns and events,” she continued. “This is not to say we will never have an ArtWalk again but more to give us time to test market new event concepts and see where the general interest of the community lies.”

Murphy-Bessler said the “ChandLore” event — featuring actors from ImprovMANIA Comedy Club portraying historical figures in front of businesses downtown on Sept. 8 — was one example of the activities the partnership would be holding.

The actors related tales of the people who made an impact on Chandler while a barbershop quartet and banjo player performed songs from the past. Some businesses, in honoring Chandler’s founding year of 1912, offered items for $19.12.

“We really try to look at what the private sector is hosting, what the city is hosting and how do we enhance that and really support the businesses and promote the businesses,” she said several days after sending the email to the business owners.

Some of the new experiences the partnership is planning include a holiday selfie circuit with a 16-foot star box “people can walk through” and take group photos into a sleigh in front of the traditional Tumbleweed Christmas tree, acacia trees from Italy, gingerbread, snowmen and other decorations around the winter holidays, Murphy-Bessler said.

Another planned event is a “Santa Sip Around” for adults, who will be encouraged to dress-up as a Santa and Mrs. Claus as they visit participating businesses that will offer discounts, costume contests and other entertainment. The concept is like the popular Santa bar crawls around the country.

Downtown business owners and Chandler residents expressed mixed feelings about ArtWalk ending for now and the types of new entertainment coming to the area.

John Wolfe, co-owner of Sibley’s West: The Chandler and Arizona Gift Shop on South San Marcos Place downtown, said the art walks had been beneficial.

“From our standpoint, the art walks were positive, and they kind of reinforced our Arizona theme of celebrating local art,” Wolfe said, adding:

“My guess is that with the change in the team at the DCCP that they are trying to play to their strengths, and it’s our hope that something art-related or a local celebration of art can be included in discussions of future events.

“It’s been going on since we opened in 2010, so it’s been a longstanding tradition. We found on those Friday nights there was a festive atmosphere as people came downtown to walk around and shop, get a bite to eat. We tried to complement the art walk with author events or visiting artists or things like that.”

Wolfe, who co-owns Sibley’s with his wife, Michelle Wolfe, said artists at the art walk often were either just “getting started with their art business or learning about marketing their products.”

John said the holiday selfie circuit “sounds fun,” and he also expressed optimism about the “Santa Sip Around.”

“You can’t succeed if you don’t try, so I think they’re being creative in trying to find a way to highlight the different businesses in downtown Chandler,” he said. “In addition to stores, there are a lot of restaurants and bars. All of it adds to the festivities of the holiday season.”

John also spoke highly of Murphy-Bessler.

“I think she’s bringing a new perspective and some ideas, and probably the key for her will be to continue to reach out to the different business owners and visitors to get feedback on the direction of the downtown community,” he said.

Cheryl Tisland, co-owner of Burst Of Butterflies Create & Paint Studio, was unhappy the art walk will be discontinued. Tisland is also on the Downtown Chandler Community Partnership Board of Directors.

“That’s really sad to hear,” she said of the art walk. “I felt that the focus on it was dwindling. As a result, the attendance was dwindling.”

Tisland said she thought the Gilbert Art Walk was “bigger” and operated the way downtown Chandler’s art walk used to be. The Gilbert version successfully combined food vendors, a farmers market and art, she said.

However, Tisland was optimistic about the selfie circuit and “Santa Sip Around.”

“People love that kind of stuff,” she said of the selfie circuit. “Santa Sip Around — that’s great for the bars. I am not totally sure that we have any issue with getting people to bars in downtown Chandler. I think pub crawls are really good.”

Tisland also said it was “fantastic” the “ChandLore” performance art took place downtown, and she said she believes the new leadership at the partnership is “excellent.”

“I’m excited about all of that,” she said. “I’m looking forward to seeing what’s to come in downtown Chandler.”

Jaime Votaw, co-owner of Ice Cream Sammies, LLC, on West Boston Street in downtown Chandler, also expressed enthusiasm about the changes to downtown.

“I always think change is good in those things,” Votaw said. “It’s not that the art walk was bad, but it has been waning. I think that peppering in other events and other specialty things will then bring other people to downtown.”

She said she also thought the selfie circuit would be “awesome” and attract a young generation to downtown. Votaw also liked the idea of the “Santa Sip Around.”

“I’m 100 percent for it,” she said. “Change like that is always needed.”

Davey Saba, store director of Saba’s Western Wear in downtown Chandler, also supported the new direction in downtown offerings. He is also on the Downtown Chandler Community Partnership’s board of directors.

“I think it’s nice that they’re trying to go out and try different things,” Saba said. “Every different event brings people, and you can’t identify exactly when they come back to your store. They may come for one thing and come back. You never know.”

Some residents expressed concern about the art walk ending and were not sold on the selfie circuit and Santa Sip Around.

“I am sad to see the art walk end,” Ellen Frankel Dempsey posted on the Living Chandler Facebook page. “My son is a 16 year old at Hamilton High and participated as an artist in 2 of the art walks last winter/spring. He was planning to do it again this coming fall.

“We met some sweet and talented artists while he had his booth. There were lots of people looking at the art, music and fun. Both times the event seemed well attended. He sold a lot of art and was happy with the event. I know he will be sad to hear it is closing.”

Chandler resident Sheri Mulloy also was sorry to see the art walk put on hold.

“As a Chandler resident of 20 years, I am disappointed to see them cancel the Art Walk,” Mulloy posted on the Living Chandler Facebook page. “Some have said that they didn’t know it was here for many, many years. Find that hard to believe, because it’s not hard to see during the event and there are big banners that are up for quite awhile before the event.

“I do wish they did more advertising in other places. The suggestions that are being suggested are not really appealing to me and wouldn’t bring me downtown,” Mulloy said. “I’d like to see them put more into making an Art Festival more appealing with live music, craft show, fine Arts, fine food and wine tastings, etc.”

Carol Wesolowski Black criticized the art walks and the selfie circuit and Santa Sip Around.

“The Chandler art walks were poorly advertised, and each month, it was basically the same vendors and same type of products, mostly jewelry,” Wesolowski Black said.

“Having the vendors set up on the sidewalks made it hard to navigate to walk around, they should have closed off the street like they do for other events. As for a ‘Santa Sip Around’, why would they want to associate Santa Claus with drinking??? So kids get to see Mr/Mrs Claus sitting in a bar, possibly drinking too much? Personally I feel is in very poor taste. Also, the ‘selfie star box’ sounds a bit lame,” she said adding:

“Once you’ve gone through it and taken any photos, what is the draw to return (and to get people downtown)? Neither of these proposals appeal to me. I would rather they brought back the decorated ostriches which, like the painted cows in Chicago, were unique.”

Murphy-Bessler said the City of Chandler and other organizations already hold many family-friendly events in downtown, so the partnership wants to come up with different ideas to fill the gaps.

She said the partnership will meet with other organizations to make the art walk better when it returns.

Kimberly Carrillo/Staff Photographer