Artists on the Avenue
Graffiti, pop, surrealism, art nouveau, impressionism, and just plain cool looking items and artifacts are why the Art Walk is worth bringing a pair of comfy shoes for. Art Walk has been a Whyte Avenue tradition since 1995, and festival producer and owner of the Paint Spot, Kim Fjordbotten, has been there since the beginning.
“Art materials became my passion, for sure,” says Fjordbotten. “It’s one thing to make art. Some people look at a sunset and say ‘I want to paint that’, and I open up a jar of red paint and go ‘wow, how can I use that?’ My passion is more for materials. Making art, and helping people make art is all part of it.”
Twenty-two years ago, Edmonton’s first Art Walk was put together in a mere three weeks and featured 35 artists. There were 65 the following year, then 90, and 300 by the fifth year. Now, Art Walk boasts 450 unique artists from the city and parts beyond. It’s quite the challenge to cram that much culture down an already busy avenue.
“When you do that whole lap, it’s four kilometres,” says Fjordbotten. “If you were to take the festival of Art Walk … [it would contain] the entire parking lot of West Edmonton Mall. Both sides of the street.”
Encouragement and opportunity are a big part of what draws crowds and artists to the festival. Artists usually have to turn to either the online storefront, or just hope for a gallery show, Art Walk provides a space for everyone to equally display the fruits of their labour.
As the city has become bigger and more diverse, so too has the festival. Fjordbotten stresses the openness and accessibility of the festival for not only new artists, but new Edmontonians as well.
Artist Justine Smith, who focuses on collage, remembers her first festival.
“It was very welcoming,” says Smith. “It was the first art event I participated in while in Edmonton and it just got me eager to participate in other goings on in Edmonton in terms of art. … It made Edmonton very welcoming artistically, which it is, but I was new to the city and didn’t know that.”
First time stories like Smith’s seem to be the driving force behind all the blood, sweat, and municipal red tape that goes into organizing the event.
“The magic point for me in the festival is the first-time artist meeting the first-time patron,” says Fjordbotten. “I think people, when they buy their first piece of art, it’s just as exciting as the person who sells their first piece of art and I love that connection. Sure, you come out and you think you’re buying something that might match your sofa, but you’re falling in love with a piece.”
Fjordbotten hopes someday in the near future Art Walk won’t just be for a weekend in July, but for the entire summer. She makes a strong case—it’s an important part of the community. It takes the art from out of the studios and the closets and the garden sheds and brings both the work and the artists to where the people are.
“I call myself a mother bear sometimes, because I think art often gets relegated to frivolous or looked at as the first thing we can cut because it’s not that important,” says Fjordbotten. “For those of us in the arts to articulate why it is important is really hard. People see it as it’s nice, or it’s enjoyable, or it’s stress relieving. To me, it’s the cornerstone of our society.”