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The streets are alive

Saranac Lake’s Third Thursday Art Walks mark their 10th year

June 14, 2008
By ANDY BATES, Enterprise Features Editor
SARANAC LAKE — “Ooze” isn’t necessarily a pleasant word, even if it is fun to say. More often than not, it makes one think of infected wounds or toxic waste, and one certainly would be justified in assuming the word has little place in the opening paragraph of a story commemorating the 10th anniversary of Saranac Lake’s downtown Third Thursday Art Walks.

But in looking at past clippings from the Enterprise, there’s one quote from the street that aptly sums up the whole Art Walk experience, and — yep, you guessed it — “ooze” is in there.

In September of 2005, Nick Magel — a student from Toledo, Ohio who had been studying in Cambridge, Mass. at the time — stood in Mark Kurtz’s photo gallery on Broadway and said of the Art Walk simply, “It’s oozing community vibe. You guys should feel lucky (because) it’s a spirit I find lacking in most towns I’ve been in.”

Really, it’s as simple as that. You get a dozen or so businesses, nearly 20 artists and musicians, put them on the sidewalk or in front of a shop or gallery, and you get artistic ooze.

But was it really that easy to get started 10 years ago?

To hear local artist Tim Fortune and the walks’ first coordinator Nadia Korths tell it, it was.

Ten years ago saw the formation of the Adirondack Artists’ Guild, which has since grown into one of the focal points of the Tri-Lakes area’s arts scene. And, 10 years ago, Fortune said he and his wife Diana, as well as a handful of other community members, were talking about the possibility of starting a gallery tour — or some sort of cohesive, interactive art event.

“We’d talked about it for a couple years, and it seemed, with the Guild starting, that this was the right time to do something,” Fortune said.

So they went with it. That first year, organizers lined up between eight and 10 venues, they stationed artists at each one, and for Korths, the spark was immediate.

“On one of those first walks, we must have counted at least 100 or more heads,” she said. “People walked by and were just drawn in, and I think there’s a core group of people who have come to every one since then.”

And though the monthly summer events have grown somewhat in size and reputation, the structure has pretty much stayed intact.

Take a walk around Saranac Lake this Thursday, June 19, and you’re bound to find someone painting along the River Walk. Acoustic guitars and (if you’re lucky) perhaps a saxophone will tickle the ears. Businesses up and the down the road will have art hanging up, likely produced by a neighbor who you might not even have known owned an easel.

It may sound tiring, but there’s usually some wine and cheese along the way to keep you energized, and you might be surprised at just how much having an event like this four times a year keeps established artists rejuvenated themselves.

“It’s a great motivator,” Fortune said, “because people want to have something new to present each time. You definitely have to crank out new stuff. It’s a great stimulus to create.”

And a great, albeit less immediate, way to sell art.

While Fortune said it’s unlikely you’ll find someone walking down the street during an Art Walk with a $500 painting they just purchased, many galleries do get return business from people who had their eye on something they saw during a Walk.

Still, from the start, the Walks weren’t just about giving established artists another avenue to present and sell their work. It was about giving artists who may have never presented anywhere before a chance have their work shown.

“From the beginning, I loved finding artists who had not shown themselves publicly and giving them a forum,” Korths said.

And oftentimes, it’s the work of young artists that add exciting new wrinkles to each event every year.

“My jaw would just drop sometimes,” Korths said. “You just never know what you’re going to find on a Walk.”

Looking ahead, it would be easy to leave well enough alone. But Margaret Airey, coordinator for this year’s Art Walks, said she’d like to have more interactive events that could be geared toward getting kids and young adults more involved.

“It’s really a great way to introduce kids to the fact that they live in a very artistic community,” Airey said. “That will only help continue to put Saranac Lake out there as a vibrant place.”

But while the artists and their work tend to take center stage at an event like this, Fortune and Korths said it’s a complete community partnership that’s made it successful for a decade, and it’s the community as a whole that ends up benefiting.

Business owners help sponsor the events and keep their doors open late, and decentralization grants from the New York State Council on the Arts help pay for performers, which, Fortune said, began as a way to lure people out of their cars and onto the streets.

“I think it’s created a buzz outside of Saranac Lake, and that’s really helped establish us as a growing arts community,” Fortune said. “But almost everyone realized from the start that this is about more than the artists; it’s about bringing traffic and interest to the whole downtown area.”

Take an Art Walk this coming Thursday, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find any other way to describe it.

Contact Andy Bates at 891-2600 ext. 34 or

Article Photos

Art Walk organizers say they want to get more kids and young adults involved in the summer tradition. Well, this youngster has the right idea.
(Enterprise file photo — Matt Lavin)

Fact Box

If you go...
The Third Thursday Art Walk is a free, self-guided tour through Saranac Lake's art galleries and shops. If kicks off Thursday, June 19 and will continue July 17, Aug. 21 and Sept. 18.



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