Hattiesburg Art Walk ready to begin again, past participants unhappy with new structure

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Downtown Hattiesburg's Art Walk was put on hold last month for reorganization purposes, but now that it is getting ready to launch again, some participants are not invited back.

"If you say art walk, the picture in your mind is galleries and walking through store fronts, and it's very much an in-house experience," said Historic Hattiesburg Downtown Association Executive Director Walt Denton.

The HHDA is striving to "get back to our roots" with the Art Walk, meaning street vendors will not be allowed to participate like they have in years past.

"Set-ups in the street would, on some levels, no question unintentionally, drain the store fronts," explained Denton.

But artists with the South Mississippi Arts Association feel their opportunity to display and potentially sell their work is being ignored.

"That's actually why I joined the SMAA was because of the art walks, and now that we aren't having the art walks, it just kinda limits our opportunity to showcase our work," said SMAA member Amanda Sanford.

She started a petition this week that has already received over 100 signatures in support of vendor participation, and she hopes it will make the HHDA reconsider their decision. However, Denton said there will be security in place at the upcoming Art Walk to make sure that vendors do not set up their booths.

"Art walks are, you're encouraged to walk through store fronts," he said of the push to get potential customers into downtown galleries.

The HHDA has proposed that SMAA and other artists set up a separate event in a separate location, but long-time SMAA member Bobby Walters said that takes people away from the businesses downtown, which he understood to be the goal of Art Walk.

"It pushes us away from the restaurants," he said. "We won't have any street walkers, you know, people walking the streets. They'll have to come down there, park and come into Town Park."

Denton said the decision to discontinue street vendors came after conversations were held with those invested in downtown.

"What came out of those conversations were trying to get that event back to the trunk of the tree," he said.

But Walters said he wants to see elected officials step up to the plate in support of the arts community.

"I wish that our city officials would step forward and say this is something that's good for the community, people enjoy it," he said. "We just want to collaborate with HHDA to try and promote downtown area and get to showcase our craft as well."

The HHDA is expected to make an announcement very soon on when the new Art Walk will be held, and there is no official word on when or if the separate art event will be held.

"We just need to be good neighbors and try to work together for the benefit of downtown and this market," said Denton.

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