Art Walk continues after controversial changes to event structure

Hattiesburg's Art Walk will continue Saturday after weeks of event reorganization.

"Art Walk is returning to its origins as an event that engages the storefronts of Historic Downtown," said Downtown Association's Walt Denton. "It's a chance for visitors to engage downtown art, shops, restaurants and boutiques- an in-shop, in-gallery experience."

But these changes haven't come without some artists becoming upset over the decision to take vendors off the streets. The South Mississippi Arts Association has gained over 300 signatures on a petition that urges the HHDA to continue Art Walk with its structure from years past. However, Denton said the focus will remain on the galleries, which independent artists are welcome to contact in order to display within the stores.

Click Boutique on Front Street will have a local artist's work featured in their store for Art Walk.

"His name is Ricardo Moody," said Click's owner Jason LeViere. "He does prints, he does t-shirts, lots of graphic work. We're very excited to have him in the store for Art Walk."

Other businesses said they would also sponsor an artist but wished not to speak on camera about the recent changes to the event.

"I can't see artists being on the street taking away from a business," said LeViere in response to Denton's comments about street artists "draining" attention from the stores. "I mean it's really just going to drive people downtown."

One of the artists that has had to relocate is Smart Space's Abigail Allen, but she said the process was smooth thanks to the help of HHDA.

"HHDA is very supportive of Smart Space and Hattiesburg Arts Council, so they found this space for us to use," she said from the space at the bottom of the America Building on Front Street. "We knew it was here, and we're actually going to be doing an art project for kids during Art Walk inside."

The SMAA has also decided to open their gallery for Saturday's event in order to feature their members' work.

Both Allen and LeViere agree that it is important for Hattiesburg to move forward together during this time of change.

"I think the most important thing is that we are all a team," said Allen. "We all live in Hattiesburg, we're all passionate about Hattiesburg. We all need to come together and be on the same page."

"I think every event downtown, whether it's Art Walk or Hubfest, it's ever-evolving, it's ever-changing," said LeViere. "So I want to see how the first one goes and then get my feet back after it happens."

Art Walk will be held downtown Saturday from 4-8 p.m.

Copyright 2014 WDAM. All rights reserved.