Monthly art walks are blossoming like Monet sunflowers nationwide. Hundreds can be found in art-oriented small towns, the art districts of midsize cities and the art-rich downtown hubbub of major metropolitan locales.
Most art walks let you stroll among many venues — not just galleries and artists' studios, but also spaces as diverse as hair salons, bars and churches. Visitors are often treated to hors d'oeuvres and wine, live music and the opportunity to chat with the artists about their work. Perhaps most appealing of all is that art walks are free, require no advance planning and take place every month.
With such a rich offering across the country, we had a hard time narrowing the list. Here are the five oldest, largest and most popular U.S. art walks, from the boulevards of L.A. to the streets of Philadelphia. These cities have plenty more to offer, too, but dropping by an art walk will enrich your appreciation for the creative energy of each city's art crowd.
First Fridays: Richmond
The monthly art walk in downtown Richmond, Virginia is simply called First Fridays (5 p.m. - 9 p.m.), and marks the night when thousands of visitors flock to the city's arts district downtown. They wander among galleries, four performance spaces, a cafe, a music store, and the newly opened Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia. Beyond just taking in the fine art, spectators are exposed to the broader arts and enjoy live music, theater, comedy and poetry performances. Most of the approximately 30 venues — showcasing more than 100 artists — are clustered in the heart of the city on a six-block stretch of historic Broad Street.
Second Thursdays: Los Angeles
About 10,000 art lovers convene at the Downtown Los Angeles Art Walk on Second Thursdays (6 p.m. - 10 p.m.). They travel from all over L.A. County to the city's core — encompassing the Bunker Hill, Little Tokyo and Gallery Row micro-districts — to visit about 40 galleries and art complexes, including the Fine Arts Building and Los Angeles Center for Digital Art. Eighteen murals are also showcased along the route, and don't be surprised if you stumble into impromptu spoken-word recitals, fashion shows or live street music. The 12-year-old event even has a visitor center, the Art Walk Lounge, where you can go first to pick up a map and get a glimpse of each month's artwork.
First Fridays: Phoenix
First Fridays (6 p.m. - 10 p.m.) in Phoenix, Arizona, started small in the late 1990s, but the event has evolved to include much of historic Grand Avenue, the Warehouse District and the Central Arts District — particularly Roosevelt Row (commonly known as RoRo). About 10,000 to 20,000 people come each month to take in the art at 71 galleries, artists' studios, restaurants and bars with live music, and other venues — from the Heard Museum and Phoenix Art Museum to a vintage clothing shop and a Lutheran church. Altogether, about 400 visual and performance artists participate in the art walk. Don't be deterred by the considerable distance between some venues; a complimentary First Friday trolley runs every 25 minutes for your convenience.
First Wednesdays: Jacksonville
The Downtown Art Walk (5 p.m. - 9 p.m.) infuses some excitement into “hump day" in Florida's most populous city. An average of 10,000 people each month peruse 60 venues, including unexpected spots such as a bank, a day spa and a cigar lounge. Besides displayed art, you may witness a mural in the making, a hypnotizing belly dance performance or a poetry reading. Live music, food trucks, a beer garden and a kids' zone are also in the mix. All sites are within a five-block radius of the town's heart, and Art Walk After Dark (9 p.m. to “late") keeps the party going at many downtown restaurants and bars.
First Fridays: Philadelphia
Sylvester Stallone famously sprinted up the steps to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in “Rocky," but visitors to Philadelphia's 25-year-old First Friday (5 p.m. - 9 p.m.) can go at a more leisurely pace in pursuit of art appreciation. The historic buildings of Old City, a former waterfront and industrial district-turned-artists' haven, boast Philly's largest concentration of art and design studios, where most First Friday artists display their work. The neighborhood — nicknamed America's most historic square mile because it includes Independence Hall, the National Constitution Center and the Liberty Bell — is also brimming with theaters, restaurants and nightlife, so your night can continue after the art walk.