After Canceling September Art Walk, Galleries Regroup 

Popularity has its disadvantages. For the stakeholders in the monthly First Fridays Art Walk, they've taken the form of three consecutive months of incidents involving out-of-school teens that this summer began attending the event en masse.

On the heels of the Aug. 5 art walk, where unruly behavior led to four arrests for disorderly conduct, organizers canceled September's event. The decision was reached Friday at a meeting attended by the owners of participating downtown art galleries and representatives from Mayor Dwight Jones' office and the Richmond Police Department.

Attendance at First Fridays during Labor Day weekend is traditionally low, says Christina Newton, the walk's lead organizer. "That coupled with the fact that we've had some violence during and after by visitors, we felt like it was a good time to take off." She says the break will allow for "more time to determine the next steps."

Asked whether there's cause for worry about the future of the event, Newton declines to say. "This issue is much larger than one month off," she says.

Indeed, the incidents attributed largely to the teenage attendees won't necessarily disappear once the fall semester starts. City officials unsuccessfully attempted to head off the problem with events targeting youth at the August edition. But only an estimated 400 attended the city-sponsored event, Newton says.

Largely credited with helping spur the revitalization of Broad Street, some downtown business owners have noticed a recent drop-off while the incidents continue. Now, some owners are offering ideas on how to move forward.

Geraldine Duskin, owner of Ghostprint Gallery, says she'd like the art walk to return to its roots. "The whole thing was trending toward a street festival," she says, "but I'm excited to have it return to a gallery event."

Scott Garnett, owner of Lift Coffee Shop, says that during recent First Fridays the sidewalks have been too congested for his customers to get in the doors. But he says there's a silver lining. Receipts may be down, but the issue has brought the downtown business owners together, he says: "I just don't think this chases people away from downtown."

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