But for the vast majority, the leisurely Main Street meander is a social occasion with art as a backdrop, a curious stroll baring witness to the beauty created in their own backyard.
“The best part about the first Art After Dark of the year is that people have been hibernating all winter and this is when everyone comes out, sees each other and supports the local artists,” said Carrie Keith, owner of the Twigs and Leaves Gallery.
Presented by the Waynesville Gallery Association, the downtown art strolls are filled with food, live music, wine and plenty of local works of art available for viewing and purchase. Galleries, restaurants and shops will leave their doors open late, all in an effort to support and nurture local artists.
Showcased artists are stationed in many of the galleries to talk with the public about their pieces and give live demonstrations.
“We have some strong and beautiful galleries in Waynesville right now,” said acclaimed metal sculpture artist Grace Cathey. “But, they won’t survive if the community doesn’t go out and support them.”
What started as a small idea several years ago between Waynesville artisans looking to rally community support, Art After Dark has transformed downtown Waynesville into a vibrant monthly gathering — not only for arts aficionados, but also for the casual art lover to plug into the community and hone their appreciation.
“It’s glorious to see how big it has become. We never dreamed it would turn into this kind of mini festival,” Cathey said. “It has a great ambiance, and it’s small enough for everybody to enjoy.”
Putting people in touch with art — looking at it, thinking about it, and talking about it —
“We love to see the array of people that come by. We see local friends, seasonal friends and visitors who want to see what’s happening,” added Elisa Holder, gallery manager at Earthworks. “These events celebrate traditional crafts, and that’s exactly what we need in order to maintain such and inspiring and lovely place in the world.”
Working and living in the area for the better part of 30 years, Cathey notes that a lot of the success of Art After Dark also comes from town leaders who have seen from the beginning the importance of embracing the creative arts.
“I chose this community because I knew it would be a great place to live,” she said. “Waynesville has grown so much, and I’ve seen a lot of that growth, and we really have to thank our leaders for directing the evolution of downtown.”
An artist and gallery owner in her own right, painter Teresa Pennington emphasizes the importance of preserving the craft traditions, which have been passed down through the generations. Ranging from blacksmithing and weaving to painting and glassblowing, these intricate and finely tuned trades are part of the identity and heritage of the Southern Appalachian landscape.
“By celebrating the foundations of our past, we secure our future,” she said. “The inspiration derived from the natural beauty around us draws talented people here from all over the globe.”
Gearing up for the first Art After Dark in what promises to be a bountiful year, Pennington is ready to open her doors and let her work shine for all to see.
“It’s an atmosphere of community and camaraderie that is infectious,” she said. “If we’re going to survive we must stay true to our roots, which is the heritage of the mountain artisans.”
The concept of a monthly evening art stroll wasn’t new to Waynesville. Cathey and her creative peers had seen the positive effects of similar events that had sprung up in small towns and big cities around the country over the past decade. It seemed like a worthwhile endeavor for Waynesville to emmulate.
“Would you rather shop in chain stores like the rest of the country or would you rather go to mom and pop galleries where people not only make art, but also live in Waynesville?” Cathey said. “You have a choice as a community, do you support the arts community or the big box stores?”
For all of the galleries, it’s about displaying the works of local artists who live, work and flourish from the continued appreciation and backing from friends, family and neighbors.
“By shopping here you’re not only supporting local artists, but also spreading that art across the country for people to enjoy,” Keith said.
Want to go?
•Art After Dark in Waynesville will run from 6 to 9 p.m. the first Friday of the month from May until December. www.haywoodarts.org.
•The Sylva Art Stroll is held the second Friday of the month from 5 to 9 p.m. starting in May.