Downtown San Luis Obispo comes alive on the first Friday night of each month for a free night of art, music, food, and drink. More than 25 downtown businesses, all within just a few square miles, open their doors from 6 to 9 p.m. for a night celebrating local art at Art After Dark.
Local organization ARTS Obispo hosts the monthly art walk to connect community members, businesses, and artists. Downtown businesses of all kinds — restaurants, galleries, boutiques, salons, and more — showcase artists of their choice and turn their storefronts into spaces for visitors to eat, drink, and celebrate art.
“Art After Dark is really art beyond the walls,” President of ARTS Obispo Peggy Sonoda said. “It takes it to places where people go, where people eat, where people get their hair done. It makes use of alternative spaces.”
Wanderers should expect to see much more than paintings hanging on walls. Many businesses get creative for the night and offer interactive events or performances. In May, community members came together to paint a mural on the walls outside of East Wellbeing & Tea, a luxury spa on Monterey Street. On July 6, aerial dancers twirled above viewers’ heads in the very same parking lot.
“When we come to Art After Dark, it’s a wonderful experience because we get to see all these people who are really focusing on their craft,” East Wellbeing & Tea owner Jill Stollmeyer said. “It inspires each of us to reignite those flames and realize that we all have that creative flow.”
July’s featured event at East Wellbeing was made possible by the aerial dancers at Levity Academy, an aerial arts school in San Luis Obispo. Dancers of all ages took to the silks to show off their skills.
“It’s probably the most spirit-filling adventure I’ve been on,” dancer Sara Kinsey said of performing. “You just become a different character. You escape into this world in the silks.”
Just a few doors down, ceramics studio Anam Cre invited guests to throw clay pieces on the wheel, followed by raku firing — a form of Japanese pottery — right in their parking lot. And right across from the flames, ballerinas from the Ballet Theater San Luis Obispo performed in front of SLO Provisions.
Local artist W.B. Eckart has attended Art After Dark since it began years ago. Over the years, he said, he has watched the monthly event enhance and expand its scope. In July, his paintings were exhibited at the 4Cats Cafe & Gallery.
“There [are] a lot more places to go to now,” Eckart said. “And the variety of artwork is really impressive. It’s a great venue for artists to have their work seen by a lot of different people. Plus, it’s a fun evening out.”
The crowd at Art After Dark is made up of all age groups, according to Sonoda. From rock-painting parties at Pipsticks to live music and chocolate and wine tasting at Mama Ganache Artisan Chocolates, all viewers can celebrate art in its many forms on this night.
The program continues to expand. At September’s Art After Dark, ARTS Obispo cut the ribbon on their brand-new event space downtown on Court Street called The Hub. Here, ARTS Obispo can host their own exhibitions at Art After Dark.
ARTS Obispo president Sodona said the organization hopes to foster a strong connection with Cal Poly students. Events like Art After Dark and spaces like The Hub provide ample opportunities for students to talk with local artists and even display works of their own.
Environmental protection and management junior Grace Gubbins said Art After Dark provides not only a night of entertainment, but also an important opportunity for students to engage in the local art scene.
“I think it’s important for students to be involved in the community and the arts community in San Luis Obispo,” Gubbins said. “It’s a booming community and if students are involved in that, it’s an easier way to connect everyone in San Luis Obispo.”