The first Friday of every month, San Luis Obispo hosts its very own art walk — Art After Dark.
Organized by ARTS Obispo, San Luis Obispo County’s nonprofit art council, the nine-year-long tradition involves local art galleries and businesses staying open from 6 to 9 p.m. to feature new monthly artists.
Peter Steynberg, owner of Steynberg Gallery on Monterey Street, recalled when Art After Dark first started. The Johnson Gallery, which is no longer open, was the original pioneer of the art walk, Steynberg said.
“I was part of the first group of galleries that started hanging artists’ work,” Steynberg said. “We organized all the galleries that would be open the first Friday of every month. But there’s been several galleries that have come and gone.”
After some time, ARTS Obispo took the reins and put Art After Dark under their title. Program director and artist Jenna Hartzell said Art After Dark has since become one of the largest programs ARTS Obispo hosts.
“ARTS Obispo took it on because it needed more organization,” Hartzell said.
Art After Dark has both annual and monthly participants, totaling about 29 participants this month. Some regulars among businesses and galleries are the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art (SLOMA), ARTS Obispo’s headquarters and Linnaea’s Café, Hartzell said.
Hartzell said the businesses who participate semi-regularly have some of the most interesting exhibits.
“You get people who are monthly like Coalition Skate Shop,” Hartzell said. “They always have something really fun and urban which is something that I think the Central Coast lacks as far as the art scene goes.”
As someone who has attended and volunteered at Art After Dark, Hartzell also said she noticed a rise in younger art connoisseurs.
“This year I’ve seen a younger crowd starting to emerge,” she said. “Maybe it’s because they’re finally realizing this is a really cool event to do before they go out on Friday.”
Perhaps the most heavily-trafficked gallery for all ages is SLOMA which, because of the size of the venue, usually hosts two to three new exhibits every month. Assistant director of the museum Muara Johnston said they get between 250 and 400 people through the gallery on Art After Dark nights.
“We’re always one of those places people visit,” Johnston said. “Sometimes they start here and go to other galleries.”
Johnston said SLOMA also hosts a student-run “salon” after 9 p.m. on the night of Art After Dark where students have the freedom to show anything from punk bands to experimental art displays.
“It’s really the best-kept secret in town,” Johnston said. “We do not promote it. We do not advertise it. We do nothing. It’s kind of an underground thing. We want it to be something that students do on their own.”
Johnston said SLOMA’s November exhibits will be experimental as well. The first of the three exhibits, entitled Narrative Animal Imagery, is a national juried show of artists who have used animals to express literary commentary ranging from story book animals to political statements.
“It’s very sweet things to radical political statements,” Johnston said.
The second exhibit features sculptures from award-winning local artist Bart Kerwin which involves shapes and geometric progression. And the third exhibit, “Moons of Other Days,” features photography by David Stroup.
“He is a fascinating guy,” Johnston said. “He has a nude model and puts her in the landscape. His stuff is amazing.”
SLOMA will also serve snacks and wine, which is common for most artist receptions at the art walk.
Another reception which will pair art with wine is artist Michael Ackerman’s “Bare Naked Anima” held at Sustenance Cooking Studio on Santa Barbara Avenue. Ackerman said his selected pieces for the show are abstract portraits of people and life experiences.
“My art is about the energetic flow or the subconscious or the shadow and those kinds of things,” Ackerman said. “All those things about how we are exploring and informing ourselves in art.”
Ackerman said he appreciates the space available at Sustenance because it has room for his larger paintings — one of which is six by seven feet.
“The beauty of Sustenance is it’s a pretty large facility,” Ackerman said. “So I have fairly large canvases up.”
A veteran of Art After Dark, Ackerman said he believes art reflects the health and direction of the community.
“The broader and more diverse the art is, the broader and more diverse the community is,” he said. “(Art After Dark) creates an arena for all forms of art to have existence.”
Hartzell agrees and said art represents who we are as a community.
“It affects people in such a great way that having Art After Dark can only be a good thing,” Hartzell said. “And the more people get involved and make it more of a frequent thing, it can only benefit society.”