By Samantha Yates
About 200 damp citizens turned out to support local artists at the Arts of Lexington Block Party on Friday evening despite the rainy weather.
And whether or not they bought anything didn’t matter to jewelry artist and event co-organizer Rebecca Worth.
“We don’t measure success based on money,” Worth said. “Attendance is a huge measure of success.”
It was the second time for the event. Greg Sandage, another jewelry artist and event organizer, acknowledged that the drizzle was a factor this year.
“It was a somewhat watered down version of what it was last time,” Sandage said. “I think we would have had three to four times the crowd if it weren’t for the weather.”
Washington Street was blocked off between Main and Jefferson streets from 5 to 7:30. Local galleries and merchants donated $50 each to sponsor it.
Andrea LePage, an art history professor at Washington and Lee University, attended the block party with her 5-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son.
“It’s too bad it was rainy. I think that kind of interfered,” LePage said.
Organizers intended for artists to put their work on display in the street. The sculptures and metal work survived the storm, but pieces that were not waterproof were taken down. Attendees escaped the rain by gathering inside the different galleries, where they were able to view the artwork.
The block party also had live entertainment. The counseling service of James W. Worth sponsored Jonathan the Juggler, who performed unicycle stunts and magic tricks through the rain. And the band Greenhouse, sponsored by the Southern Inn and local investment counselor DanVance of Edward Jones, played under awnings on the sidewalk.
Rockbridge Vineyards had a wine tasting booth, while Pure Eats offered food samplings. Worth hopes more restaurants will get involved in future block parties. She wants to have local restaurants provide sample plates to showcase their food between art exhibits.
LePage agreed that combining art in several media with food and entertainment helps draw a bigger crowd.
“Face painting for kids and wine tasting for adults, that taps into a much wider sector,” LePage said. “You draw people in and then they’re looking at art. I think it’s great and there’s definitely a local aspect, which is a nice organizational structure.”
The block party was launched in 2012 as a 30th anniversary celebration of the artists’ co-op, Artists in Cahoots. The event was not held last year because the Nelson Street bridge was being rebuilt, which affected traffic downtown.
Even so, Rebecca Worth said, the event is growing and planners welcome ideas on how to improve and encourage people’s involvement. This year, the idea was to transform it into a celebration of all local artists.
“It is not the Washington Street ‘let’s make some money tonight’ party,” she said. “It is the artists of Lexington and…Rockbridge County and from all over, celebrating art of all forms.”
Artists in Cahoots is a cooperative of local artists and craftspeople in many media. The group displays its work in a gallery on Washington Street.
Rebecca Worth’s mother, Maureen, was one of the original members of the co-op when it was founded in 1983. Rebecca Worth is now a member herself, though she lives in Richmond.
Worth said she was frustrated that the city government did not help fund or promote the event. She said her group received a small grant from Main Street Lexington, a volunteer-based organization established to help revitalize downtown.
But Mayor Mimi Elrod said the city gives Main Street Lexington $65,000 a year. It is up to that organization to allocate that money amongst its projects, Elrod said. Elrod said city officials were supporting the event by closing the street, which irritates a lot of citizens.
“The art community attracts a lot of people to the downtown area,” Elrod said. “I am grateful for what they do.”
It was the bad weather that frustrated Sandage. Organizers did a lot more promotion this year, he said, and better weather would have meant a bigger crowd.
“We had ads in both The [Rockbridge] Advocate and The News-Gazette,” Sandage said. “I’m sure you saw the banner on Washington Street. And several different people were doing social media promotions.”
LePage said she noticed more community members at the event than students. She thinks it would be great to get students involved, but publicity would have to be stronger on campus.
“I actually went there because my daughter was having a play date with a friend whose parents had one of the booths,” LePage said. “I might not have known about it otherwise.”
Worth said she wants to find a way for people to think about donating money to future block parties. She said there is an online link for people interested in making a donation for 2015.
Sandage and Worth both hope to get younger artists involved in the block party. This year local high school students helped with the face painting. Worth hopes artists from around the country and students from Washington and Lee University and VMI will become involved.
“The biggest thing…is that in 2012 people talked about it for a long time after,” Worth said. “And it created a mood and sense of community that a lot of us who grew up in Lexington feel has gotten lost somewhere.
“We don’t want it to be a sales event,” she said. “It’s about having a glass of wine with friends and seeing what the artists are up to.”