Artists and art-lovers spilled off a San Francisco sidewalk Thursday night as excellent weather, cooperative businesses, and eager word-of-mouth attracted more people than ever to the Divisadero Art Walk.
"I can't believe how crowded it is," organizer Elleyn Parker told NBCBayArea.com at the event, the fifth this year.
"It's helped transform our district," added San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi. "Divisadero is a real comeback kid story. It's become a cultural institution."
While many of the art was exhibited inside galleries, stores, and bars, an increasing number of artists arranged with merchants to set up tables outside of businesses. Anyone with something to show or to sell was welcome, and so the gathering was half street fair and half craft fair.
Local jewelry-maker Cheryl Freeman staked out a great spot for her table outside of bustling Bar Cudo; next to her, Roberta Morris from Fun-o-matics sold disco-flavored retro-cute t-shirts. Both were tipped off to the event by Kelly at Indie Mart, a giant network of local artists and crafters. In the days leading up to it, word of the art walk had spread quickly.
The biggest crowd gathered around Lower Haigher guests Andrew Perry (an Iraq verteran from Florida) and Dave Crosland, painting on giant boards outside of Bean Bag Cafe. Mike, the cafe's owner, arranged for the pieces to be hung on the wall, so stop by to check out the finished work.
Meanwhile, outside of The Independent, Kevin Tiell showed his portfolio of toy photography, selling several pieces to passers-by; nearby, another vendor sold ayurevedic spritzers and fashionable hip pouches for waiters and bartenders.
Among the unexpected participating businesses was PACT, a local organization that sends college advisors to underprivileged schools to offer guidance and assistance with post-secondary education. With photos by Sarah Pedlow for sale on the wall and vegan wallets for sale in the front room, PACT raised funds for scholarships that will benefit the community.
There was great work to be found indoors as well: a show at Big Umbrella by Poor Artist's League featured arresting images by artists like Michelle Fleck, Ryan De La Hoz, Amy Vazquez, Therese Agnew, Laurie Wilson, Phiton Nguyen, and Jonathan Weiand. And there was increased participation from restaurants; at B's BBQ, Oakland artist Milton Bowens lectured on art history to a captive crowd.
No art walk would be complete without a trip to Swankety Swank, one of the coolest stores on Diviz. It features a rotating collection of locally hand-crafted costumes, furniture, and artwork, and it is like a setting in a novel. You can't help but be transported by the lovely patchwork of Gibbous and the meticulous steampunk costumes (including top hats!) by Deborah Sciales and Oliver Lowe; or the furniture that's experienced a "thrift-store makeover" with gorgeous new designs by owner Yabette; or the drawings of naughty faires by Jae Clevella. An intruguing collection of clothes are by local artist Janette, who converted her mother's UFOs -- "Un-Finished Objects" into beautiful collaborative pieces that span generations. And did we mention, an artist named Kathryn was spinning yarn on a wheel in the doorway as we arrived? It's as though the store is surrounded by a ring of enchanted mushrooms.
But all of Diviz was a little enchanted last night, as the city descended gleefully to hang out, immersed in art. Next year, the organizers hope to take the event into the street, transforming the roaring lanes of traffic from a barrier into a street fair that connects, via the Wiggle, all the way to Market. With crowds swelling as they have so far, it'll be hard to contain them otherwise.