Stories from the Square: First Thursday Art Walk

Stories from the Square: First Thursday Art Walk

Hours

1970's - Present

We are excited to introduce a new series highlighting Pioneer Square’s First Thursday Art Walk. Since the early 1960s, Pioneer Square has provided a haven for Seattle's artistic community, housing esteemed galleries, innovative exhibition spaces, and working artist studios alike. Today, Pioneer Square is the center of Seattle’s art scene, exhibiting the depth and range of the vibrant Pacific Northwest arts community, all within one square mile. During this series, we will dive into the history of First Thursday Art Walk.

This week, we are focusing on the return of First Thursday Art Walk and the 2021 Seattle Deconstructed Art Fair.

2021 Seattle Deconstructed Fair

Back by popular demand, the Seattle Deconstructed Art Fair returns in August 2021, celebrating the resilience of visual arts in Seattle with over 40 galleries, art institutions and non-profit organizations participating in this month-long event.Through the collaborative efforts of the gallery community, the SDAF returns in August 2021 continuing with the hybrid format of online and in-person exhibitions, with an added calendar of in-person events. With the aim to raise awareness of the existing vibrant arts and culture available in Seattle and beyond, SDAF celebrates the re-opening and recovery of our neighborhoods and the resilience of the visual arts community as not a single art gallery has closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Leading galleries in Seattle’s Pioneer Square, Georgetown, Capitol Hill and Downtown neighborhoods, as well as galleries in Kirkland, Whidbey Island and Edison, WA will all be showcasing and making available for sale the best art the PNW has to offer. The Seattle Deconstructed Art Fair runs online and in person from August 5 – 31, 2021. A First Thursday Kick-off event is planned for August 5, 2021 from 6-8pm in Pioneer Square and Downtown marking the official return of the 1st Thursday Artwalk after a 16 month hiatus.

Art enthusiasts and collectors are invited to view all SDAF exhibitions online at www.seattledeconstructedartfair.com, and in person at individual gallery locations. Check out the consolidated calendar of events – featuring in person exhibition openings, artist meet & greets, and more, and an online map of all the participating galleries. We invite viewers to use this website portal to explore participating venues, plan your visits and learn more about our vibrant arts community.

The Seattle Deconstructed Art Fair

How galleries of Pioneer Square banded together to create an event during the COVID-19 pandemic

In April 2020, Vulcan, Inc. cancelled the 2020 Seattle Art Fair due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Following the cancellation, 40 local galleries, 18 in Pioneer Square banded together to create Seattle Deconstructed Art Fair, a DIY version of the summer’s major art event, which reported drawing between 15,000 and 22,500 people each year. The idea was simple and barely a week old: galleries announce their own decentralized fair (each gallery hosting its own show in its own space for the month of August), build a group website, then do whatever they like.

“First Thursday isn’t happening, Seattle Art Fair isn’t happening, but we’re still here!” said Judith Rinehart, director of J. Rinehart Gallery leading up to the event. “We’re still showing art!” Some directors, such as Phen Huang at Foster/White Gallery showed works planned for the 2020 Seattle Art Fair. However, it was not just Pioneer Square galleries who participated in the Seattle Deconstructed Art Fair. Across the city, galleries joined in, such as Wa Na Wari and studio e. 

Galleries across the city were able to take advantage of a deconstructed fair- no applications, lower costs, and better lighting. All said, the Seattle Art Fair of 2020 was missed. As Judith Rinehart puts is, ““locally, it helps galvanize the art community, and it opens us up more to national and international galleries so we could just see more stuff,” she said. “And, of course, the festivity and the spectacle is always a lot of fun, but the core of it, what we’re showing this year, is that it still exists — here.”

The Seattle Deconstructed Art Fair will return in August 2021, this time in person. 

Sources: Who needs Vulcan? Seattle-area galleries put together their own DIY art fair by Brendan Kiley.

The Commercial Art Gallery

How First Thursday Art Walk helped shape the commercial art gallery in Pioneer Square.

The commercial art market historically has been viewed by the general public as elitist, meant for the wealthy, for collectors or designers with the capital to afford art for their walls. First Thursdays contradict this stereotype; the art dealers host the event to engage with the general public with the expectation that it may not result in art sales. By the time Greg Kucera opened his gallery in 1983, First Thursday was well established as a monthly event. “In its early days, the event mostly attracted collectors: As the event became much more of a public event over time, then its usefulness as a collector event kind of waned, and instead of it being an entertainment for the collecting community here, it became entertainment for the larger art community, not necessarily all people who thought of themselves as collectors.”

The transition from a collector-focused event to a public event was welcomed by the gallerists who intended to contribute to the broader art scene of Seattle as well as encourage more foot traffic at the galleries in Pioneer Square. Recognizing First Thursday as a night to enjoy art but not necessarily buy the art, many dealers altered their method of communicating with collectors. 

To accommodate the change from a collectors’ event to a public event, some galleries now mount new shows on six-week cycles instead of monthly cycles, so that their openings do not always correlate with First Thursday. Some galleries host special receptions for their shows separate from First Thursdays. Some, like Linda Hodges, prefer to stick with the First Thursday openings but invite clients earlier in the day to preview the new art before the event . The decision to participate in First Thursdays, even though the gallery may not sell any art those nights, speaks to the Pioneer Square gallerists intent to simply be seen and engage with the public about the art they show.

Sources: First Thursday Art Walk of Pioneer Square: A Case Study by Rachel Ballister

The First First Thursday Art Walk

The origins of First Thursday Art Walk and how Pioneer Square galleries collaborated early on.

The first gallery walk was staged in 1979 as a result of a shared frustration among Pioneer Square art gallerists over the lack of press attention towards their openings and shows. Sam Davidson, of Davidson Galleries, describes the initial event, “We were frustrated with the amount of coverage we weren’t getting… But the whole event spun off events surrounding Fat Tuesday, the beginning of Lent, and the restaurants regularly made a big deal of that. So we thought, why not try combining with them and do something?” 

The first event was so successful that in 1980, the gallerists decided to make it a monthly event. The initial roster of galleries included American Art, Davidson Galleries, Linda Farris Gallery, Foster/White, Diane Gilson Gallery, Greenwood, Miller Gallery, Gallery Mack, Roscoe Louie, Silver Image, and Carolyn Staley. In 1985, the gallerists began publishing the Pioneer Square Gallery Guide to promote the gallery walk. It included a map of the galleries and information about each show. 

By 1984, Davidson Galleries, Equivalents, Linda Farris Gallery, Foster/White, Silver Image, and Greg Kucera Gallery were cooperating on shows opening on First Thursdays by coordinating their hours and sharing their mailing lists.

The establishment of the Seattle Art Dealers Association (SADA) in 1990, further increased cooperation among the gallerists. Sam Davidson recalls feeling comfortable recommending to a client that they visit another gallery whose artists might interest them, as a result of the collegial environment among the art dealers created by SADA 

Sources: First Thursday Art Walk of Pioneer Square: A Case Study by Rachel Ballister