For the last five years, it's been a ritual on the second Thursday of every month for Joe Cordova. The 31-year-old part-time bartender and fulltime painter makes his way from Silver Lake south to Downtown Los Angeles, where the hub of the art scene in the Southland explodes.
"It's like 10,000 people loving, absorbing, and creating art," Cordova said, as he flips through images of the Downtown Artwalk on his laptop. "It's such a fluid experience. There is creativity flowing in the air. You have to be there to know what I mean."
This Thursday, the small push by local artists that began with just eight galleries is commemorating its fifth anniversary with the most galleries ever and upwards of 10,000 people flocking to the streets of the art district to enjoy the show.
It is a show, a production really.
When Artwalk first got its start, galleries put out plastic cups and cheap bottles of wine at the door. It attracted just 12 people.
Fast-forward to 2009, the crowd swells at 7 p.m. The historic core is flooded with onlookers, music performers, and artists painting, sculpting and molding right on the streets.
The crowd -- a mix of young college students and older art aficionados -- converge through the streets, popping in and out of established and make-shift galleries. Entrepreneurs sell everything from mood-rings to bacon-wrapped hot dogs.
"I love the hot dogs," said Cordova. "They hit the spot after a few glasses of gallery juice."
The crowds get a slight buzz from the "gallery juice," or cheap wine that is still the standard offering to guests. Those looking for more alcohol find it at one of the handful of bars scattered around the district.
"Just about an inch," said Eric Rould, as he was getting her hair trimmed as a beauty saloon offering cuts on the sidewalk outside their shop. "It's that kind of craziness. You can get your hair trimmed, get dinner across the street, sushi on the corner, or just mix and mingle with the crowd."
The crowd does a lot of mingling. As they make their way down and up Main Street from Fourth Street they encountered live art. Artists, who do not have a gallery to showcase their work, use the sidewalk, the chain-link fence, or a rented U-Haul. On-lookers climb the ramp to view the paintings, touch the sculptures, and experience the other multi-media exhibits.
"It's not like a real gallery," said Cordova. "It's real art, and it's real life. It's an awesome experience."
Artwalk's roots stem when the city designated Gallery Row -- Main Street and Spring Street, between Second and Ninth streets as Gallery Row. By September 2004, it grew from three galleries to eight.
Now about 45 galleries participate, and it's only getting bigger.
Richard Schave, who manages Artwalk, said that the larger the crowds get, the more new challenges gallery owners and organizers face.
"We have to deal with the popularity," said Schave. "I don't think anyone thought the crowds would get to 10,000."
What About the Art?
While organizers celebrate the success of attracting people once a month to the once empty downtown area, gallery owners hope to soon celebrate expanded interest in the "art" the other 29 days of the month.
Some of the original gallery owners who started Artwalk have joined together to form the Downtown Los Angeles Galleries Association. According to the group's website, DTLAGalleries.com, it will focus on the galleries and not just the one-night event. The group has created new maps of the galleries, started a Twitter feed, and hope to bring the focus on Artwalk back to the Art.