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Twenty years ago, Central Avenue in Hot Springs — south of Bathhouse Row at least — had its unsavory portions. Carolyn Taylor of Taylor's Contemporanea Fine Arts, then at 516 Central, had protection, though: Whenever she was unnerved by a customer, she used a code to ring the artist Benini next door. “Within seconds he'd be coming in the door carrying a big stick and he would casually talk to them and walk them out.”
Down the street, artistes — strippers — performed across from Linda Palmer's gallery, Taylor said.
Tourists “would come to the 500 block [of Central],” Palmer, who opened her gallery in the 800 block in 1992, said, and turn around. She had to advertise big to get them to walk three more blocks to her gallery. “Central Avenue was dead. That whole area was dark.”
Taylor persuaded her brother to buy the building the strip club was in and shut it down. Benini and his wife, Lorraine — who with Melinda Herr-Chambliss are recognized as the progenitors of the gallery district — brought in friends in the restaurant business and started a documentary film festival. Buildings were renovated, restaurants arrived, new galleries opened.
So that when Hot Springs galleries celebrate their 20th annual Gallery Walk on Friday, Aug. 7, the picture will be much different. Fifteen galleries and studios are now doing business on and off Central. Art has brought the street back to life. It's still Spa City funky — galleries and a gangster museum and T-shirt shops all rub shoulders — but with an elevated air. The after-hours gallery stroll has never missed a beat in its 20 years and is a huge social, as well as artistic, success.
Originally held on Thursday nights to avoid competition with high school football, Taylor said, Gallery Walk has seen a change in both artists and buyers. The audience is broader, the talent greater and the appreciation more sophisticated, Palmer said. The community “has really learned more about art.” Hot Springs is now ranked No. 4 in the “100 Best Small Art Towns in America.”
As ever, galleries will extend their hours to 9 p.m. Friday; the walk starts at 5 p.m. Venues and exhibits:
Alison Parsons Gallery (802 Central) will feature Parson's “LaughOutLoud” work in a show called “Splash, Splash!” and plein-air paintings of scenes around Lake Hamilton.
Artists Workshop Gallery (810 Central) will show work by Jane Fitch and Joanne Kunath and several artists will demonstrate their technique during the Gallery Walk. Fitch and Marlene Gremillion will also show watercolors at the Mountain Valley Spring Water Visitors Center.
Blue Moon Gallery (718 Central) is showing the work of two artists new to the gallery stable — Cassie Edmonds (mosaics) and Pepper Pepper (watercolors) — and new paintings by Marc Hatfield.
Carole Katchen (618 W. Grand) will exhibit a retrospective of Katchen's painting and sculpture.
Gallery 726 (726 Central), one of two new galleries to open this year, will show “Small Treasures,” small paintings by the gallery's four owners, Shirley Anderson, Barbara Seibel, Sue Shields and Caryl Joy Young. The artists will give painting demonstrations at Gallery Walk.
Gallery Central (800 Central) will feature glass art by James Hayes and show work by more than 40 other artists in all media.
Hot Springs Fine Arts Center (610 Central Ave.) will show floral paintings by Karlyn Holloway.
Justus Fine Art Gallery (827 A Central) is celebrating its 5th anniversary along with the 20th year of the gallery walk with a show of work by Justus, Michael Ashley, Kari Albright, Robin Hazard-Bishop, Elizabeth Borne, Cynthia Bowers, Hugh Dunnahoe, Mike Elsass, Robert Frank, Steve Griffith, Rebecca Thompson and others.
Linda Palmer Gallery (800 B Central) will feature new paintings by Ellen Alderson, Doyle Young and Palmer, and champagne and chocolate will be served.
Riciano Art Gallery (833 Central) continues to celebrate its grand opening (in Hot Springs in June) with more than 150 works by Arkansas, national and international artists.
Taylor's Contemporanea (204 Exchange St.) will feature “The Lost Highway” miniature homage to motor inns by sculptor David Rose, a special exhibit of Delta scenes in mixed media by John Robinette and new works by gallery artists, including Warren Criswell and Darrell Loy Scott. Taylor said the Jay Payette jazz combo will perform in the garden and that she'll serve her “usual cheap wine and cheap lemonade.”
Also participating: American Art Gallery (724 Central), Crystal Springs Gallery (620 Central), Attraction Central Gallery (264 Central) and Xu International (610 Central).