Napa has long been known for having one of the Bay Area’s most vibrant art, music and dining scenes, save more maybe San Francisco. So it’s only fitting that, back in 2009 when we were still in the full throes of the recession and art programs were losing funding up and down the state, that Napa would still find a way to turn its city streets into an art gallery by creating the Napa Art Walk.
Now in its sixth year of existence, the Napa Art Walk gives residents and visitors a chance to experience art by some of the nation’s most gifted sculptures, without having to pay a museum entry fee. This year, the event’s organizers are stepping up their game, incorporating new interactive technology and adding a social media element to help engage folks even more.
In the years since it has started, many in Napa say they’ve seen an influx of tourism into the downtown area, even more so than there was before.
“It’s been incredible, the support that this program and others have received from the city. Even in recession times, the city still saw the value in this program,” Arts Council Napa Valley CEO Olivia Everett said. “It’s just night and day from 2009 to today, the amount of tourism and community that we’re seeing downtown, and it’s been great hearing from city officials about how much the art walk helped that along.”
Every Napa Art Walk installment stays up for two years, beginning with a reception at the Napa Inn Complex, where artists—many of whom are from out of state—attend to interact and answer questions from the public. This year’s opening was back in June, so if you haven’t seen some of the art, which is distributed around Napa’s downtown, there is still plenty of time to come on down to Napa and check it out.
In previous years, the Napa Art Walk has had a theme of some sort, even if it was something that allowed for many different interpretations like “river,” or “movement.” But this year the event’s organizers decided to keep the submission process totally theme-free and allow the artists who submitted works to take it in whatever direction they pleased. The results have been 14 vibrant, stunning pieces, each of which is completely different from the next.
“Every year it’s really interesting to see the diversity of the works that are coming,” Everett said. “There’s a lot of abstraction and different types of artwork, and that’s been really exciting to see. And also to see repeat artists who haven’t worked before with the program, but are now working with them on a long-term basis.”
On one street plaza you might find a giant, metallic, bronze-colored bull. On another, an abstract piece that resembles a giant, reddish orange peel, or a blue and green mosaic bench that’s modeled after an ocean wave. There is even a sculpture of a giant fork with pieces of sculptured macaroni and cheese on it, which is sure to get your appetite going for a nice dinner in downtown Napa.
“It’s an idea to see what sort of work would come in, and also we wanted to vary it up a bit,” Everett said. “We wanted to be able to see what submissions artists would have, and what we could get to jury. It did have some restrictions, in that it’s only open to artists in six western states.”
All told, 157 submissions came in for this year’s installment, and the Napa Art Walk committee had the difficult task of whittling that number down to 14. Since it’s installed outdoors, the work is obviously subjected to the elements, so sometimes throughout the two years that it stays up, the artists will have to travel to Napa and maintain or restore parts of their work.
“The materials used definitely have to be able to withstand weather, and to be able to withstand human interaction,” Everett said. “These are on pedestals in walkways throughout the downtown area so, kind of regardless, people are going to touch them, kids are going to climb on them; we do our best to deter that with our design and selection of the pieces, but it does happen. It’s not uncommon during a show for the artist to have to come back out and do repairs.”
If you do come out, the Napa Art Walk’s organizers have found a way for you to interact more with the piece, without actually having to touch it. That’s because they’re now using a smart phone app called Otocast, which allows folks who use it to get an audio tour of the art! If you use the app, it will give you a little background and explanation on the piece direct from the artist, helping you to understand what you’re looking at a little more.
You never know what you’re going to find out until you try the app. You might learn, for instance, that Timeless Joy, the sculpture of a hummingbird that sits near the corner of Main Street and Third Street, is made completely out of old motorcycle parts. Then later find out the idea behind Your cube, sir, the sculpture of a giant stick figure who is holding a red cube upwards, towards the sky.
“I really encourage folks that if they see a piece that seems a little odd to them or that they love, to listen to it on the app because it will enhance their experience 10 times,” Everett said. “And that’s part of the goal of the art walk, to get people to interact with something that they may not have otherwise come across.”
Of course, Everett added, each artist submitted their own statement, and some chose to talk about materials, while others talked about the meaning behind the piece. So each little blurb on every sculpture will be different, just as each and every sculpture is unique.
In recent years, the Napa Art Walk has been a collaborative effort between the city of Napa and the Arts Council Napa Valley. That’s highly unlikely to ever change, but in recent years the city government has made more of an effort to take the reins on the program, which should continue to happen in future years.
“I think we’ll always promote, market, and support it, but the goal is to work with all the cities in the counties, to help them get the word out and promote the program,” Everett said. “We would love to see the local communities grow their arts program, which a lot are already doing.”
If that weren’t enough, the Napa Art Walk is also holding its own viewers’ choice contest, and it’s having an Instagram contest as well. The Instagram contest, open to anyone who uses the social media application, offers the chance to win a dinner for two in downtown Napa and a yearlong membership to the Arts Council Napa Valley. In order to participate, upload your own original images of any of the art walk’s sculptures onto Instagram with the hashtag #NapaArtWalk. The winners will be decided in June 2016, so if you want to participate, there are plenty of chances to get out there with your smart phone and start snapping away.
“I would just encourage people to get out, explore and check out the pieces, and let the city know what they like and what they want to see more of by using the app, voting, and exploring the program,” Everett said. “And for anyone who’s a collector, these pieces are actually up for sale as well.”
The Napa Art Walk will be on display for … well, probably for a very long time. But this current installation will be up until June 2017. For more information, such as a map of Napa that tells you precisely where every piece is and explains how to use the Otocast app and participate in the Instagram contest, visit: www.NapaArtWalk.org
Nate Gartrell grew up in Benicia, studied journalism in college, and has written for a handful of media outlets since age 15. He aspires to visit all 30 Major League Baseball stadiums and to hit the trifecta at the horse track.