An Unbroken Chain
- story by Ellis Anderson, photographs by Ellis Anderson, Joe Tomasovsky and courtesy Vicki Niolet
Many people attending the Second Saturday Artwalk in Bay St. Louis on August 8th will be celebrating more than art show openings. This month marks the tenth year since the cultural event became one of the community’s psychological and economic lifesavers.
The artwalk has been a town tradition for more than two decades. In the mid-90s, locals and visitors from across the region began flocking to “the Bay” on the second Saturday each month for shopping, dining, live music, and festivities with a family-friendly spin.
By 2005, the event had become a beloved and much talked-about part of the state’s culture.
Second Saturday Column
A few months later, Katrina’s unprecedented surge had torn the beach road into rugged slabs of asphalt. Most of the buildings facing the coastline had been crushed or stood as gutted hulks. The majority of the town’s residents were homeless or trying to cope with houses that had been flooded, in many cases to the roofline.
Yet, less than two weeks after the storm, a small group of artists, shop-owners and residents gathered on the rubble at the intersection of Beach and Main to observe the September Second Saturday. Their intent was to keep the chain of events – and the community’s spirit - unbroken, even amid the ruin.
By the second Saturday in October, gallery owners Jenise McCardell and her husband Mark Currier welcomed crowds of survivors and volunteers to Gallery 220, one of the few intact commercial buildings in Old Town. The overwhelmingly positive response encouraged the couple to host a Second Saturday event each week for the next several months. The gatherings became an important source of positive energy for flagging survivors.
Artist and co-owner of Bay Emporium, Vicki Niolet, is one of the original organizers of the Old Town event. She was also one of the plucky few who gathered at the foot of Main Street in the aftermath of Katrina to carry on the tradition. A passing stranger snapped a photo of the group. Everyone is smiling, even though the ruins of a building form the backdrop.
Niolet says the camera didn’t catch everything.
“I still remember my mama sitting on the curb with her head in her hands. Those were tough, tough days for us all.”
The tough times seem to have passed. A decade later, the Second Saturday Artwalks now attract larger crowds than the pre-Katrina events. Old Town merchants and restaurants report brisk business. Most of them credit the event to helping reestablish a loyal and diverse customer base.
City leaders also point to Second Saturday as playing a critical role in rebuilding the community’s national reputation as a vital, creative place to visit and to live. The trickle-down is apparent in the new harbor, where slip rental rate has far outstripped early projections. Real estate values in the historic district rank at the top statewide.
Vicki Niolet says that over the past twenty-plus years, the artwalk has evolved into an organic part of life in the town.
“Second Saturday is not just an event held for the community anymore. It is the community. It’s part of the fabric of Bay St. Louis.”
Each month, two businesses take the limelight during Second Saturday. The August “Hot Spots” are Social Chair (201 Main Street) and Identity Vintage (131 Main Street).