Saturday, January 9
Celebrating its 28th season in 2021, Old Town’s Second Saturday Artwalk has become a treasured tradition for Coast residents.
The event began modestly in Old Town Bay Saint Louis in the early 1990s. Gallery owners Jerry Dixon (Serenity Gallery) and the late Keith Karlson (the Mississippi Gallery) realized that the Bay area was quickly developing into a haven for artists from around the country and organized the event to provide a venue to showcase local work.
During those first years, nearly a dozen shops and galleries in the Bay hung new exhibits, mailed out invitations and opened their doors for a few hours in the evening to delight of art-lovers in the community.
This Second Saturday Artwalk column
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The new plan was simple: The event would be held March through November. Participating merchants were asked to contribute ten dollars a month toward event costs.
To add to the excitement, each Second Saturday two local merchants (one for each end of Main Street) were featured as “Hot Spots.” Peoples Bank came on board as the first sponsor, donating money to hire a band for live music on the street each month.
While that small budget didn’t allow much for conventional advertising, Anderson and Niolet wrote and sent out press releases across the Gulf Coast in a grass-roots promotional campaign. The artists referred to their technique as “guerilla marketing,” since the event was organized and promoted without the assistance of governmental or formal organizations and with a budget of only a few hundred dollars per month.
The new concept began to take root. By 1999, more than fifty galleries, restaurants and shops were participating. Visitors began driving from across the region, drawn from towns like Baton Rouge, Mobile and Hattiesburg. The streets of Old Town filled with families each Second Saturday evening.
In 2000, Anderson and Niolet passed the Second Saturday baton on to a local stained-glass artist, the late Richie Zitzmann and his wife Barbara. The couple volunteered to coordinate the event until 2005 and grew it from a seasonal to a year-round event.
Second Saturday was the star of a Mississippi Roads episode taped for Mississippi Public Broadcasting in 2005, only months before Hurricane Katrina. Yet even the most devastating hurricane in the country’s history didn’t put a stop to the Second Saturday Artwalk.
Vicki Niolet, her husband, Doug, and a small group of others gathered in ruins at the foot of Main Street less than two weeks after Hurricane Katrina demolished most of Old Town (see banner picture). The candles they lit that evening signified that the creative spirit was still burning brightly in Bay St. Louis.
Owners of a cooperative gallery on Main Street came up with a novel idea in those dark days. Artists Jenise McCardell and husband Mark Currier decided to host Second Saturday EVERY Saturday evening for several months at 220 Main Street. Their building had been one of the least damaged in the Old Town area, and they opened the space up free to artists who wanted to sell their wares on that evening.
But the event in that post-Katrina havoc was much more than an occasion to view art. For many months, the corner of Main Street and Toulme became a gathering place for the community on Saturday evenings, a mental health event where stressed-out residents could find a few hours of normalcy amid the chaos.
Today, the Second Saturday Artwalk is managed by the Old Town Merchants Association. Over fifty businesses participate each month, with many civic groups and musicians setting up along the street to add to the excitement and sense of total community involvement.
Old Town will be celebrating the first Second Saturday of 2021 with a laissez-faire attitude. While you can expect Hot Spots and themed Second Saturdays starting in February, January offers visitors the opportunity to enjoy and support all of our locally owned shops and restaurants. Old Town is lively all day, with most shops open until 7 pm.