Organizing meeting May 3 looks to improve Artwalk and First Friday initiatives

Shawn McKnight continues to show his leadership skills in the Sarnia-Lambton community, this time by organizing something of a brain trust that would seek to continue to develop the community known as Sarnia's downtown. The group plans to meet on Tuesday, May 3, 2011 at 6 p.m. at the Urban Nature Centre.

The following piece was authored by McKnight (pictured at right) and was given permission to reprint it for our readers.

Dear: Stakeholders of downtown Sarnia – residents, merchants, staff, service companies, customers …

Re: Meeting for downtown stakeholders, to discuss a few ideas for:

• increased involvement with Artwalk and First Friday

• a concept for shared advertising in the "Downtown Cultural District"

I have worked and lived in the downtown core of Sarnia since I returned to the city 10 years ago. During this time I have become quite familiar with the community. Most of my involvement has been with committees, events and initiatives supporting: art, environment, green economy, and social inclusion. I worked with a group of downtown merchants to help organize the first Artwalk 10 years ago!

In April 2009, Tara Dimuzio and myself opened the Urban Nature Centre at 184 Christina Street N., to ensure information and resources on local wildlife is available to the public. We also wanted to provide a shared space for meetings, workshops, and creative activities. While renovating the storefront we also created an apartment upstairs, moving in right on time as a few weeks later our son Indie arrived – just missing the grand opening.

We would like to continue to appreciate and promote the downtown culture district any way that we can.

There is a lot of great stuff going on in the core and I think it is time for a little collective push. There are a few simple, but effective, things we can do to showcase the current activity. Also, on behalf of the Artwalk and First Friday organizing committees, there are some topics to discuss with a representation of downtown.

I would like to hold an open meeting for anyone with interest in the downtown community to seek support for a few promotional ideas that we can take immediate action on:

1. Artwalk 2011 – The annual event is one month away and it looks to be a bigger and better weekend once again!

Artwalk was started about ten years ago by a group of downtown merchants to attract people to the downtown core during the Tall Ships Festival. Downtown businesses partnered with local artists to create a walking tour throughout the downtown that was a huge success. The public wanted more! Since its inception Artwalk has grown to include six city blocks of vehicle free street space, featuring: over 150 vendor booths, local artists of all media, two stages of free weekend long entertainment, children's activities, environmental festival, and 20,000 visitors to the downtown.

There are a few changes in the Artwalk festival this year and there are a few ideas that the organizing committee would like to discuss with the stakeholders of downtown. We will be finalizing plans/schedules in the upcoming weeks and would like to ensure everyone is included.

As a downtown business owner, the first way to become involved is to showcase your business. Artwalk is like a big open house for the downtown—where the greater community shows up and we can open our doors and let them experience our cultural community as well as our local businesses.

Let us know how we can help you engage the crowd: street/sidewalk space, signage, advertising in program, volunteer assistance, etc.

Contact Artwalk Headquarters:

phone: 519-337-2078
office: 184 Christina St. N hours: 11 am – 5pm, Tues. to Sat.

2. First Friday – A number of storeowners have enquired about getting onto the First Friday Guide. We would like to discuss a way to include downtown merchants onto the guide without taking away from the integrity of it being a "cultural walkabout". The main focus of the guide is to showcase free cultural experiences, but we can identify other entities in the core that remain open for the First Friday evenings.

Merchants try to open here and there with varying success. However, if many store owners open collectively and all promote the gathering to their customer bases, friends, family, etc., it could be much more successful. The more things open, the more there is for visitors to experience, and it would snowball. Consistency is crucial. Events like this take time and energy to build. We have to create the attraction and the audience.

A couple of years ago the First Friday committee/group was doing much more for promoting the event. The guides were distributed and posters went up throughout the city, postcards were mailed out to clients and emails were sent to customer contacts. Let's rekindle this.

Paying someone $50/month to deliver the guides would be invaluable. First Friday would put together a list of effective spots: businesses, coffee shops, restaurants, Dr. Offices, clubs, etc.

3. Shared Advertising – There are many new small businesses and activities in the downtown and there are several other projects in development. There are signs of a cluster that is gaining strength, but we haven't quite re-established the identity of a diverse "Downtown."

During the Christina Street reconstruction, a brand was created for what became called the "Cultural District." A lot has happened since, and a lot more is about to happen. So, I thought it would be a good time to bring together a representation of the Downtown community to look at how a generic shared advertising campaign could accomplish this. 

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