Casa Salazar on East Houston Street features works by artists Olivia Villanueva, Jim Pruitt, and Juan Farias (courtesy photo)

Third Thursdays: the arrival of another alliterative artwalk

"We only knew downtown post-9-11," says Brad Braune, whose gallery is one of the main commercial art tenants in central San Antonio. "It's been such a struggle. I'm about ready to give up, actually."

Braune, whose space is located on East Commerce Street, was one of the first gallery owners to begin participating in Third Thursdays, an evening of open shops and studios held throughout the downtown area. Third Thursdays received their official kickoff last month by Rediscover Downtown San Antonio, an education and marketing program of the Downtown Alliance designed to draw area residents to the heart of Alamo City for dining, shopping, and maybe even living. The monthly event has been growing steadily since its soft opening in July, with 17 galleries, museums, and shops now participating.

"There are so many great galleries downtown that locals don't even know about," enthuses Stephanie Krueger of the Alliance, which offers a free Rediscover Downtown discount to lure residents' dollars downtown.

Braune notes that he has had good crowds for his Third Thursday events, in large part because he mails out his own invitations - but, "then the day before, there's nobody, and the day after, there's nobody."

Phillip Schrank of Gallery Vetro! (which specializes in handcrafted studio glass) says the shop has seen an increase in foot traffic during the event every month since July, noting that attendance was best during October, when Texas Public Radio organized an architectural tour of Houston Street that also promoted the open galleries.

Marketing and PR has been low profile so far, consisting of a monthly e-mail sent to more than 10,000 individuals - the Rediscover Downtown database. Participating venues note that the Alliance doesn't have a marketing budget for the event; while for its part, Krueger says, the Alliance is hoping that the galleries will begin to take the advertising initiative, perhaps in partnership with area restaurants.

While the July Houston Street tour was a boon to some shops, others, like African Odyssey, suffered from the distraction, which illustrates a challenge for Third Thursday organizers. Because the venues are sprinkled throughout downtown, they face different problems. For shops such as Vetro! and Parchman Stremmel, the city's event parking on Thursday nights is problematic. And while galleries such as Nueva Street in La Villita are seeing an increase in tourist traffic, Braune says he gets almost no out-of-towners in his space.

Third Thursday Downtown

See the Current's Art Calendar listings for information
Proprietors and organizers alike agree, however, that the Third Thursday demographic is very different from one of its models, First Friday. "`First Friday` is people-watching and partying as much as it is art," says Schrank, concurring with Krueger's assertion that the Third Thursday venues are looking to draw a more sophisticated crowd.

"I think `Third Thursday` will always focus a little bit more on art and going to a nice cocktail bar or dinner," says Braune.

Krueger believes that participation will increase steadily over time, and observes that some of the organizers are veterans of First Friday, which took several years to mushroom to its current festival-like proportions. With last month's grand kickoff, Rediscover Downtown introduced a trolley service, which stops at 15-minute intervals among the venues, as well as free parking lots at Sunset Station and the San Antonio Museum of Art. The trolley may not last beyond December, though, if Spurs fans requisition it.

In the meantime, most of the downtown galleries and museums remain patient - if not outright optimistic. "Like everything else in San Antonio," sighs Cassandra Scott of African Odyssey, "it just takes a while for everyone to catch on." •

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