Starving artists, meet starving Artwalkers

Hey galleries, what happened to the standard wine and cheese?
By LEISCHEN STELTER  |  December 8, 2010

A TASTY DOG INDEED A chocolate lab from Mainely Labs.

While it's a lot to expect gallery owners to provide an extensive cheese platter or booze for the masses, the First Friday Art Walk is supposed to be a monthly celebration of the arts here in Portland. It's a chance for working folks to get out to the arts district after hours and gallery owners to display what's new in their collections.

The art walk starts at 5 pm and lasts until 8, or until galleries feel like closing their doors. During this happy hour time, there's no doubt people are hungry — but don't rely on galleries to alleviate your appetite, because food (and wine!) are scarce.

When I think of gallery openings, I think of wine and cheese, but frankly, it was hard to find many studios with even this staple gallery fare. During the December art walk one gallery was offering tortilla chips and seltzer water. There wasn't even salsa or dip to be found.

The Holly Ready Studio (609 Congress St.) didn't have any beer or wine, but offered a pre-mixed cranberry juice and seltzer quaff with an assortment of crackers, pretzels, and a yogurt and fruit bar sampling. I was a little hesitant to indulge in the peanut butter balls sprinkled with coconut flakes offered by the Medical Marijuana Caregivers of Maine studio (which I don't think is technically part of the art walk despite having artwork on display), but they were actually quite good.

And despite the bright holiday lights lining Congress Street, there was little evidence of holiday cheer. A few galleries were offering hot chocolate on a chilly December night, but I only visited one gallery with anything close to a seasonal theme. The Mainely Labs Studio (613 Congress St.) had sugar cookies shaped like Labradors that were decorated with green and red icing collars. The owner said his wife had made them and was asking for a $2 donation to benefit the Animal Refuge League. While this doesn't fall under the free category, at least it's for a good cause. The gallery also offered five different types of Sebago Brewing Company beers.

Out of all the galleries I visited, only one had what I would consider acceptable gallery fare. A Fine Thing (29 Forest Ave.) presented five cheeses, an assortment of crackers, and thinly sliced salami. This gallery also trumped the others with a shrimp plate. For beverages, there was offered a choice between chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon, a typical but acceptable selection.

If, after all that art walking, you find yourself hungry, expect to fight the crowds. The onslaught of hungry art patrons is nothing but good for restaurants, at least those located along Congress Street. Michelle Corry, manager of Five Fifty-Five, says first Fridays always bring in large numbers of walk-in diners, and they always have to turn people away, especially around 7:30 or 8 pm. It would be wise to make a reservation on First Friday (regardless if you participate in the art walk or not) or be willing to wait.

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