It’s raining lightly but Third Avenue is still full of people walking around, some slowly, some briskly. Some with purpose, some simply wandering. A few have plastic cups full of wine out on the sidewalk, something that you aren’t supposed to do. No one gets in trouble, because no one causes trouble, because this is First Thursday Artwalk in Pioneer Square and it’s one of the best long-running events in Seattle.

In 2019, the idea of an art walk is pretty commonplace. Most neighborhoods in Seattle have one, and you can find various iterations on the theme around the country. It’s such an ingrained idea in artistic communities that people have applied the basic principals to music and literature.

In 1981, however, this was not the case. While it’s daft to suppose people weren’t walking around and drinking wine while they looked at art before this, the fine minds of Pioneer Square’s Art community made it official. As such it’s been the longest running artwalk in the country and has served as an inspiration either directly or indirectly to anyone trying to organize something similar.

Part of the reason for it’s success lies in the infrastructure of Pioneer Square; as one of Seattle’s oldest neighborhoods, it’s built for walking. You aren’t simply traversing in a straight line down a main drag, there’s plenty of nooks and crannies to explore. The styles and mediums of art are deeply varied; you can find DIY publishing at Mount Analogue, works by established local and national artists at the larger galleries like Foster/White, and any number of approaches that I’m not quite qualified to describe as you wander the halls of the Tashiro Kaplan building.

If you make a point to see as much as you can you’re gonna see a lot of stuff that doesn’t quite light your fire; whether or not every artist is “good” or not is beside the point. The point is that there’s an embarrassment of riches available in just one neighborhood and frequently the sheer wealth of expression is inspiring in and of itself. Plus, you know, there’s wine.