Thirteen years after it was founded by Edmonds business owners and artists Jeff Stilwell and Manya Schilperoort (known to many by her business name Manya Vee), the Edmonds Art Walk is undergoing some changes — although the monthly event that draws hundreds to downtown Edmonds will continue as usual this Thursday, Feb. 20.
The Downtown Edmonds Merchants Association (DEMA), a subcommittee of the Edmonds Chamber of Commerce, announced in an email sent Friday, Feb. 14 that the monthly Third Thursday Art Walk – in which businesses stay open later, from 5-8 p.m. in order to showcase featured artists – “will be placed on hold effective in March.” While describing the art walk as “very popular,” DEMA noted that “recent developments have led to a decision to retool the event.”
According to officers in the Downtown Edmonds Merchants Association, those developments involve the procedures for collecting participating-merchant fees and appear to stem from a falling out between the Art Walk founders and DEMA representatives. DEMA officers noted that the Downtown Edmonds Merchants Association is the official owner of the “Third Thursday Art Walk” name, which over the years has been charged with ensuring that the legal and financial requirements of the monthly Art Walk have been met.
“Jeff and Manya started Art Walk and over time their roles changed as the event expanded,” said Andy Cline, who serves as DEMA co-president. Stilwell and Schilperoort were hired in January 2009 by DEMA to serve as independent contractors, and were paid a monthly stipend to promote the Edmonds Art Walk, and meet other contractual obligations to DEMA, he said.
But an issue arose in recent weeks, according to Cline, when Stilwell set up a PayPal account outside of the Chamber of Commerce/DEMA finance/receivables structure, and instructed Art Walk participants to pay their fees via that account.
According to DEMA’s immediate past-president, Petra Rousu, that action raised a red flag with DEMA, a registered 501(c) 3 non-profit, because Stilwell doesn’t have the required insurance umbrella, and the PayPal funds would have been received outside of the prescribed funds management rules.
Stilwell’s action – coupled with the fact that Art Walk attendance has been declining in recent months – prompted DEMA to review the future of the Edmonds Art Walk. For the short term, this Thursday’s Feb. 20 event will go on as scheduled, and other merchants who have independent contracts with artists may choose to stay open late on future third Thursdays of the month, Rousu said.
For the longer term, according to Cline and Rousu, DEMA plans to review what an event similar to Art Walk might look like – perhaps one that will involve wine tastings and/or is limited to the spring and summer months. DEMA is expected to form a separate subcommittee that will consider the future of such an arts event at its March 7 meeting, says Cline.
“In the interim there will be no formal director for the event,” Cline said. “The use of the event name ‘Art Walk’ and ‘Third Thursday Art Walk’ will be suspended by DEMA.”
Cline added that DEMA is taking a “going forward perspective” on the event. “DEMA is looking for ways to best utilize the Art Walk program to the greatest benefit of attendees, artists and merchants,” he said.
In addition to their work on the Edmonds Art Walk, Stilwell and Schilperoort are known for their ongoing efforts to provide opportunities for Edmonds artists. In 2009, they founded the Edmonds Mural Society, which since its inception has sponsored the painting of 16 murals on blank walls of downtown Edmonds businesses, all through volunteer donations from Mural Society members.
In March 2013, the couple’s business, Manya Vee Selects (now called MaJe Gallery) received an inaugural Edmonds Chamber of Commerce Arts Award for Business Leadership, for their work on both the Art Walk and Mural Society.
In recent months, the couple has also launched a new Friday night open-microphone event for musicians, Edmonds Tunes, which occurs weekly at two downtown venues – Café Louvre and Red Petal Cakes.
In an interview in May 2010, Stillwell and Schilperoort said their vision in 2002 for the Edmonds Art Walk was to create “a populist art walk,” in which artists would do more than simply display their work — they would be on hand to answer questions about it.”
Convincing artists to take part in the monthly art walk was a challenge, Stilwell recalled in the 2010 article. “Artists are by nature introverts,” he said. Equally challenging was getting Edmonds merchants to buy into the idea of displaying artwork in their shops, he added. “We started with the conviction that it had to be a win-win scenario for everyone,” Stilwell said. “Merchants needed to provide exhibition space for free but might take a commission.”
Reached Sunday for reaction to DEMA’s decision to retool the Art Walk, Stillwell said: “I don’t have anything to say other than that this is a very painful time for me and Manya.”
Here’s the full email that DEMA sent on Friday:
Changes coming to Edmonds Art Walk
The Downtown Edmonds Merchants Association or ‘DEMA’ (a committee of the Edmonds Chamber of Commerce) is announcing that Edmonds Art Walk, which occurs every third Thursday, will be placed on hold effective in March. This event, which is owned by DEMA has been a very popular event, however, recent developments have led to a decision to retool the event. For the next few months there will not be a formal Art Walk, although some business may continue to sponsor artists. During this transition DEMA welcomes community input on Edmonds Art Walk and requests that any comments or ideas be sent to [email protected]
DEMA wishes to thank Jeff Stilwell and Manya Schilperoort of MaJe Gallery for their contributions to Edmonds Art Walk over the years. DEMA looks forward to more great third Thursday events in the future and more information regarding next steps will be provided in the coming weeks.
The Downtown Edmonds Merchants Association (DEMA) is an independent unincorporated association of merchants in downtown Edmonds and its operations are supported by the Edmonds Chamber of Commerce through a committee structure providing assistance for DEMA activities.
— Story by Emily Hill and Teresa Wippel