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Pensacola's Downtown Gallery Night Will Continue

Bob Barrett

  It was back in April when the Downtown Improvement Board announced it would end sponsorship of the popular monthly street party and the final Gallery Night would be September 16. At the time, John Peacock, the Chairman of the DIB left the door open for someone else to take over the event saying "If the bars and restaurants for example wanted to put on a street party, there are avenues to do that."

And that’s exactly what happened. "My office is in downtown and I work with a lot of restaurant folks throughout the entire community" said Michael Carro, a Broker and Senior Advisor with SVN Southland Commercial Real Estate. "I'm a big fan of Gallery Night myself. I know how important it is to each of their businesses and livelihoods. And so when I saw that the DIB was not going to move forward with it, I just knew it wasn't going to die in my world! So what I did was I reached out to a bunch of the downtown business owners and said 'hey listen, let's get together and figure out how to save Gallery Night'".

They decided to form a nine member board including three people from the art community, and one each representing property owners, business, bars, restaurants, sponsorships and retail. Carro says they are forming a non-profit to run the event. "I've already been contacted by a lot of businesses who would like to support and sponsor Gallery night. Well, they are much more apt to sponsor it if it is a charitable based organization, which we will be."

"I'm cautiously optimistic that this will be a positive [move]. I'm taking a kind of a wait and see attitude." said Jim Sweida, the President of the Board of Blue Morning Gallery on Palafox. "I have some reservations with the group, none of which were downtown businesses who had been involved in Gallery night prior to this."

Sweida was the Chairman of the Special Events Committee of the Downtown Improvement Board. He resigned that post after the Board’s decision to end Gallery Night. He says he was not contacted or involved in the effort to revive Gallery Night but is pleased that Carro’s group has been able to keep the event going. He does take exception to the assertion that there was no art in Gallery Night, pointing out that in addition to his Blue Morning Gallery, Artel Gallery, Marty Campbell Gallery and Quayside Gallery are all open for Gallery Night. "And also over at Seville Quarter, his entire street in front of Seville Quarter was blocked off and certainly had 50 plus artists exhibiting there. So I question the comment 'where was the art on Gallery Night'".

Michael Carro says the art may be there for Gallery Night, but he would like to see it promoted more effectively. He points out that the Pensacola Museum of Art says they have always been open on Gallery Night "however, the 12,000 people walking up and down Palafox don't know that anything's going on at the Pensacola Museum of Art."  He says they plan on distributing maps to people so they can detour off Palafox and see other downtown art exhibits and events during Gallery Night.  He also says that since the event will be put on by a group of their neighbors rather than the DIB, more businesses will be willing to pay to participate. "We're all working together to make sure that everybody pays something, but we're also working a little bit differently. (It's not fair if) you have a small 1000 square foot shop that's paying the same amount as a 5000 square foot shop. We're really trying to adjust the model to it's more equitable."

The Downtown Improvement Board will still be running the next two Gallery Nights, this Friday and the one in September. Michael Carro says his group has been working with the board to make the transition smooth. "They have agreed to help in the transition, even after our first Gallery Night in October. they have agreed to help us out for the foreseeable future."

After September, Gallery Night is scheduled for October 21, November 18, and December 16. Carro says dates for next year have not been set, but expects Gallery Night to continue to be a monthly event. 

Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.
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