Downtown After Hours Artwalk relaunched for 2021


Photo courtesy of Christina Britt

After Hours Artwalk live music, March 4.

Abigail Jones, Reporter

Downtown Wichita Falls Development’s After Hours Artwalk (AHA!) is back as of March 4. This was the first official AHA! since COVID-19 shut down large-group events.

“Due to COVID restrictions [the artwalk is] obviously a little bit different right now,” Becky Raeke, chair of AHA! and co-owner of 9th Street Studios, said. “I know that [the artwalk] benefits other businesses and businesses have been really hurting this last year, so it’s a labor of love.”

The artwalk brought foot traffic back to these hurting businesses. Businesses near and far from the hub of the artwalk, around 8th and Indiana streets, experienced this such as Sandi Gant, an artist at Seventh Street Studio, who was delighted to see people going to the studio.

“We’ve had a lot of people coming through. Everyone has been so respectful, wearing masks and social distancing. We’re looking forward to a great year,” Sherri Lane, director of social media and marketing at the Wichita Falls Art Association said. “Everybody is ready to get out, even with a mask, and walk around.”

AHA! brought together the community despite COVID-19 and has its attendees following COIVD-19 guidelines. According to Raeke, the Farmer’s Market was at full COVID-restricted capacity.

 “People are glad to be out… So many people have been vaccinated that they’re feeling a little safer to get out in places… Maybe we’re getting back to normal, some form of normalcy.” Sharon Norton, artist at Seventh Street Studio, said.

This normalcy is dependent entirely on the community, according to Raeke. The artwalk being held during after-hours has also attracted many members of the community that are usually busy during the day.

“I like to build community… I feel that we have a family community downtown. It’s a huge area, but everybody kind of looks out for each other,” Raeke said. “It really provides an opportunity for people to come in after hours.”

When Raeke and her team first rebranded the artwalk to AHA! a big part of their job was contacting businesses directly about getting involved.

“Now that we’ve done a lot of work and the hand-holding, they’re starting to do it themselves and realize the benefit that it brings to their business and downtown as a whole,” Raeke said.

Citizens attending the artwalk said they could feel this benefit, building a sense of community through events celebrating the work of others within it. 

“It’s really nice to have a sense of community. Wichita Falls is not known for having a lot to do, but this is one of the nice things that you could do here,” Cody Parish, Redwine Honors coordinator and artwalk attendee, said. “I’m really happy that they brought it back.”

This community includes local artists, students and non-students alike. Showcasing their art, not just paintings but ceramics, metals and other mediums.

“It’s good access for all artists in Wichita Falls, especially young artists, to just go set up a booth, sell some art and feel good about their art. That’s such a good thing to have in our community, especially downtown,” Skylar Thomson, psychology junior and artwalk attendee, said. “It adds something to downtown. It gives downtown more purpose.”

The AHA! Team is constantly looking for new ways to support young artists of any medium. Building support systems for students such as engineering freshman, Elizabeth Horn who wished for a similar event on campus and plans to attend future AHA! events.

“We’re always racking our brains on ways that we can build bridges for students to the downtown area, not just because we want them to stay in Wichita Falls but because, as a gallery owner, we want to provide a support system in the real world [and help them with] that transition,” Raeke said. 

Raeke said her team decided to extend the artwalk from seven monthly recurring events to nine so to provide more opportunities for the town’s artists.

“We’re always up for new ideas and crazy out-of-the-box things. You’ll be seeing some performance art throughout the season. It is a longer season this year,” Raeke said. “It’s really exciting for me to dream up new ideas and ways that we can creatively use the talent that we have here in Wichita Falls [to] show people what we are.”