Confession time: last week I took my first art walk. Yeah, I know, the French Quarter Gallery Association’s regular walk is a thriving, throbbing part of the city’s art scene, but I’d never made it before. I want to see some art, not the backs of people’s heads as they crowd round a wine server — and I’d always heard that the mobs that flocked to galleries on those four evenings each year made that rather tricky.

However, I’d also heard that the December event isn’t quite as heaving as the other three (on the first Fridays in March, May and October), maybe because this season’s extended shopping hours make the walk seem less unique. So I took a chance and headed for King Street, where I found a lot more elbow room than I expected.

I hit Joe Sylvan’s gallery just after 5 p.m., where self-proclaimed enthusiasts were starting their walk early to avoid the crowds. The weary-looking veterans of the event reported that it had gotten bigger and pricier, especially over the past five years. They still liked visiting the Sylvan Gallery, though, which is cozy without seeming cramped, with an influx of smaller (and more affordable) paintings that make perfect stocking fillers.

At Ann Long I found my first art dorks cooing over Jill Hooper’s work, but at least they were there to enjoy the paintings, not just to socialize. Everyone was sober.

It wasn’t until 6 p.m. that I saw a couple of gals ambling down Queen Street clutching cups of red wine. This was more like it. Before long, I reckoned, the streets would be pulsing with red-nosed inebriates looking for the nearest piss-up. Punters were already spilling out of Lime Blue into its adjacent alley, and Corrigan Gallery was packed to the gills. Owner Lese Corrigan was pushing a simple motif, her front room filled with Sue Simons Wallace’s gyotaku
fish prints. The theme was a hit; the well-behaved visitors snapped up goldfish crackers and Wallace’s art as well.

Also on Queen, Mike Elder’s EyeLevelArt was taking it easy this time around. In October, Elder tried a tie-in event in the gallery’s courtyard, but as manager Landis Carey explained, “That’s too much to do every three months, and this time of year it’s too dark to move cars and put art out on the street.” Carey believes that the walk’s handy for working stiffs as well as tourists. “The people who come in for the walks are at work during the day. They’re not all on vacation.”

By 7:30 the rotgut had started to set in. As I turned onto Church Street I passed a group of middle-aged ladies following a friend to the Dock Street Theatre. “She’s taking us to Dock Street?” said one of the women. “I know that ain’t the art.” She was wrong. The City Gallery was open because a show was in progress at the theatre, allowing me to sample Robert Epps’ photography.

“Because we had no free wine, I didn’t know if anyone would come,” said Epps in a voice too big for the compact space. “But I must’ve seen 200 people come through here. And the ones on the art walk are more interested in my art than the ones who attended the reception, who seemed to be there just to be there.”

For Fraser Fox Fine Art, on the corner of Queen and State, the lack of booze was a bonus. A decidedly unBacchanalian clientele studied the art, while across the street the Smith-Killian was filled with college guys professing their admiration for the “nude dames,” girls spilling drinks on each other, and well-dressed gents showing off their surf moves.

With plenty of galleries cashing in on the walk, there was a good balance between hot spots for socialites and stuffier fine art spaces for collectors. I was able to catch a lot more art than I expected and found some pleasantly tipsy artists on hand happy to talk about their work. My Smith-Killian experience notwithstanding, the night lacked a surfeit of boozy buffoons, dispelling the growing myth that the walk’s complimentary vino turns the Quarter into a Mardi Gras for students and art farts.