HUNTINGTON — There is no reason why Huntington and those looking to make it better should not be able to look at what works in other towns and cities when it comes to positive development.
One aspect of that equation is the creation of a sustainable arts district, a place where people can come and buy quality arts and crafts, participate in the arts and see unique live music and more.
All across the country, First Friday art crawls take place on the first weekend of every month as a way to get out and mingle, to eat and drink, and to see what artists have come up with in recent weeks, live music and more, all of which helps to make a downtown area thrive.
What is required for such an event is an arts district, a section of the city that is dedicated, funky and sustainable.
Here in Huntington, there has been a move in recent years to create such a district in the Old Central City area of town. This historic district on and around West 14th Street is already known for its antiques shops and restaurants. The Old Central City Association is working to expand the scope of this unique part of town to encourage more tenants and visitors.
One way the association is doing that is by hosting Winter Arts Festival. Taking place Thursday, Jan. 16, in the Old Central City District from 4 to 8 p.m., the event will feature a popup arts show, live music at Cicada Books, beverage and food offerings at The Wild Ramp and West Tenampa Mexican Restaurant, and more.
Another aspect of the evening, which is officially described as “Shaping The Future of the Central City District,” will be active community surveys and discussions, which will gather ideas from visitors on how to make the Old Central City District better and more attractive to local visitors and tourists. Participants, in exchange for their thoughts, will be able to register for three prize baskets that will be given away.
The Village Renewal Antique Mall, at 610 14th St. W., will host popup booths that will offer many kinds of art for sale by Sarah Short, Kadin Tooley, Vannah Rose, Sidney McCoy, Abby Sowards and Mark Koss. Down the street, at 526 14th St. W., the Art Spirit shop will feature the watercolor art of Ardoth Rutherford.
Art Upstairs, at 444 14th St. W., will offer contemporary and vintage paintings by Don McDowell, Nancy Polan, Adele Thorton Lewis, F. Ron Fowler, Connie Rees, William Gobel, M.A. Booth and Ruth Ettling.
“We are working with Heritage Farm and the Coalfield Development Corp. and others including the city of Huntington to create a plan for the development of Central City,” said Lauren Kemp, president of the Old Central City Association. Kemp also is the program director for Unlimited Future Inc., a not-for-profit micro-enterprise development center and business incubator that works to provide the tools, resources and connections to help local businesses be successful in Huntington and the Tri-State.
“Highlighting business opportunities and partnerships and things like that can really advance the district,” she added, “and so far, I think we have done a good job of showing that business owners can come together and be motivated about figuring out how to bring in new businesses and to fill vacancies as well.
“It helps to understand how complicated it can be to bring in new businesses and deal with all of the aspects of properties and feasibilities and things like that, which take a long time to happen. We are hoping that what we have in mind will add fuel to the fire of what is already happening here in the Old Central City District.”
To go along with the fun of Thursday afternoon’s Winter Arts Fest, the opinions and thoughts by those who visit the Old Central City District about how to make it better are welcomed and encouraged.
“We are building upon the three key themes of our planning process, and a part of that is to engage the public and invite them to share their ideas and to give us feedback about how to build the vibrant district that we all want to see,” said Kemp. “The three themes include Identity, as in how we market and brand this district to make it attractive to visitors. The second one is Place, which is how we define our part of the word and define our history of making things and the Appalachian spirit that we have here. The third theme is Opportunity, which highlights the new business opportunities there and the events offered in the district and how we can enhance those experiences to make them well-attended.
“Ultimately, we want to hear from the community about what they want to see as well, as far as events.”