MERCED — The downtown arts and business community united Saturday to prove again that there's no shortage of art and culture in Merced, and that shops can stay open and thrive on a hot summer evening.
More than 1,000 people walked on Main Street on Saturday night, patronizing shops and taking in the sights and sounds of the 20th Art Hop event, which has been going strong for five years.
"People do get a lot of business," said Art Hop volunteer and Planada resident Irene De La Cruz. "You not only patronize the businesses in downtown Merced, but you get to see local artists."
Art Hop founders Kevin Hammon and Kimberly Zamora started the event to promote local artists through downtown shops. Attendees viewed art for several blocks along Main Street, and could take part in a scavenger hunt that led them to businesses such as Red Sky Comics and Cue Spot Billiards. Blank canvases were set out for those who wanted to try creating some art.
There was no shortage of art forms on display. Square dancing and Pacific island dancing took place in Bob Hart Square, and bands could be heard at Gottschalk's Music Center and J&R Tacos. A drum circle held court in front of Coffee Bandits.
Featured artist Donny Clark, 37, of Winton showed his mixed-media work, including acrylic paintings and wire sculptures, at Binary Systems Computer Repair.
Clark said the event is a good avenue to promote area artists and get people involved.
"Why buy something that has been mass-produced when you can buy an original work that someone spent a good amount of time and energy creating? To me, that is very important," Clark said. "It shows that the community is all being tied together and helps promote those arts like they would in the big major cities."
Atwater resident Leticia Brown said the event gives a new perspective to people who don't normally visit downtown Merced.
"It's not just the mall. It's not just a farm community. There's culture it's good to support that," Brown said.
Despite the triple-digit heat, 38-year-old Delia Lua of Merced and her daughters came to check out the event.
"When we first arrived, my daughters were like, 'This is too hot, let's go back.' But once they started walking around and seeing things, they really enjoyed it. And now it's starting to cool down, it's even better," she said.
Artist Tony Rush, 26, of Merced, who had his paintings on display for the first time at the Art Hop, said he was aiming to have fun and meet people.
"I think that's what it's all about, you know? Culture trying to spread the culture and socialize," he said.
The next Art Hop event is set for Oct. 19. For more information, visit http://mercedarthop.com.
Chris Winterfeldt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.