There’s nothing more Saranac Lake than Third Thursday ArtWalks, an event that's been a tradition in this village for more than 20 years. The format is pretty simple: Every third Thursday in June through September, the galleries open their doors and showcase their artwork. Art and the artists who created it literally spill onto the streets from 5-7:30 p.m. And in true Saranac Lake style, there’s music and laughter everywhere, providing a lively backdrop to the positive energy and celebration of all things creative.
From humble beginnings
Local Saranac Lake artist Tim Fortune was the brains behind the first ArtWalk. Sitting in his downtown gallery, Small Fortune Studio, surrounded by a colorful array of large, nature-inspired paintings, he explained that the event was simply a way to shine a light on the artists, writers, musicians, and performers who are drawn to the town.
Tim spread the word among his artist friends and recruited about 10 business owners to host artwork for the kickoff; there are about 25 involved now.
“The concept is to bring the art from the galleries to the sidewalks,” Tim said. “It creates a real community spirit, with people interacting and meeting. It’s a party; that’s a huge component to the ArtWalk. It hits on a number of very positive, lifestyle kind of reasons why we live here.”
Tim was born and raised in Saranac Lake, moved away, and later returned to live here with his wife. He started renting his current studio space about 23 years ago, and three years later he started the North Country Artists Guild, which later became the Adirondack Artists Guild.
The decision to come back to Saranac Lake echoes the reason so many others say they moved here. It’s difficult to put into words, but there’s something authentically unique about the way the town feels. Ancient mountains rise above mirror-surfaced lakes; the historic downtown somehow still feels young and vibrant. During the ArtWalks, this spirit is on full display, from one corner of downtown to the other. There’s something interesting to see, hear, or do every step of the way.
Tim stressed that the ArtWalks are as much for visitors as for people who live nearby. For him, meeting those visitors reinforces why he lives here. When they pop into his studio, they tell him about their experience in Saranac Lake. He loves the honest impression from a new set of eyes — this place he sees every day isn’t like other places.
“What makes people stay here is that feeling, and I think artists are really tuned into that,” Tim said. “People who have a certain amount of flexibility, generally young folks or retirees, see this as a special place and they move here. I’d say 90 percent of my friends here are not local; they moved here from somewhere else.”
Where creative energy flows freely
Whether or not you make it to an ArtWalk this summer, be sure to tune into the creative spirit of Saranac Lake. You’ll find local art on the walls in many shops, restaurants, and galleries like NorthWind Fine Arts, the Adirondack Artists Guild Gallery, Art at the Pink House, and BluSeed Studios, which all have a rotating selection of paintings, collages, sculptures, assemblages, photography, and pottery on display. There are free concerts every Wednesday in Berkeley Green and every Thursday at the Waterhole’s Party on the Patio series. Other local venues also host live music, often on the weekend, and events crop up all summer long.
As Tim can attest, it takes a lot of behind-the-scenes work to make all of this happen, and Saranac Lake is all the better for it.
“I always thought the ArtWalk would eventually go away, that this vision would just fade, but that didn’t happen,” Tim said.
That’s because other artists got on board and volunteered their time. As interest grew, people began promoting Saranac Lake as an arts community, which over time became a self-fulfilling prophecy for the village to embrace.
“There wasn’t a big scheme or a big plan — artists generally don’t do that in my experience,” Tim said with a smile. “It just happened organically, and here we are.”