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The Murphy Art Walk

Art walks. More professional than a craft fair and more commercial than a gallery, art walks are events that have begun popping up all over the nation in the last decade. Essentially, an art walk is an event where artists bring their works to sell, whether their mediums of art are jewelry, drawings, metalwork, or really anything else that people find creative, unique, and worth spending money on.

When researching the mountain region of Highway 64, I stumbled upon the news of an Art Walk in Murphy, North Carolina, a little town with a population of only about 1,700 people. I almost overlooked the event, thinking it may just be a small community-organized event that only a few dozen people attended each month. I was more than surprised when I looked further into the number of artists with a variety of specialties scheduled for this year. This event wasn’t just community-organized, it was truly part of the community, something that brought the small town and even those who lived outside of it together to see the amazing works locals have to offer.

The Murphy Art Walk is organized by the Valley River Arts Guild, which, according to their website, is a not-for-profit organization that supports local artists and promotes art in the community, which directly matches the goals of the Art walk itself. The first Art Walk took place 8 years ago and has occurred every first Friday of May-December since then. Because I can’t attend the Art Walk myself due to COVID-19, I contacted the President of Valley River Arts, Debra Vanderlaan, and she gave me a look into just how impactful the Art Walk truly is.

Remember when I said I thought the event would likely only have a couple dozen people? I’m not ashamed to admit I could not have been more wrong. Debra explained that sometimes as many as 500 people attend the Art Walk, composed of both locals and visitors who come just to experience the event. It’s no surprise why so many people choose to attend the Art Walk, from Debra’s description alone I was wildly jealous I couldn’t attend myself. With streets filled with the music of local artists, sidewalk art demonstrations, performances from cheerleading teams and dance companies or even Taekwondo demonstrations, ghost tours on Halloween, and of course, incredible artists showcasing their work to the public, it’s no wonder the event frequently wins Best Event of the Year in their local newspapers’ Readers Choice Awards.

From the sound of it, I assumed the event was massive, but once again, I quickly realized I needed to stop assuming. Downtown Murphy, as explained to me by Debra, has only one traffic light and four short streets that meet in the middle. It’s lined with historic buildings and one of everything; a deli, a coffee shop, a bookstore, a history museum. That said, what Murphy does have multiple of (other than restaurants) is art galleries. Debra says that since the inception of the Murphy Art Walk, Murphy has become somewhat of an “art destination,” the economy has grown, and larger numbers of people are making their way downtown every day.

This year, the Murphy Art Walk was unfortunately canceled for two months (May and June) due to COVID-19 restrictions. Slowly, but surely, the Art Walk has started up again, bringing art and community together once more. August was the first outdoors Art Walk of 2020 and already nearly a dozen artists ranging from painters to woodworkers to jewelry-makers signed up to make appearances this year. While Debra says attendance has been lighter, loyal attendees have made sure to come out to see some wonderful art and support an equally as wonderful event.

I am so lucky to have spoken with Debra Vanderlaan and learn so much about Murphy and the Murphy Art Walk. I will no longer assume small towns cannot have large cultures- Murphy has changed that for me. Someday soon, I hope the Murphy Art Walk can return to its full capacity, with music, dancing, and art. Further than that, I hope I’m able to make my way over to what Debra calls the “sweet Smoky Mountain town of Murphy,” so I can experience the budding art destination and all the creativity and vibrance it and the Art Walk have to offer.


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