"DA Discusses" is a video series where reporters speak with people on campus, in the community or in the state who have influence over decisions that affect students.
Barbara Watkins is the executive director at Main Street Morgantown, a nonprofit that aids the historic preservation and economic development of Downtown Morgantown and the Historic Wharf District. She spoke with Trenton Straight, video editor, about the upcoming Spring Arts Walk on April 10, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Portions of the following interview have been edited for length and clarity.
Daily Athenaeum: For everyone just now joining. I'm speaking with Barbara Watkins. Currently, she is the executive director of Main Street Morgantown. My name is Trenton Straight. I'm the video editor at the Daily Athenaeum. Barbara, if you don't mind, I'm gonna do a short introduction and we can get started.
Barbara Watkins: Oh, that'd be fine.
DA: For those of you that are not familiar with Main Street, Morgantown, it's a nonprofit that’s based in Downtown Morgantown. They work to aid historic preservation and economic development of the downtown area and the Historic Wharf District. Since it was first established, the organization has been involved in the creation of over 1,300 new jobs, the opening of 200 new businesses and over $126 million in investments. And their next event, which we'll be discussing tonight, is the Spring Arts Walk. It's taking place on Saturday, April 10, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Barbara, thanks again for joining us this evening. Just to start off, what can residents of Morgantown and students expect from this particular Arts Walk that will be happening on the 10th?
BW: Well, businesses are open back up again at 100% capacity with facemasks. We ask everybody to wear face masks when they come down. But we'll have over 40 artists set up throughout the downtown from the top of High Street to the bottom over on Walnut Street. We'll even have the new artist’s studio that's right across the bridge on Walnut Street that will be participating. We'll have musicians, we’ll have different artists. There'll be jewelry and paintings and handcrafted items, including plants. There'll be a coffee place along with the Blue Moose Cafe participating. So the Kombuchery on Pleasant Street. So they, it'll just be a fun, festive day to come down and enjoy the downtown, visit with your old friends. Bring friends, invite people to come and join you to walk around and enjoy all that. The downtown has a lot to offer. And we have some wonderful artists that are in our community, you know, and the surrounding communities that will be set up in the district. Not to mention all the artists––Tanner’s Alley that makes all those wonderful purses, wallets and belts. He's an artist and Stephanie from Hoot and Howl, she's an artist. So, we have several artists that own businesses that are downtown. So I think that you know, just come down and enjoy. Arts Walk is always a great place to come down. You can have lunch. You can stay and have dinner. So it'll be from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. It'll be daylight the whole time so that'll be nice.
DA: Yeah, just to kind of shift gears here and correct me if I’m wrong, it has been just about over a year now since the last Arts Walk.
BW: Correct, that is correct. Actually, our last Arts Walk, now we did have an artist kind of market for our Small Business Saturday, but it's something that we have a lot. But our official Arts Walk was actually last March. We had our Arts Walk and it was 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the evening just like usual. And then we had COVID and everything was shut down and we had no more, basically, we didn't have any more events. And then until we had Small Business Saturday, and even that was on a limited basis with social distancing––which we're still requesting your social distance and mask-wearing for this to keep everybody safe. But I think that you know now that we're all getting our vaccines, you know I’ve been vaccinated. I know a lot of people have been that it's a little bit safer even though you still should be wearing your mask.
DA: Yeah, to kind of go off that, another question I had relating to COVID was we have seen a rise in numbers recently in the Morgantown area, the county and then the state as a whole. Are you at all concerned about that? Have you all discussed that at all? I know you’ve had this in the works for a while now. I didn't know if this is something that you guys have addressed at all or you could maybe shed some light on that?
BW: Yeah, actually we discuss it all the time. We discuss making sure that we tell the businesses to please make sure everybody wears masks when they're in there. We make sure that they're wearing masks, the business owners are wearing masks so that we can keep it safe all the time. Yes, it's very, you know, we send out to the artists that are setting up. We tell them that masks are required. So, we can make our own rules, in that case. So, we require all vendors and our artists that set up to have masks on. That will be a requirement. So, yes, it’s at the top of our minds at all times right now.
DA: How has this past year impacted your all's event planning process or just how you all have kind of established yourselves as a nonprofit in the city, especially with just everything being shut down. There have been COVID-19 restrictions, whether it's state or nationwide. So, how's that impacted your guys’ organization?
BW: Well you know Main Street America is across the nation, we're an organized group, national main streets. A lot of people think that all we do are events and we do. We used to have four events and now when we added Arts Walk. Last year would have been our first year to have Arts Walk all the way from February through November. But with COVID that stopped. So even though we will have––and we'll bring back the Arts Walk––there'll be some events that we’ll re-evaluate to see how we’ll maybe bring back in future years. But I think that what people don't understand also is that we're more than just an event organization. Right now we're working, we have an economic vitality committee that we'll be working with business recruitment and retention. And with recruitment, it'll be with working with partners and everything and working with property owners on what we can do to help them make their storefronts more attractive for someone who may want to open up a business downtown because these are entrepreneurs that are probably going to be opening up. So, how can they make their business more attractive? And with our organization committee, they'll be working on partnerships with community partnerships and how we can get more community involved with volunteering for our events or supporting our events in ways. They'll work on that and––just for lack of a better word because we haven't thought of something––a one-on-one how to open up a business and all the state licensing you’ll need, city licensing or maybe the county of all the things you'll need to be able to open up a business, not only in the state of West Virginia but in Morgantown. And our design committee as you see, we're having new murals that are bringing downtown and we are working with the state DOH to put wraps on the black electrical boxes. So, we're more than just an event organization. We're working on a lot of different things that people don't necessarily see for the organization, and we've continued to work on those even though we’re not having all the events that we normally have.
DA: And another thing I think is unique for the Morgantown area too is we've seen a lot of new businesses actually develop in the last year. Could you talk a little bit about that? We've had quite a handful of businesses that have started up during COVID-19.
BW: You’re right. We have Free Spirits Fiber on Fayette Street that's opened up. And she offers classes if you want to learn how to knit mittens or a little hat. She has little classes teaching you how to––they're only limited there again to a certain amount of people right now because you know with social distancing and seeing a mask-wearing. That will open up even more when some of the COVID restrictions ease up even more. And then, of course, we have Burgers & Bites. They opened up on Walnut Street and if you haven't been there, they have this great burger joint. I mean it's quick. You can grab a burger and fries and take it back to your office and so that's always nice. And then there's Zeke’s Breakfast & Bakes. They serve breakfast all day long. We all love breakfast all day long. Even though the Blue Moose did not actually close, they were closed, but now they're opened back up. They’re a great coffee shop right on Walnut Street. And we have a lot of other great restaurants and coffee shops in the downtown district. But those are just three of the businesses that have opened up. But we have a hair salon that opened up there on Walnut Street, at the bottom of Walnut Street. Pulse Solutions Apparel also opened up on High Street. And then Amina’s over on Spruce Street. She’s also opened up. She has more services now than she did even though she was there before COVID. She's opened up more services. We have had activity in our district and our downtown where businesses are opening and coming in. We’re very lucky with that
DA: I know a lot of other art nonprofits, for instance, FestivALL in Charleston, they've implemented during COVID-19 a lot of virtual programs and events. Is that something you guys have ever considered in the past year or were you just focused more on getting back in person eventually like we are now with the Arts Walk?
BW: We have. We did discuss that. We discussed it quite a bit, but we actually were more interested in having the people come downtown and see what we have. Charleston and a lot of other places have had virtual events. Charleston's a little larger and it seemed to work for them. We just weren't sure it would work for our downtown. So, we decided that we would wait and see. We did have events throughout the town. If you come down and you bought something you posted it on our Facebook or Instagram page, then you got into a drawing for a prize. We ran that through the summer, and then we ran that through the holidays. So, we did have that event, but our events were more focused on bringing back the Arts Walk. The Arts Walk, in particular, because that's one that we knew we could social distance and require masks. We'll look at those as more people get vaccinated. And some of them we probably won't bring back until next year when it's fully vaccinated, as many people that want to be vaccinated.
DA: So, I have a question about maybe one of the groups that are going to be participating I saw on your website that Dancing Elephants Productions will be promoting a new show during Arts Walk. Could you tell us a little bit about that and give us a little insight on what it is and what we can expect?
BW: I have to tell you that you know you'll need to go to their different sites. We have 40 different artists participating, and I have not clicked on and looked at all the different artists. I have to tell you, as you know, I want to give this shout-out to Stephanie Swaim from Hoot and Howl. She's our promotions director and she's the one that posts all of the information about our other different artists. And I didn’t know if three people could have been on here. I thought I should have invited her because she's the one that's been posting. We all do different things for this event, and she's the one that's been working with the artists and posting on our Facebook page and Instagram page about the different artists who will be down here.
DA: For those of you that don't know I do have a little bit of information on them. Dancing Elephant Productions is a local theatrical company that's based in Morgantown. They provide assistance and financial development for local theaters and artists in the area and I believe they are going to be promoting their new show called ‘High Spirits’ at Arts Walk. I think it's scheduled to release later, maybe in September. I think that’s what it said on their website. But as you said, Barbara, they among many other groups will be there. Does Mainstream Morgantown have anything big on its horizon aside from the upcoming Arts Walk event?
BW: Well, yeah, we're going to have Arts Walk throughout every month on the second Saturday of the month from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. But we are working on other events that go on later on in the year. I've been working with the International Street Festival with their diversity week. And we are looking to, they're talking about bringing that back. And we've always been a partner with them for that. And we partnered with Hops on the Mon before COVID, back in 2019. And we've been talking with them about bringing that back because it wouldn't be until around the end of September because it goes with the football season. And so we are discussing those events with those organizations. And we'll see how things go. I'm not so sure that we'll have the International Street Fest. It’s more on the lines of Arts Walk. Hops on the Mon, we’re looking at having that and scaling it down and only selling a limited amount of tickets. That's what we've discussed. We'll just have to wait and see, you know, obviously, we will be having Easter. We all know that every time we have a holiday our numbers go up a little bit. So hopefully, that won't happen with this Easter with people being vaccinated. But we'll have to wait and see for that. So then we'll just have to wait and see for the summer when people start getting out and start having barbecues. It's just really a wait-and-see right now of how things go out through the summer.
DA: And could you explain maybe your outreach with WVU on like, for example, Arts Walk, or in what ways is WVU going to be represented in this Arts Walk? I've heard that the print club, maybe among others, will be participating.
BW: Yeah, the print club. They participate a good bit, and they will be presenting. They'll actually be at the Mills Group. WVU is always, the city, the county and WVU, has always been a huge supporter of Main Street Morgantown, monetary wise. But also when it comes to, like I said, we work with international street fest and Diversity Week at WVU. We worked with their parent’s club. We always had a fall Arts Walk during family weekend. So of course, we've worked with the parent’s club with that. And before COVID, that's where I got most of my volunteers through the service and learning center. Definitely, we work closely with WVU, the city and the county for a lot of our in-kind services, besides our monetary but are in-kind services also.
DA: Is there anything else you think that the viewers watching should know about Arts Walk or what to expect? Again, for everyone watching, it will take place on Saturday, April 10, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
BW: Well, I think that you know, just come down and enjoy, see what we have. Just check out all the different artists. You’d really be surprised what you can find at an Arts Walk and how talented the artists really are that come down and set up and make and sell. We're really strict about having it handmade, and so yeah, every little piece may not be handmade, but for the most part, it's handmade. Just to see the business and support them, the brick and mortar businesses that we have. And just enjoy. The important thing is to come down and enjoy the day, bring family, bring friends and just make a day of it.
DA: All right, I think that's all the time we have, but remember, everyone, that the Spring Arts Walk will be held on Saturday, April 10, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. You can also follow Main Street Morgantown on Instagram @mainstreetmorgantown. You can also follow the DA on Twitter and Instagram @dailyathenaeum. And don't forget to catch up on the latest news at thedaonline.com. It was great speaking with you, Barbara. Thank you.
BW: Thank you.