The annual Montana Avenue Art Walk returns to Santa Monica this year, July 28, bringing change in its size and giving merchants more creative freedom in an effort to expand the event to festival-size and attract more visitors.

For the uninitiated, the Montana Avenue Art Walk is just what it sounds like: a walk around Montana Avenue, supporting local artists and their work as well as merchants along the street. It’s a ten block stretch with typically around 150 shops participating. It has traditionally been held during a weekday evening.

While the Art Walk hasn’t changed much since its inception, this year, Montana Avenue Merchants Association (MAMA) president Ryan Ole Hass wanted to revamp the event.

Hass and MAMA associates crowdsourced feedback, talking to businesses along Montana and participants at the Art Walk as well, an effort to gauge what was going well at the event and what wasn’t.

According to Hass, merchants said some literally couldn’t afford to stay open, working employees longer hours for an event where they may not even make a profit.

Additionally, out-of-town employees suffered a long work day and late commute home.

Participants took umbrage with the day and time of the annual event, some parents were uncomfortable with the late time on a work day (finding babysitters and hoping the kids are OK at home were big issues), the older Santa Monica crowd didn’t like activities “when the light’s not out,” and artists and musicians did not want to make a late night commute back to places like WeHo or the Valley.

“The scope of the event has changed,” Hass said in a phone call with the Daily Press. “So, this will be our first time doing it differently.”

To remedy concerns, Hass and MAMA have placed the event during a weekend, stretching the hours from 10 a.m. – 9 p.m. and giving the businesses involved in the Art Walk complete autonomy in how they operate during the day.

The autonomy gives the event a manic, free-flowing energy: one storefront could have artists and a DJ, another could have an ornate window display with employees serving hors-d’oeuvres.

In changing the Art Walk to a larger event in a tourist destination city, Hass is hopeful to boost attendance and someday turn the event into a full-fledged festival.

“Merchants provide everything they want and we provide 7-10 musical acts to be scattered throughout Montana Avenue. It’s a kind of mini version of Summer Soulstice. They’ve done such an amazing job there and Montana Avenue wants to do something similar but different.”

Hass says MAMA has been working diligently with the city to see if such a change to the Art Walk would be possible (Hass says there is some movement, albeit slow). Whether that idea comes to fruition, Hass says the most important thing is for Art Walk attendees to have fun at the event and in the city.

“We want more people on Montana and at the event. We want someone from Santa Monica or outside of Santa Monica to come by for brunch, hang around at the event all day, and have dinner or enjoy what the city can offer. That’s the dream.”

The Montana Art Walk takes place Saturday, July 28 from 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.

angel@smdp.com