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Art Walk crowds still unquantified, but does it matter?

By Emily Chu
Published: Tuesday, August 21, 2012, at 09:21AM
Courtesy of Art Walk

The crowds at Art Walk are a major contributor to its party atmosphere, but they've also drawn criticisms of their magnitude.

The Art Walk crowds have long been a topic in discussions surrounding the event. In the years since the monthly event's inception, one question has never been fully answered: how many people actually attend, and does this number even matter?

The crowds have been the subject of various criticisms. Locals have mixed feelings about the flood of people that takes over the bars and often parties in the street past midnight.

Brady Westwater, Downtown resident and activist, described his ideal Art Walk as "an enjoyable expedition" with a party atmosphere, but said the root of the crowding problem is congestion, not sheer numbers.

Westwater doesn't believe precisely quantifying the number of attendees will solve problems.

"The number of people is irrelevant. It's the crowding, and you can tell the crowding by looking," he said.

Neither the LAPD nor Art Walk coordinators officially keep count of how many people attend the event.

According to LAPD media relations rep. Richard French, crowd estimates come from the sponsors of any large event, not internal observations.

But Art Walk doesn't have distinct boundaries or checkpoints, which makes it difficult to track exact numbers of people.

Richard Schave is the founder of Art Walk; but he is no longer in charge of the event. He said knowing the number of attendees was always a priority for him, but he never got a successful count.

"When I turned Art Walk into a nonprofit, one of the first grants I wanted to write was one quantifying the number of people at major intersections," he said.

Schave argued that knowing the exact number of people is the difference between making vague estimates and hard decisions about crowd control.

"I don't know how many people are there. It's a lot. It's too many," he said.

Art Walk organizers have estimates based on the number of maps or pamphlets they hand out during the event and feedback they get from galleries about attendance rates -- but no concrete numbers. Qathryn Brehm, the director of operations for Art Walk, said they usually average between 20,000 and 35,000 attendees.

Joe Moller, the executive director of Art Walk, said that knowing the crowd size was important, but made note that there are other factors at hand as well.

"We want to understand our audience in as many ways as possible, including knowing each person that's here," he said, "But at this point, what we're focusing on with our limited funds is enhancing the experience."

Moller said Art Walk organizers frequently meet with the LAPD and LAFD to plan ahead for safety. He said he trusts these departments and their expertise in handling large crowds.

For now, Art Walk isn't looking into figuring out the exact number of attendees. Their estimates, which include a cushion of plus or minus 500 people, are sufficient for their current goals, Moller explained.

"What we're focusing on with our limited funds is enhancing the experience," he said, "Don't count the zebra's stripes. Enjoy them."

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