Arts on Sunday to feature exhibits, bands and mored

About eight years ago, a cheeky arts organization popped up on a Sunday afternoon in the Downtown Arts District with about four vendors selling original arts and crafts. Calling itself Art for Art's Sake -- AFAS for short -- the organizing group quickly established itself as a vital part of the district with its Arts on Sunday exhibitions, sales and musical entertainment.

AFAS now has 316 registered members.

The 2014 edition of Arts on Sunday opens Sunday with a street full of exhibitors and a "Blues-a-Palooza" of three bands: the Twin City Buskers, The Low Counts, and Wezo and the Mofos. A bandstand will be set up at the intersection of Sixth and Trade streets. It will be held each Sunday in May and again in October.

In addition to Arts on Sunday, the group has three other ongoing projects: Red Dog Gallery, 606 N. Trade St.; the Unleashed Arts Center, 204 W. Sixth St.; and the Public Art Initiative, which appears as outdoor paintings, sculptures and installations throughout the district. The arts district comprises the area around Trade and Sixth streets. It extends from Fifth to Seventh streets and the fifth block of Liberty.

With its stated mission to "Build, celebrate and educate community through art," AFAS won the Downtown Winston Salem Partnership's Downtown Excellence Award in 2013.

John Jackson is the director of events for the Arts of Sunday program, and Harry Knabb, his father-in-law, is a president of the board of the volunteer-based nonprofit organization. It's a family affair for these guys. Knabb's wife, artist Julie Knabb, and his daughter, Kim Jackson, are also on the board.

"I'm there on Sunday from 9 am until it's over," John Jackson said. He makes sure that the artists are registered, have their credentials in order and a place to set up. He deals with traffic, getting security in place and other logistics. "It's becoming a well-oiled machine."

The art isn't judged or juried, but artists must go onto the AFAS website to register and establish that they are selling original artwork, not something they've picked up from a flea market.

"We wanted to create a platform for emerging artists," Harry Knabb said. "That's why we don't charge any booth fees; we don't take any commissions. It's for them to get experience as an artist showing their work.

"Nico Amortegui started out on the street with small paintings," Knabb said. "He didn't even have a table; he sold a piece for $150, went back home to Charlotte and told his wife: 'I think I can make money doing this.' Now he has work in Los Angeles and all over the place, and he's getting thousands of dollars for his stuff."

Amortegui agreed. "They were crucial in how I started. I did an Arts on Sunday three years ago, which was the first time that I had ever made artwork at all, or for sale, and I did so well that I decided to become an artist fulltime. After that, they gave me a chance to be in their gallery. ... They have been extremely supportive in every way. I am extremely grateful for that. I live in Charlotte, but it seems I spend more time in Winston than at home."

"The Arts on Sunday was our way of building community. The Public Art Initiative was a way to celebrate art. The Unleashed Arts Center is a way to educate," Knabb said. "The Red Dog Gallery also builds community. It's a nonprofit owned by AFAS."

Another artist, Dennis Wells, has work on display at Red Dog.

"I like it. It's a nice gallery. It has an eclectic mix. The other artists and the gallery associates are really nice," Wells said.

He hasn't sold anything yet but, "It's only been about a year, and I'm new to the area. I'm absolutely optimistic about selling there." He also works at the gallery as an associate a couple of times a month.

Foundation grants and donations pay the expenses, Knabb said. The nonprofit is called The AFAS Group to distinguish it from other AFAS organizations.

AFAS holds art classes and workshops at the Unleashed Arts Center. The Public Art Initiative consists of an "art tower," which displays 12 pieces of art on the corner of Sixth and Trade streets, decorated mannequins throughout the arts district, done by different artists, and Unleashed on the Green, an area across from Sixth amp; Vine that exhibits outdoor paintings. Knabb said that he thinks it's the only outdoor gallery in North Carolina. There have also been murals and painted rocking chairs.

"Our dream is to have Winston-Salem become the No. 1 arts magnet in the Southeast -- past Asheville, past Charleston," Knabb said.

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