With the warm Mexican hospitality this resort is known for, Puerto Vallarta’s many fine art galleries invite you to explore them any time. But every week, you get the chance to make a special occasion of it by joining avid collectors and curious novices –residents and tourists alike– on what has developed over the past eleven years into the social and cultural backbone of our high season – The Old Town Art Walk held 6 - 10 pm on Wednesdays from late October 2008, thru late May of 2009. The only exceptions are during the weeks of Christmas and New Year's, when the walks will be held on Friday, December 26 and Friday, January 2, in lieu of the December 24th and 31st which both fall on Wednesdays this year.

One of Vallarta’s most popular perks – free, fun and frequently scheduled throughout the high season – with 16 distinctive downtown art houses host simultaneous art openings in the heart of historic Old Vallarta, none more than 16 blocks from any other and most congregated within six.

Speaking for myself, I rely on them to keep me abreast of what’s going on in our very vigorous local art scene, Vallarta having more galleries than anywhere else in Mexico, with the unsurprising exception of the world’s largest city. And since there are many of these memorable and different-every-time events this season and 16 galleries participating, I get a pretty comprehensive overview of the art available here, which I would otherwise have to work harder to discover.

On every Art Walk, each participating gallery showcases the latest works of a particular artist or collective. And what’s really nice is that the artists are almost always present and always approachable, so you can easily chat with them about what you’re seeing. Some are household names –internationally collected painters, sculptors, ceramists and more– who also exhibit in major art centers like New York and San Francisco, but are sold at lower prices here. Others are talented rising stars from several countries, but primarily Mexico.

The old saying, “Wherever you go, it’s the people who make the place,” will never be truer than here in Vallarta, where folks are incredibly friendly, including the gallery owners, who welcome everyone as if to the home of a friend who just happens to collect lots of really good art. Most gallery owners are long-time Vallarta residents, and all are highly knowledgeable about the genres they represent and about culture in general, and they will gladly answer any questions you may have in English or Spanish. Perhaps most reassuring of all, you feel absolutely zero pressure to buy art on these evenings because over the years they’ve learned that the real buyers will return the next day or the day after to take care of business.

So, feel free to pop into these galleries even if you’re not currently in the market for art. Perhaps if there were criteria for attending, they would include having a sincere appreciation for beauty and its creative manifestations, a desire to feel a part of the community and a sense of adventure. Personally, I’ve always loved nothing more than to walk down a street and not know what I’ll find when I turn the corner. And while the Art Walks are scheduled far enough in advance to make it easy to make your plans around them, you can never foresee some of the amazing things that happen on these exciting evenings.

Take just one such night, October 27, 2004 for example, the much-anticipated first Art Walk of the season. Within those four hours, I hobnobbed with the mayor and his wife when she cut the inaugural ribbon at Galeria Corona; watched lively fashion shows and dance performances in the street in front of that gallery, closed to traffic for the night and transformed into an al fresco restaurant, runway and stage (which explains all the gorgeous women in high heels and bikinis I saw passing by Xitomates during dinner there earlier); caught the best part of a lunar eclipse from a Galeria Pacifico window; got an autographed copy of a tome by a fascinating Vallarta character and good buddy of director John Huston at Galeria Uno; had a tour of the fabulously sophisticated home of Galeria Corsica’s owners and now also its second location; and got lots of impromptu hugs from newly returned snowbirds thrilled to be back in Vallarta for the winter.

The process of moving between the various art houses, getting a taste of art styles and media –delicate, handmade ceramics from a tiny village at one, bronze sculptures worthy of Mexico City’s Museum of Modern Art at another– is akin to that of a progressive dinner, the difference being that this tour of the plastic arts is self-directed and flexible. You call the shots when it comes to the route you take, your pacing and when to call it a night. Technically it would be possible to visit all Art Walk Association galleries in four hours, allowing for strolling time and spending about 10 minutes at each. But this is Mexico, where life is lived in the now and spontaneity is a primary value. So, how many galleries you visit and how long you stay at any of them is entirely your decision.

Besides, El Centro has so many intriguing diversions, especially during these events, when there are always other businesses offering something special to capture some of the passing parade en route between galleries. And what fun it is to roam our atmospheric cobblestone streets on such a stimulating mission, making a mental note of enticing shops, restaurants and bars to check out later and conveying helpful tips with passing art walkers like, “Hurry up and get to Galeria AL because they’ve got tamales and mariachis!”

A camaraderie develops effortlessly between attendees at these overtly social events, everyone making the most of the opportunity to tap into the latest buzz around town and plan to get together with friends old and new, while enjoying the freely flowing and free of charge libations generously provided.

The only guide you need, the Viejo Vallarta Old Town Art Walk map outlining this season’s cocktail exhibitions and where to find them, can be picked up free of charge at the City Hall tourist office or at any of the participating galleries.

And remember to watch local media for information about additional free art walks and art openings taking place around town, especially in Marina Vallarta and the south side of El Centro. Some of our local galleries opt not to be a part of organized events, instead hosting individual cocktail openings that you are equally encouraged to attend.