JOPLIN, Mo. —
Since the second year of its existence, Kristen Girard has missed only one Third Thursday.
The jeweler, who creates handmade jewelry under her business Kristin's Laboratory, has seen the crowds grow since that second year.
"It's a good idea," Girard said of the event, set to begin its seventh year. "I love the social aspect and how it shows off downtown."
Held every third Thursday between March and October, the event draws thousands to downtown Joplin for an art walk, music, performances and more. Main Street gets closed down usually from Second to Seventh streets, making room for stages, displays, activities and festivals.
As the event has grown, however, it has changed. Girard said that an event that used to feature mainly a path of galleries, each filled with artists showing their work, has become a monthly outdoor festival featuring crowds of people milling around outside but rarely coming in to see the art. Girard said her sales numbers have suffered because of it.
"Is it putting me out of business? No," Girard said. "It's affected me, though. While my sales haven't been nonexistent, they have been less. Why am I setting up if people aren't coming in?"
That concern has been voiced by several of the artists who have been involved in Third Thursday from the beginning, Girard said -- some of whom are not displaying their work at this year's event.
This year, Downtown Joplin Alliance, the group that now organizes and runs the event, is making changes to reflect those concerns and help out artists.
"The number of art galleries we have is expanding to 16," said Tricia Patton, director of the alliance. "And we are continuing to figure out how to let people know where those galleries are."
The plan includes a mix of better signage and working with business owners to find spaces for displays. Patton said two new businesses on Main Street -- Firehouse Pottery and RSVPaint -- will contribute to the amount of space for galleries available, and the alliance is working with artists and businesses to match up with each other for display.
Patton said the alliance is working on related challenges -- members are talking about how to spread people out during the event. While Third Thursday stretches across 21 city blocks, most people remain in the closed-off portion of Main Street.
"Before, we talked about how to get that traffic out of what we called Ôthe vortex,' which was really about the 400 and 500 blocks," Patton said. "Now people walk from one end to the other, so we're trying to figure out how to get them to walk to the Gryphon or to Joplin Avenue."