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Alcohol laws strictly enforced at SLO Art After Dark after incident with minors

A patron views paintings at an Art After Dark stop. Organizers of the program are making sure venues that aren’t licensed to serve alcohol are complying with the law.
A patron views paintings at an Art After Dark stop. Organizers of the program are making sure venues that aren’t licensed to serve alcohol are complying with the law. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Those eager to sip a glass of wine in downtown San Luis Obispo as part of the monthly Art After Dark event now may have fewer places to visit.

Event organizers have contacted all participating venues to ensure they don’t serve alcohol unless they’re properly licensed, after police observed alcohol being served to minors in February.

The San Luis Obispo Police Department and the nonprofit Arts Obispo, which operates the program from 6 to 9 p.m. the first Friday of each month, have worked together to make sure arts venues obey alcohol laws, said Angela Tahti, Arts Obispo’s executive director.

No penalties or fines were issued in connection with the February incident or any other violations. The Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control also monitors the event, Tahti said.

Tahti said she’s not sure how many venues may have violated alcohol regulations.

About 1,000 to 2,000 people attend each Art After Dark, which spotlights the work of local, national and international artists in galleries and nontraditional venues such as restaurants, boutiques, jewelry stores and salons in the downtown area.

Our energy is to remain behind a program that has been working for the business community and artistic community for many years. We want to keep everybody out of harm’s way.

Angela Tahti, Arts Obispo’s executive director

It has been common practice for participants to check out the artwork and drink a glass of wine or beer at the venues, encouraging a social, community atmosphere.

“As long as the Art After Dark program has been in effect, so has the requirement that participating venues only serve alcohol as properly permitted,” Tahti said. “In our agreements with participating venues, we’ve worked together to strengthen the language (to ensure compliance). We’ve also sent emails and called each venue and made sure to talk it through with them.”

The number of participating venues fluctuate each month — typically from about 20 to 35. This month, 33 sites were signed on to host exhibitions.

Some Art After Dark venues have alcohol permits — including Foremost Wine Company, SLO Provisions and HumanKind Fair Trade — and will continue offering alcohol, Tahti said.

“Eateries and bars are all along the route,” Tahti said. “Art and wine have gone together for thousands of years. This is not a deal breaker for Art After Dark.”

We don’t serve any alcohol, but from the number and diversity of visitors we’ve attracted from Art After Dark, this has been a transformational experience. We’ve been around for 40 years, and we didn’t see this kind of increased interest until Art After Dark.

James Papp, president of the Friends of the Jack House

James Papp, president of Friends of the Jack House, said the historic Jack House and Gardens on Marsh Street has doubled its annual attendance from about 1,000 to 2,000 people because of exposure from its participation in Art After Dark. They started participating in January 2016.

“We don’t serve any alcohol, but from the number and diversity of visitors we’ve attracted from Art After Dark, this has been a transformational experience,” Papp said. “We’ve been around for 40 years, and we didn’t see this kind of increased interest until Art After Dark.”

Refreshments such as nonalcoholic ciders and mineral drinks still may be served at all locations, according to Tahti.

“Our energy is to remain behind a program that has been working for the business community and artistic community for many years,” Tahti said. “We want to keep everybody out of harm’s way.”

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