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Santa Barbara’s Experiment Weekend Draws a Crowd

Release Date: April 21,2019

Art Under the 101 and Pedestrian Corridor Bring Hundreds Downtown

Skyler De Paoli - Santa Barbara Independent - Sunday, April 21, 2019

Photo: Sklyer DePaoli Experiment Weekend drew hundreds to the 101 underpass at State Street on Friday night.

As rents rise and online corporations grow, State Street businesses have suffered the consequences, causing city leaders to brainstorm new ways to get people out and invigorate commerce. What started as a unique approach from City Hall administrator Nina Johnson ended in a light-hearted event shared by the Santa Barbara community and visitors alike, as the State Street underpass witnessed an overwhelming increase in pedestrians this weekend.

Photo: Skyler DePaoli

Artists and deejays kicked off the event dubbed “Experiment Weekend” on Friday, April 19 as darkness fell, with eclectic videos projected onto the tunnel walls and music to supplement the vibe. Combining the popularity of events like Fiesta and Summer Solstice with the recent growth and success of the Funk Zone, Experiment Weekend sought to use the lower-State underpass to bring more visitors downtown.

With a projection on either entrance to proclaim the event, hundreds of people gathered beneath Highway 101 to see what the excitement was all about. The hubbub of laughter and conversation arose from the crowd making themselves comfortable in the unlikely central location. The effect spilled up the street, as restaurants experienced long lines of people out the door.

Photo: Skyler DePaoliSanta Barbara came out to play in the street during the city-sponsored Experiment Weekend.

Saturday’s events, which lasted from noon to 10 p.m., prohibited vehicles on the two blocks of State Street between Gutierrez and Cota, just beyond the overpass. Visitors casually walked along the temporary pedestrian corridor, enjoying live music, basketball, a food truck, a Ping-Pong table, dance performances, outdoor seating, and an evening wine and beer garden.

In addition to accomplishing its mission, the weekend proved to unite the community in a low-key atmosphere previously unexperienced in downtown events, sans automobiles. “This is what we’ve needed,” said one Santa Barbaran, noting the success of other cities that have made pedestrians a priority in attracting business. Despite worry among some councilmembers about adding traffic to an already-busy Easter weekend, the overpass celebration was an event for and by Santa Barbara, and one many attendees said they were excited to see more of in the future.