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A ragtag group of about 80 people snakes along 7th Street NW downtown in the early evening, filing two by two through the glass doors of No. 406. Swank young suits, corduroy-clad students, and bespectacled artists push up the stairs to the building’s six commercial art galleries. Leading the procession is Anne Corbett, project director of the Downtown Arts Committee, who announces that Scott Habes, a Corcoran School exhibition director and leader of this gallery crawl, awaits them on the second floor.

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Corbett has been shuttling budding arts patrons from gallery to gallery on the third Thursday of each month since December, when the Downtown Business Improvement District (BID) began promoting Third Thursdays, open houses for downtown galleries similar to First Fridays at Dupont Circle galleries. Before then, Third Thursdays were only occasional collective openings confined mainly to the 406 7th complex and attended by a handful of artists and patrons.

Now the event has become an unlikely collaboration among downtown arts and business honchos. Ideas for events like Third Thursdays were proposed more than a year ago by an arts task force formed to boost cultural traffic in downtown’s eastern end. The Downtown BID people got involved when gallery owner Cheryl Numark and WPACorcoran’s Nadine Gabai-Botero asked them for promotional help last summer. The pitch, says Gabai-Botero, “was easy” because arts promotion was something the BID already wanted to do. A cash injection from First National Bank of Maryland helped the BID unleash a flurry of fliers, postcards, and Web promos to attract a new crowd.

The BID’s expanded Third Thursday programming includes commercial galleries as well as the Goethe Institute and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American Art. A multimedia group show of 45 artists at Touchstone Gallery held the crowd longer than planned, prompting Corbett’s firm reminder: “If you’re on the tour, please keep moving!”—Jessica Dawson