After going dark for the first time in more than three years, First Friday is scheduled to return this week with new goals and ideas to grow the monthly arts festival.
“If you haven’t been to a First Friday, or haven’t been in a while, this is the one to go to,” says Charles Ressler, the spokesman for First Friday.
Along with the usual artist displays and a compilation of other activities, the event is setting up various interactive installations that focus on surrealism with the theme “Wonderland.”
First Friday has reached out to Las Vegas artists across the valley who have been tasked to curate the night with themed-pieces that capture the Wonderland spirit.
Designs include anything from Brock Nordstrom’s new media presentation called “The Most Beautiful Thing You’ve Never/Ever Seen” to Star Nursery creating a life-sized fairy garden.
It’s not just limited to visual arts.
The Kristef Brothers, a group featured on “America’s Got Talent,” are planning a Wonderlandesque routine playing Tweedledee and Tweedledum.
Other things to check out include Johnny Hansen’s recycled lumber project “Green Goddess,” Alison Mercado’s oil and colored pencil piece “All Eyes on Alice” and Dead Girls Robots mazed-inspired exhibit that pays homage to other surrealist artists.
Artist Justin Lepper is creating a 20-foot-tall, 16-color kaleidoscope that allows people to step into the device to see what it’s like to be inside a functioning kaleidoscope.
“I’m usually a painter by trade,” Lepper says. “But I got this idea one day and it kept growing. I’m honored to be featured.”
In the 16-foot long installation, he plans to have 24 panels of LED lights creating the effects of a kaleidoscope.
He also plans to use music to heighten the experience.
“We are still putting this together,” he says. “I have a lot people donating their time to help me pull this off.”
Along with a chance to have an installation, artists are also vying for a shot to win a $10,000-commissioned work for First Friday.
The first night back is part of the organization’s goal to change things up for the event.
Lepper, who has had his work in The Arts Factory 18 months, has heard the good and bad when it comes to First Friday.
From what he gathers, people are looking for different kinds of entertainment and more of it.
“That’s why I’m looking forward to this Friday,” he says. “I think installations being put together is going to give them exactly what they’re looking for. This will give them a newer, fresher variety.”
Organizers have been anticipating a moment like this for a while.
Since First Friday was taken over more than three years ago, it has snowballed into a different kind of event from its initial intent, Ressler says.
“People saw it as a huge party of underage drinking and pot smoking,” he says. “It was not family friendly. It wasn’t art focused.”
But that’s not what First Friday was supposed to be, he adds.
They have spent the past three years reshaping what coming to First Friday means.
“The event needs to get back to its roots,” Ressler says. “It should be a platform for artists to be able to showcase their works and grow.”
First Friday typically stretches through nine square blocks of downtown and features art galleries, food trucks, fire spinners, musicians, break dancers, craft vendors and alcohol booths. Ressler says the event averages about 30,000 people per month.
It usually comes with a theme that is represented with a couple of exhibits interwoven throughout the evening.
Ressler says the organizers have been looking for a chance to catch up on all the work that goes into the event.
When July was approaching — this year the event fell on Independence Day — they decided to go dark because of the holiday.
Even though First Friday wasn’t officially organized, artists such as Lepper still opened their galleries.
“I think it was still a phenomenal turnout,” he says.
With time to think about the future, Ressler says a few things have been decided about the event.
One main focus Ressler says the organizers are looking at is making First Friday more sustainable and environmentally friendly.
They have already implemented rules for food trucks not to use Styrofoam.
“If they are caught, first time is a warning,” he says. “If they are caught again, they are suspended. The third time, they are suspended indefinitely. We take this very seriously.”
One of the next tasks is to eliminate the use of more than 84,000 gallons of water each year.
Barrels of water are brought in each event to secure tents throughout the night.
“It’s a waste,” he says.
The simple fix is to use concrete blocks that hold the tents in place.
“It’s an immense amount of work,” he adds.
The next goal is to figure out how to eliminate the amount of diesel fuel it takes to power the event.
“For this, we are going to need sponsors to make this happen,” Ressler says. “We are looking at replacing this with solar power. We are looking at creative solutions.”
When thinking of First Friday, people always associate its common geographical location of the Arts District and surrounding Charleston Boulevard and Main Street.
“An immense amount of our attendance is in the Arts District,” Ressler says.
People also head to Fremont East for after-hours events, he adds.
In addition to promoting attendance and collaborating with the Fremont Street Experience, Ressler says the plan is to look at other downtown venues.
Starting in August, he says they are adding events at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health and The Smith Center for the Performing Arts, with the hope of growing First Friday in other parts of the downtown area.
“We will have everything from concert series to wine events,” he says.
Ressler says events at the new places will vary on an ongoing basis.
They plan to have shuttles available to move people to and from events.
“I think in time and through word of mouth, more and more people will hear about this,” he says.
Organizers are looking at the next 12 months for what First Friday will feature. The goal is for Las Vegas to become known for its art scene.
“I liken it to the Easter block of Berlin that became an important art scene,” he says. “With the right partnership, that’s possible here.”
Lepper says the fresher feel First Friday is aiming for could potentially help artists. Raising the status of the event would help some of the artists sell their works.
“You have some artists selling masterpieces for 100 bucks when they are worth far more,” he says.
Lepper says First Friday has provided many opportunities for any artist, whether it’s the 25-year-old who is just starting out selling merchandise out of a small booth or a more established artist setting up a gallery.
“It’s been a great experience,” he says.
Contact reporter Michael Lyle at email@example.com or 702-387-5201. Find him on Twitter: @mjlyle.