First Friday playing up art more than party in August

Artists, rejoice.

The First Friday that you knew and loved, a First Friday where art is the focus and everything else is gravy? It’s back. At least for the month of August.

Organizers have heard the feedback about how the 10-year-old event has shifted away from its original purpose: to draw people to the Arts District.

And they have decided to change the way they plan the monthly event by involving the art community more than before, First Friday spokesman Charles Ressler says.

August’s event will feature a giant art installation, “antARTica,” a frosty, winter wonderland, that will take up almost a city block on Casino Center Boulevard, from Charleston Boulevard to Colorado Avenue.

There will still be food and music but they will be south of Charleston. Fifteen food trucks will be near the Arts Factory and five will be at Casino Center and California Street, Ressler says.

The art will be the focus of August’s event, with galleries showcasing artists’ work throughout the Arts District.

“I think ultimately we’re doing our very best to listen,” Ressler says. “We continuously say that this event belongs to the community. The deeper and deeper we get into it the more we have to explore what that means, and get people involved.”

The First Friday Foundation, part of Tony Hsieh’s Downtown Project, took over First Friday from its creators in 2011. Although the event had struggled in recent years to solve a variety of problems, including restrictions imposed by the city, crowd control and parking, the shift in ownership raised a new set of issues.

Many gallery owners and First Friday fans thought the art had been pushed aside in favor of the party.

“I think we can call it an olive branch to the arts community,” Michele Quinn, co-president of the Contemporary Arts Center, says of August’s First Friday.

She has heard from many in the arts community who believe that First Friday has all but ignored downtown artists. Although some have set up tents to sell their art and crafts, many vendors aren’t based downtown. And the whole reason for First Friday was to showcase the downtown art scene.

“I wouldn’t call it a 180,” Ressler says. “It was a call to action from the community or from some people in the community.”

The foundation’s belief, Ressler adds, is that “we can’t make everyone happy every month but we can make everyone happy over the course of 12 months.”

The plan is to vary offerings every month.

At “antARTica,” there will be various points of entry where guests can take guided tours. It will be an immersive exhibit so they’re not releasing too many details. However, there might be penguins and 3-D perspective painting.

A map will be handed out, highlighting participating galleries, Ressler says. There won’t be a Kids Zone in August.

“It’s all about exploration and finding new things you didn’t know were there,” he says.

Contact reporter Sonya Padgett at spadgett@review journal.com or 702-380-4564. Follow @StripSonya on Twitter.