Editor’s note — This is the fourth article in a monthly series highlighting segments of the 18b Arts District and surrounding arts locations. To read more, visit viewnews.com.
First Friday, with its ever-changing layout, themes and activities, can be confusing and overwhelming, even for regular attendees. Many of the valley’s suburban residents might have never been to First Friday because they don’t have a clear idea of what’s what and where to go.
Charles Ressler, communications director for First Friday Foundation Las Vegas, wants to get the word out that the free monthly arts and culture event is family-friendly and easily accessible.
“If you haven’t been to a First Friday before, December is a great time to check it out,” Ressler said. “This one will be pretty magical.”
The event includes galleries, artists booths on closed-off streets, food trucks, street performers, a kids’ zone and more. First Friday also includes multiple stages and large-scale performance art events.
“It’s about making sure the experience is there for the attendees,” Ressler said. “We spend a lot of time thinking how we’re going to create unique, once-in-a-lifetime experiences every single month. Every month, we have a new theme, and we generally have them mapped out a year in advance.”
Even though the general themes are planned in advance, many of the details come together in the last days before First Friday. Much of the information about artists, music and special events is posted at firstfridaylasvegas.com the Friday before the event.
Good walking shoes are recommended for First Friday. Food and beverages are available from vendors, bars and restaurants. Restrooms are available for restaurant and bar patrons, and portable toilets are at several locations.
The event is scheduled from 5 to 11 p.m. in the 18b Arts District. Much of the activity is clustered around what organizers call the northern footprint, near The Arts Factory, 107 E. Charleston Blvd., and the southern footprint at the corner of Casino Center Boulevard and Colorado Avenue. Beyond the footprints, the official boundaries of the event may vary from month to month, depending on the needs of the organizers and the activities that are planned. Venues on the edges of the event may be open late on First Friday.
“We shifted things around four months ago,” Ressler said. “We moved the main stage and a lot of the food trucks to the parking lot at Art Square (1025 S. First St.), and we’re trying to make the southern footprint a place for cultural enrichment and family-friendly activities.”
The shift was driven by feedback that First Friday staff members received from community leaders and artists who felt that the art was getting lost, and it had begun to feel more like a party than an art walk. The move was designed to bring some of the louder and more exuberant action to Art Square and help the new businesses there establish themselves with the crowds. A side effect of the move was the loss of hundreds of parking spaces at an event where parking was already an issue.
“Parking is pretty rough on First Friday,” said Roz Knight, president of City of the World art gallery, 1229 S. Casino Center Blvd. “You have to get here pretty early to get a parking spot in the neighborhood. It’s good thing we have the shuttles.”
The shuttles, which run from 4:30 to 11:30 p.m., are what Ressler suggests, too. Shuttles run from the Clark County Government Center, 500 S. Grand Central Parkway, and the El Cortez, 600 Fremont St. Both drop passengers off at the Arts District hub at Colorado Avenue and Main Street.
“We contract with two companies,” Ressler said. “One has beautiful coaches that are full tour buses with the nice upholstery and all. The other option is the open-top buses. With those, you’re at eye level with a lot of the vintage Vegas signs. Some of the best pictures I’ve taken here have been from the open-top buses.”
The shuttles are often staffed with volunteers who can give riders an idea of what’s going on that particular First Friday, pass on some local history and answer questions. Shuttle stops are marked with A-frame signs.
From the Arts District hub, visitors can either walk north on Main Street, home to many galleries and antique stores, or east, directly into the southern footprint. Many Main Street businesses close before First Friday begins.
Streets along several blocks near the southern footprint are usually closed to vehicles, and the area comprises the majority of the outdoor art walk. Booths featuring local artists and organizations are usually set up in the middle of the street, and street performers are encouraged. Information booths are typically at the north and south footprints of the event.
“The southern footprint is where you’ll find the KidZone and Green Street, which highlights sustainable initiatives,” Ressler said. “That’s also where you’ll find the bazaar, which has more crafts than fine art.”
The area includes a few small homes converted for commercial use, and there are several small businesses and a few collective galleries at the southern footprint.
The north footprint includes The Arts Factory, a two-story collection of galleries, specialty shops and the Bar + Bistro, the most prominent sit-down restaurant and bar in the 18b Arts District. Booths are on the north and west sides of the building.
Boulder Avenue is typically closed to vehicles, and booths, food trucks and performance spaces can be found there. North of that is Art Square, one of the newest additions to the district. It houses galleries, shops, bars, a restaurant and the Art Square Theatre, home of the Cockroach Theatre.
As per the organizers’ plan, there is a little more foot traffic and louder activities in the north footprint.
“There are people who want that party feel and want to go to a main stage and dance, and they want to eat at amazing food trucks,” Ressler said. “The south part is a little more family-oriented, with cultural enrichment. We want everyone to enjoy themselves, no matter what they’re looking for.”
Contact Paradise/Downtown View reporter F. Andrew Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-4532.