Unstoppable Art Scene: First Friday goes on

One month down, another to go.

Despite the dramatic lead-up to First Friday, the Arts District celebration chugged along without a hitch Aug. 5.

Sure, the crowd wasn’t as large, but people still ventured around 18b to look at art and listen to music.

A few confused souls wandered aimlessly around South Casino Center Boulevard and East Colorado Avenue, their faces awash with puzzled expressions as they stared at the empty intersection.

No stages. No fences. No food trucks — those were scattered elsewhere.

That didn’t stop teens sporting multi-colored bangs and clutching skateboards from surveying the area. As the night wore on, more congregated near the Funk House, 1228 S. Casino Center Blvd., to watch a few street musicians.

Traffic flowed along the pulsing Charleston Boulevard vein. Streets remained open after Whirlygig Inc., the nonprofit founded in 2002 responsible for getting permits, insurance, fencing, lighting and security for the First Friday Las Vegas festival portion of the event, announced in mid-July that it would be taking a two-month hiatus. Organizers said the monthly event, which draws 5,000 to 10,000 people, needed to be revamped because of strained funding.

The announcement sent a shock wave through the artistic community as business owners rushed to send a message to the public that they were still open, despite the hiatus. Gallery owners and artists bickered among themselves about how to collectively promote the Arts District. This generated lengthy Facebook discussions about how poorly communicated the hiatus was — television news reports were among the first to disseminate the information — and how it would affect 18b’s movers and shakers.

But in the end, those tummy butterflies didn’t matter. People didn’t want to talk about event politics. They wanted to talk about art.

Marty Walsh, owner of Trifecta Gallery inside the Arts Factory, 107 E. Charleston Blvd., flittered about her gallery showcasing pieces for the "Safewalls" exhibit, an art project by Cirque du Soleil.

She flinched when asked about how the Arts District event might be affected by the street festival’s absence.

"It’s status quo for me," Walsh said. "I’ve always paddled my own canoe. I’m just watching people spazz out around me. The more drama people bring to it, the more dramatic it will be."

A few police cruisers drove sleepily through the area. Some officers rode bicycles. Others patrolled the beat on foot. Police presence was felt despite officers from Metropolitan Police Department’s special events section not being staffed for the event. Las Vegas marshals also patrolled the area.

They ignored jaywalkers and sidewalk musicians.

A group of rowdy teenagers went unnoticed by police for several minutes as they threw fireworks, specifically Whipper Snappers, at passersby. One girl was hit in the lower back.

Gina Boschetto, 15, sat with her legs outstretched on the sidewalk not far from the group at South Casino Center Boulevard. She has been coming to the event since May and wanted to check out the vendors and bands.

Gina said she didn’t like that the event wasn’t fenced in anymore, citing safety issues.

"I’m constantly going from side to side, and watching for cars isn’t fun," she said.

Parking didn’t seem to be a problem for attendees. Portable toilets were scarce, but they were around.

Giant satellite trucks from the valley’s TV news stations circled around like hawks — paying more attention to the event.

The intersection of East Imperial Avenue and Third Street slightly resembled First Friday Las Vegas, with its orange cones and cordoned off-streets. Vendors camped along the sidewalk.

It was dubbed First Friday South.

Derek Stonebarger, owner of Theatre7, 1406 S. Third St., was the mastermind behind the event and chipped in his own money, about $1,000, to get the city to close down the area. It ruffled feathers as some gallery owners questioned why he didn’t donate the money to Whirlygig.

"We’ve never been part of your club, anyway," Stonebarger said. "Not everybody has been included."

He listed galleries and other businesses not appearing on the event’s website, firstfriday-lasvegas.org, or the new 18b phone app.

"We are all a part of the Arts District," Stonebarger said. "Having one person speak for us is a dictatorship that does not work. Saying that it’s closed hurt everybody and was damaging to businesses."

He suggested creating an arts council where different areas of the Arts District, which has a sweeping presence from Las Vegas Boulevard and Gass Avenue through Charleston Boulevard and south toward Wyoming Avenue and Commerce Street, are represented in a ward-esque manner to get more voices involved in event decision-making.

It’s unclear how the event might change upon Whirlygig’s return in time for the ninth anniversary.

" This is long term planning," wrote Whirlygig co-founder Cindy Funkhouser in an email last month to View Neighborhood Newspapers. "Attendees may not notice an immediate difference in the ninth anniversary event in October. It will show over time with sustainability and quality of the event."

Contact Downtown and North Las Vegas View reporter Kristi Jourdan at kjourdan@viewnews.com or 383-0492.

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