Posts tagged ‘first friday’

Growing Up Friday: First Friday thaws out, but is it ready to spring into the future?

April 10th, 2006

Arts Factory Las Vegas

The sun lingered above the horizon as the inaugural First Friday of spring 2006 kicked off, dozens of people already gathering downtown by 6 p.m.

Cold weather might have cut into the numbers over the last three months, but Vegas Valley’s largest monthly arts festival saw a return to stronger numbers with the milder temperatures.

Casino Center Boulevard, once again, was shut off to through-traffic as far north as Charleston, a sign that the festival’s organizer, Whirlygig, Inc., expected a greater influx of patrons and vendors than in the earlier months of the year, where barricades were pushed up as far south as California Street.

As usual, the coordination of gallery exhibit openings was poor, with too many receptions taking place all at once on First Friday. Yes, this is the best time to get a maximum number of people to the galleries downtown. But there are four to five Fridays a month, a fact that gallery owners might want to take note of if they want to increase foot traffic into their venues on the other 29-30 days per month.

The over-scheduling was evident in places like DUST Gallery, where a new exhibit by Matty Byloos, called “Wordless Chorus,” saw few bodies early in the evening even though hundreds already gathered half a block away near the Casino Center Boulevard/Colorado Street corridor street vendors.

Over at the Commerce Street Studios – within walking distance of the First Friday epicenter but by no means close – experienced low foot traffic for its many independent galleries.

By contrast, the Arts Factory saw the usual overrepresentation of bodies, with a juried show at the soon-to-be-relocated Contemporary Arts Collective gallery, as well as new exhibits in the Trifecta and Wardle galleries.

Zombie Jesus by Brian HenryUpstairs at capital h, popular mixed-media artist Brian Henry showed his second annual “Zombie Jesus” exhibit, a collection of distorted images and representations of the Messiah in honor of that Pagan-Christian holiday with the egg-laying bunnies. It was a stark – and interesting – departure from Henry’s usual works, which tend to lean toward iconic socio-political commentary. Of course, there is much to be read into these works, as well, including an acrylic, bas-relief version of the “Last Supper” entitled “First Supper,” with garish splotches of blood-red paint covering the gaping mouths of that famous supper table’s inhabitants.

Outside the Arts Factory, new murals adorned the west side of the aging building, freshly painted by graffiti artists, who finished their colorful works as patrons gathered and watched. The influence of urban hip-hop culture on the growing arts scene in general – and the Arts District in specific – was more evident on this First Friday than perhaps any other.

Urban muralists also created vivid spray-painted emblems on a wall across from the Arts Factory, while directly behind the building on its north side, MCs and DJs threw down beats and rhymes for the teeming masses. Directly inside was the Five Finger Miscount gallery, where the esoteric works of KD Matheson shared space with the hip-hop-influenced works of Iceberg Slick.

Add to this the breakdancers that regularly entertain passersby on Casino Center Boulevard and the permanent residence of former graffiti artist Dray across from the Funk House, and there is no doubt that hip-hop culture is playing a major role in the development of the downtown art scene in Vegas.

Flashback to just three years ago, however, and you realize how far we’ve come. It was only 2003 when Dray’s exhibit at the Winchester Community Center, “Wet Paint,” caused a stir among the “established” art patronage.

“It was a clear case of someone’s ignorance about what I was doing with graffiti, blown out of proportion,” Dray said in a 2003 interview. “The graffiti influenced work had an appeal on young and old. A retired doctor and an executive from the Mandalay Bay bought paintings from that show.”

That year, Dray banded together with Iceberg Slick and Vezun to form Five Finger Miscount, which produced subsequent shows at Dirk Vermin’s now-defunct Gallery Au Go-Go. The success of these shows eventually allowed the comic and graffiti creators to make the leap into the “mainstream” art scene, which was just starting to experience a rebirth thanks to the small, but growing, influence of First Friday.

As Las Vegas becomes more urbanized – speaking to density and lifestyle, not the influence of hip-hop culture – and the diversity of the downtown Arts District reflects those changes, what will the future socio-cultural makeup of downtown – and of the art scene – look like?

The densest glut of small-scale music venues, art galleries and antique shops are already downtown, as are government services, attorneys and mass transportation facilities. The groundwork for an urban core has been laid, but will realistically priced residences and convenient services such as grocery and drug stores fill in their final pieces of the puzzle to make this picture come together?

It seems that, despite the best efforts of private citizens and public administrators, only time can truly tell.