The Incredible Shrinking First Friday

All the art vendors, all the street food … half the space. Can it work?

Map by Jon Estrada

Map by Jon Estrada

When the First Friday festival takes over the streets of the Arts District this week, it will do so on a footprint reduced by more than half. And although it doesn’t look promising at first blush, this smaller layout might do First Friday some much-needed good, says First Friday’s managing partner Joey Vanas.

“We hope that doing this will draw new people, new attention and new energy,” Vanas says.

Beginning June 5, First Friday will be staged in the area immediately surrounding the Arts Factory and Art Square complexes, bordered by Charleston Boulevard, Main Street, Coolidge Avenue and Casino Center Boulevard. Art vendors will set up their stands in the parking lot of Art Square and on First Street; the food trucks be in vacant lots just north of Coolidge and on the corner of Casino Center and Coolidge (the latter near a performance stage); the First Street “sculpture park” will be a mini-rave; and Coolidge will host the popular “kids zone.”

Vanas calls the new footprint “less linear and more circular,” noting that it’s an arrangement that nightclub-savvy Las Vegas already knows well: You can do your lap(s) and move on, feeling like you’ve seen it all. And it doesn’t hurt that the new layout saves First Friday significant money on street closures while simultaneously opening up a lot of much-needed parking.

Curtis Joe Walker, owner of popular 18b gallery Photo Bang Bang, lauded the new strategy in a recent Facebook post. “The upsides I see are an increased density of activity and people around a tight central core,” he wrote. “Neighborhood galleries and businesses that participate by remaining open become jumping-off points for visitors to First Friday events.”

In other words, people who want to see the art at Photo Bang Bang, Blackbird Studios and the like now have a chance of parking near those venues. And Vanas says he’s hopeful that this move will encourage more businesses to hold their own First Friday events: “The more things happen on private property, the more longevity First Friday has.” (Ironically, that’s the only mistake First Friday is making this month, says Photo Bang Bang’s Walker: “It sucks this was announced without enough notice to pull individual permits for special events at our spots.”)

Ultimately, Vanas hopes the new footprint will allow First Friday’s management—full disclosure: Wendoh Media, which owns this magazine, also owns First Friday—to transform into something more akin to a cheerleader. “We want to be the central marketing platform of First Friday,” he says, “not the sole producer and programmer.”

Vegas Seven