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[The Enthusiast]

For art lovers, the action’s on the night before First Friday

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Photo: Leila Navidi
Molly O'Donnell

Since Tony Hsieh and his team took over First Friday it has become an even bigger deal than it already was, with a food truck court, expanded tents for craftsmen and artists, more street performers and live musicians, and special events reminiscent of large festivals like Burning Man. And since First Friday happens every month, the fact that it always seems fresh is quite a feat.

Arguably, though, all this additional razzmatazz has shifted the focus away from the simple pleasure of quietly viewing art in Downtown’s many galleries. I don’t know about other art fans, but if I hit, say, Trifecta Gallery during First Friday, I sometimes feel like a veteran of war by the time I leave. Standing in front of a piece of art for three beats longer than the enthusiast behind you can be stressful in the bustling atmosphere. (If you don’t believe me, try idling at the ATM some time.) But as every lover of visual art can tell you, the longer you look at something, the more you get out of it.

Herein lies the rub: In theory First Friday is an enthusiast’s paradise; in practice it’s sensory overload.

This is, I suspect, why many of us are increasingly defecting to Preview Thursday. I’ve personally always favored the leisurely attitude of Preview Thursday—much less of a spectacle than First Friday—where art refugees can find a little quiet and a lot more time. I can get a glass of wine at Bar + Bistro or Artifice and amble from Trifecta to the CAC on up to Joseph Watson, and whatever’s open in the general vicinity, like Blackbird Studios. And even though Brett Wesley’s offerings don’t usually coincide with Preview Thursday, the building beckons and the installations are sometimes new to you. Emergency Arts galleries like TastySpace are further afield but worth the trip (just get the wine to go; I won’t tell).

On a recent Preview Thursday I was enjoying just such a scene, a sparsely populated room of well-lit looking, when I thought I’d check in with a few purveyors of art to see if anyone shared my opinion. Marty Walsh, owner of Trifecta, confessed to having had a hand in Preview Thursday for some of the reasons I’ve observed. “I started inviting people on the night before First Friday over seven years ago. It was my little secret to answer my regular customers’ complaints that they couldn’t park, think or enjoy the art on First Friday.”

While Walsh and her compatriots still proudly fly the First Friday flag, she observes that, “Nowadays First Friday has absolutely nothing to do with my gallery.” Surprisingly, though, she says, “the traffic that comes through the gallery is actually less than before the ‘new’ First Friday.” This probably has to do with the fact that attendees have more options than just an Arts Factory cruise. Whatever the reason, when it comes to tiny galleries, less is more, or, as Walsh puts it, “Preview Thursday is just a better art experience.”

Dana Satterwhite of TastySpace has a slightly different take, but echoes a lot of what Walsh observes. His gallery in Emergency Arts is a bit out of the loop (technically, it’s in the Entertainment—not the Arts—District). Yet the First Friday shuttle stops nearby, and TastySpace gets traffic, “a steady trickle of patrons to the Arts Factory’s deluge,” Satterwhite explains. For Emergency Arts galleries, Preview Thursday is still a fairly new concept, with some doors open and some closed. Galleries like TastySpace look forward to a building momentum that might eventually result in increased Preview Thursday traffic.

But even Satterwhite seems sincere when he quips, “Hopefully the traffic won’t be so overwhelming that we need to develop a Sneak Peek Wednesday or Try Out Tuesday.” Based on recent conversations and observations, it won’t happen anytime soon, which, thankfully, means there’s no end in sight for my art-viewing, wine-swilling ways.

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