When television news programs reported Sunday that First Friday, the monthly Downtown arts event, was taking a two-month hiatus, business owners in the Arts District went into damage control, sending announcements over Facebook stating that their shops, galleries and restaurants will be open on First Friday and events will go on as scheduled.
The stories were the result of a press release sent out by Whirlygig Inc., the First Friday non-profit group, which administers a portion of the monthly Downtown event and announced that First Friday would be canceled for August and September. But First Friday is celebrated throughout the Arts District and beyond, including galleries and shops on Commerce Street, Main Street and Charleston Boulevard (which includes the Arts Factory galleries). Gypsy Den, just down the street from Casino Center Boulevard and Colorado Avenue where the Whirlygig-supported First Friday events take place, will also remain open on First Friday.
The only changes to the event will be the street closures, artist tents, infrastructure and stages at the Whirlygig-organized area.
Business owners say the news reports could hurt their businesses on the biggest night of the month and that they’re frustrated that Whirlygig would announce a cancellation of two First Friday events, but not mention the rest of the Arts District’s First Friday happenings.
“First Friday Whirlygig has become only 10 percent of what goes on in the Arts District,” says Marty Walsh, owner of Trifecta Gallery in the Arts Factory. “First Friday goes from Commerce near Wyoming all the way to Emergency Arts and everywhere in between.”
Walsh says the decision to not mention the larger participation lacked community-mindedness by Whirlygig, an organization with an arts mission. Others, including Wes Myles, owner of the Arts Factory, says it was self-serving of Whirlygig. Some argue that it’s just part of an ongoing rift between business owners in the Arts District.
In response, Naomi Arin, Whirlygig member and First Friday co-founder, says the group has a responsibility to “not encourage people" to go to the Arts District during the First Friday hiatus.
“It is our fundamental obligation to make the event as safe as possible,” she says.
Thousands descend on the area each month for the one-night festival.Whirlygig works with the city of Las Vegas on street closures, pays insurance, pulls permits and handles the music stages and artist tents outside the Funk House. Arin says the event has become too big for just a couple of people to be running and that they need to work on streamlining the event and working with the city on how to keep it manageable and safe, something, she says, that should have taken place a few years ago.
“There are so many infrastructure expenses that so many people don’t understand. In most cities, businesses contribute a certain dollar amount each month to First Friday events,” she says. “That doesn’t happen here. The people who have benefited from First Friday for years are not contributing. Any business that wants to contribute to the success of First Friday, we welcome their checks.”
Some business owners have said that they are reluctant to contribute regularly because they say the money only goes toward the festival at Casino Center and Colorado Boulevard. Arin says that Whirlygig’s event provides free marketing for all those businesses that benefit from the thousands who come Downtown for First Friday.
Arin says she’s not sure what the monthly budget is for First Friday and Whirlygig president, Cindy Funkhouser, did not return calls by deadline.
Not everyone is concerned about the television news reports, however. If anything, the cancellation has brought a lot of attention to monthly event, Myles says, adding that as of Monday at noon, three different news stations had interviewed him about First Friday.
“We’re actually going to ramp it up even further because of this,” he says. “We’ve decided with all this press we’re getting that we’re going to cancel First Friday every month.”