As We See It

First Friday returns, smaller and seeking community support

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While First Friday is shrinking its footprint, organizers are encouraging attendees to hit the galleries in nearby spots like the Arts Factory and Art Square.
Photo: L.E. Baskow

After three months without a First Friday festival, Las Vegas will see the return of the monthly arts and culture celebration in February as a downsized version of its former self. The upcoming fest, themed “Back to Our Future,” will focus on community involvement and shifting event-planning responsibilities to business and gallery owners.

Since going dark in October, Executive Director of the First Friday Foundation Joey Vanas says the hiatus served as an extended brainstorming session for the new nonprofit. In 2011, the for-profit First Friday Las Vegas LLC, spearheaded by investors including Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, purchased all assets from nonprofit Whirlygig, the original operator of First Friday. The LLC donated those assets to the First Friday Foundation, a 501(c)(3), in the summer of 2015.

“We had a lot of figuring out to do, putting together a board of 15 people and getting them mobilized and organized,” Vanas says. The foundation also focused on fundraising and sponsorships, which will fuel the event going forward.

As for the festival’s downsizing, Vanas hopes that more people will want to create “activations” or miniature events on their own in absence of a larger footprint. He added that the new approach could bring in new perspectives and motivate engagement in the community. “It can be someone on their private property taking one of the lots there and having a couple of food trucks and some art vendors that they display on their property,” he says, adding that the festival will be more sustainable “when there’s different activators doing different things versus one organization or group doing the majority of the heavy lifting.”

An example of these activations: the popular space at Colorado Avenue from Casino Center to Third Street will be closed to vehicles on February 5 and open to foot-traffic only—but it’s not part of the festival landscape. The official footprint includes the ArtWalk at Casino Center and Art Way near the Arts Factory, a KidZone at Boulder Plaza, east of the intersection at Boulder Avenue and First Street, and the Dance DepArtment at First Street just north of Coolidge.

“The idea is to shrink down and shrink down and shrink down the amount of area that we actually permit and produce,” Vanas says. “The heavy lifting costs come in when you start closing several blocks of streets and running power grids for hundreds of feet in every direction and more power and cables and generators, et cetera. If there are things happening all around, but the responsibility isn’t all on the First Friday organization to pay for everything and to produce everything, then it becomes a more sustainable model.”

Founder of First Friday, foundation board member and Funk House owner Cindy Funkhouser agrees. “It pretty much has to be downsized. It’s one of the reasons the nonprofit portion took over. The cost of doing the full footprint is huge, and there was never a break-even point,” Funkhouser says, though there are still plans to make the May and October editions “full-footprint” festivals. “We’ll be trying to get the community more involved, to take responsibility for [the festival],” Funkhouser adds. “It doesn’t mean they’re irresponsible, it means if they want to close just their portion of the street they will have to apply to the city for a permit, but it’ll be just their little thing.”

Equally important to street activations is community support. “We still need people to come down,” Funkhouser says.

Different from previous First Friday incarnations, artists will now only be able to show their art for two months in a row, after which they will have to sit out for a month, a strategy that Vanas says will “get more variety and keep it fresh on the art side.” A committee within the 18b Neighborhood Association, co-chaired by Marlene Reid and Nancy Higgins, is overseeing the festival’s art curation.

First Friday is currently accepting applications for artists, food vendors, volunteers and sponsors at fflv.org.

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Leslie Ventura is a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly and Industry Weekly. She’s picked the brains of rock stars ...

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