Joey Vanas, Managing Partner, First Friday

12 to watch in 2012

Joey Vanas had a vision at Burning Man, and with the help of Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, he’s ready to implement that vision at First Friday.
Photo: Christopher DeVargas

When Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh approached Joey Vanas about teaming up to purchase the monthly First Friday event, Vanas’ first question was, “Why?” It was a financial black hole that would take 75 percent of the event planner’s time.

Vanas’ epiphany came three weeks later at Burning Man, when Hsieh emailed him for a final answer. Vanas grabbed a chair, sat on the playa and watched a community build as the sun set. “I get it now,” Vanas realized, then emailed Hsieh back with, “We’ve got to do this.”

“The reason we’re doing First Friday is because I went to Burning Man this year for the first time,” Vanas says. “Those guys have nailed community like nobody else. We’re trying to figure out how to rebuild a city. These guys build a city in a week every year. The only way you can do that is through cooperation, pride and ownership.”

Vanas, now managing partner of First Friday, sees himself as a facilitator for that same kind of cooperation, which he says can help turn the area that hosts Downtown’s monthly art event into an everyday destination.

He and his First Friday LLC team are working to secure a Downtown office with a gallery and information center that will spotlight the history of the Arts District and launch golf cart gallery tours of the area. Additionally, they are working to bring in a giant public sculpture and have a working relationship with the founders of Burning Man. Vanas is trying to bring more galleries into the area and develop artist-in-residence programs.

Still, no money. They’re spending $40,000 a month, but hoping new casino sponsors and a new beer garden (to be added in March) will help. Media alerts will soon hit other cities in the Southwest to attract outside buyers to the event.

“The really exciting part is conversing with interesting people who have a long and vested interest in Downtown and the arts,” Vanas says. “It’s great to be in the middle of great ideas.”

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