New year, new beginning for First Friday
CARBONDALE, Colorado – Majid Kahhak is well aware that today is the first Friday, not only of January, but also of the new year. “The theme this time is ‘New Beginnings,'” said the owner of Kahhak Fine Arts and School on Carbondale’s Main Street. For years, Kahhak has taken an active role in the town’s First Fridays – specially designated evenings held on the first Friday of every month. Because the workday week is at an end, First Fridays has a relaxed, after-hours atmosphere. Galleries, retailers, nonprofits and shops stay open a bit later with art openings, special activities and sales. As a result, bars and restaurants often see an uptick in business. The trickle-down effect continues. With locals and visitors out on the town, they’re more apt to attend concerts and performances later in the evening.
For Kahhak, whose gallery is situated almost smack in the middle of all the First Friday activities, the first Friday of the month becomes a mixed-in moveable feast of people coming and going. “It’s very dynamic, very entertaining,” said the artist, who sets up an easel, and based on a theme, creates a painting right on site. “Parents come by with their children, go eat, and then come back to see how the painting is coming.” Although Kahhak often paints representational figures, sometimes the painting becomes and stays abstract. “I’ll ask the people observing, ‘What do you see?'” he said. “I listen to the children in particular. I have a laser pointer, and they can point things out to me: ‘I see a cow,’ or whatever. Sometimes I’ll go with that. People participate.”
The First Fridays concept is not exclusively Carbondale’s. Across the country, from giant metropolises such as Denver, Los Angeles and Philadelphia to small towns such as little Northville, Mich., and Waxhaw, N.C., communities host hundreds of First Friday events. Although many initially began as a way to connect art gallery openings into loosely organized gallery hops, First Fridays now often combine various cultural and commercial activities into a monthly evening. The events often increase foot traffic, and while we’re at it, drive sales. The Carbondale Council on Arts and Humanities (CCAH) initially spearheaded Carbondale’s First Fridays eight years ago, according to Sherri Harrison, the outgoing director of the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce. She said it’s always been a collaborative effort, requiring the involvement of several entities and hard-working volunteers. “The chamber has always been very involved,” said Harrison, who’s transitioning out of her role at the chamber as Andrea Stewart steps in as the new director. “First Fridays fell under our umbrella.”Harrison said the original idea was to establish a collective art walk from CCAH’s office on Main Street, connecting the downtown galleries. But when CCAH moved to the Third Street Center in 2010, several blocks south of Main Street, downtown galleries and business owners started seeing the First Friday energy moving away from Main Street.That helped lead Carbondale’s First Fridays to a major overhaul this past summer, according to jeweler Harmony Scott, whose Carbondale store is located on the east end of Main Street.
Instead of further dividing the First Friday pie, Scott, along with CCAH, the chamber, the town of Carbondale and a group of merchants collectively called “the coalition,” put their heads together. “It helped us jump-start the conversation,” Scott said. Together, the group decided to expand First Fridays to include a triumvirate of areas – Main Street, Highway 133, and the Third Street Center – to coordinate First Friday events. They created a map of participants’ businesses, developed a logo and coordinated advertising. Because Carbondale is relatively spread out, the coalition organized transportation to help people move from place to place. In warm weather, organizers use bicycle rickshaws to move people around the “triangle.” The town of Carbondale shuttle vans are used as well, and for tonight’s First Friday, Skip Bell of The Pour House restaurant has coordinated horse-drawn carriage rides. Now that First Fridays incorporates art, shopping, dining and entertainment, Kahhak sees the event’s evolution only in positive terms. “First Fridays are so interactive,” he said of painting live with people flowing in and out of his gallery during those special nights. “It’s a win-win for me, and it’s a win-win for Carbondale.” “In addition to locals and visitors, we’d love to see people from Glenwood Springs, Basalt and Aspen come to Carbondale for First Fridays,” added Scott.
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