The first Friday of every month in Philadelphia, various art gallery owners open their doors free of charge to the public from 5:00PM-9:00PM in a neighborhood of the city that’s known as Old City. This section of the city spans approximately 8 blocks and is well known for its old and beautiful architecture, as well as being known for its culture filled shops and restaurants. Most of the art galleries in Philadelphia are located in this part of the city, making it the perfect location to host First Friday each month.
First Friday attracts a very diverse and interesting crowd, including those who are Philadelphia residents, those who are out-of-town visitors, those who are art enthusiasts, and even those who are just looking for a fun way to start off their Friday night. Such a diverse crowd allows for almost anyone to feel comfortable and welcome when visiting First Friday. This also makes for a very positive, fun, and laidback atmosphere at First Friday; people meander in and out of stores and galleries at their leisure, stopping to check out the things they like and moving past those they don’t. The gallery owners are typically very inviting and friendly when you walk into their galleries; available and eager to answer any questions you may have about their work. There is also an assortment of free appetizer-like food, as well as alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, available in most of the galleries for any and all attendees. These elements, among others, make for an atmosphere than can be described as very relaxed and laidback; allowing people with all different kinds of art backgrounds to enjoy art on their own terms.
Though the exhibits at the galleries are constantly changing, one gallery that presents pretty much the same work most of the time is called Gallery 51, one of my favorite galleries that participates in First Friday. Not only is the owner extremely friendly and well-spoken, but the amazing wood work pieces that are on display and for sale at the gallery are absolutely breathtaking. The pieces range anywhere from those that are meant for purposes of utility, such as hand-crafted, wooden end tables, to pieces that are extremely elaborate and just for show.
Since there are all kinds of different galleries that participate in First Friday, there is likely to be at least one that will appeals to your particular art interest or interests. There are galleries that solely display light installations, and there are galleries that only contain hand-crafted fabrics and objects. Some of the galleries are spacious, open, and bright and are filled with abstract and surreal art pieces; others are small and are filled with a number of tiny, dimly lit rooms that contain still-life displays and other similar pieces. Some of the galleries attract a stereotypically older, more reserved crowd, while others attract a stereotypically younger, more vibrant crowd. The number of galleries available at First Friday, as well as the diversity in their nature, certainly allows for just about anyone who is interested in attending to thoroughly enjoy themselves while there.
For those that like to purchase a keepsake to remember the night, or for those who are just interested in purchasing some kind of funky or unique hand-crafted jewelry, there are also a ton of street vendors that sit outside of the galleries with their own displays. These vendors are artists of all walks that attend this event in hopes of attracting new followers of their work. The street vendors aren’t typically overly forward when soliciting their work which, again, reinstates the laidback and positive atmosphere of First Friday.
During my most recent visit to First Friday, I asked one of the gallery owners what they would say is the largest thing that separates their experience as an owner on First Friday from their experience on just another, Friday night. The response I received from this owner in particular was simple and direct; “the energy,” he answered. He explained that, though First Friday can be a bit over-crowded and hectic for owners like himself, there was still something that could definitely be said for the extreme and undeniable energy that surrounds a First Friday event like no other.
He told me that the energy that results from the large number of diverse individuals who have come together in a joint pursuit of a love or thirst for art and culture, is an energy that makes for a more exciting and more rewarding night than when compared to attending the gallery on “just another night.” I would have to say that I fully agree with the owner’s assertion and would hope that if you, too, decide to visit First Friday in the near future, that you also would feel this same energy and that this alone would make for a rather enjoyable and memorable experience.