On the first Friday of every month, families, couples, groups and individuals stroll downtown’s sidewalks, rain or shine, in celebration of the current month’s art openings. With approximately 30 participating venues — each featuring a separate artist — there’s no lack of variety anywhere in sight during Harrisonburg’s First Fridays. What began, in 2009, as a partnership between Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance, the Virginia Quilt Museum, and Harrisonburg Tourism, as a biannual event, is now organized by the Arts Council of the Valley and embodies the arts-related culture that downtown residents observe on a daily basis.
From 5-8pm, the art-loving businesses open their doors and warmly offer their spaces so that local artists can display their creations. Venues offer free admission for an evening filled with arts-based eye-candy and soul food, as well as a chance to meet the currently featured artists. All are invited to participate as little or as much as they’d like. Whether participants choose to drop in briefly so they can attend a majority of the venues, or decide to focus their energy on a few of the openings, First Fridays allows a completely unique experience for each individual. On a budget? Every single opening is free to attend!
What’s special about First Fridays?
From my perspective, inching closely to a piece of art —something an artist spent a considerable amount of time creating — is perhaps the largest gift we can give, beyond purchasing their work. One painting may symbolize weeks, months or years of dedication and time. As a painter, I’m aware of the celebratory emotion while witnessing an onlooker noticing my paintings and spending time with it. Whether or not the piece is purchased, the feeling alone is enough to give me the energy and confidence, to continue showing my artwork. This is what First Fridays is all about. With our busy lives only allowing limited time for conversation and connection, art provides us with a moment to converse, to give and take. It is our community’s hope that the displayed works will inspire emerging artists, of all ages, to begin or continue creating art.
No Two Months Are the Same
Each First Friday offers an original experience. In addition to the featured art openings, businesses have found creative ways to offer fun, arts-centered atmospheres for children and adults alike. For January’s offerings, Heritage Bakery hosted a family movie night along with free popcorn; only a small sidewalk journey away, the Explore More Discovery Children’s Museum provided free admission from 4-7pm. Venues such as Larkin Arts, The Church of Incarnation and St. Stephen’s United Church of Christ offered live music as a part of their offerings. The Friendly City recognizes the arts in multiple forms. On any given month, individual First Friday sites might offer guided crafts, workshops, artist talks, and local musicians strumming guitars too.
How do I get involved?
First Fridays is a time to honor the importance of the arts in our community and in the world. There are no admission tickets. All that is required to be a part of the arts is to show up. Your presence alone might be what sparks the hearts of artists to continue creating, as well as be what a child or a budding artist may need to observe in order to put his/her pen or paintbrush to the paper for the first time.
My family and I moved to Harrisonburg from Bath, England. We didn’t know a soul (honestly), but we knew from our first encounter that it was a special place. As a writer and visual artist, it was important that I find a place with a vibrant arts community. In my nearly 11 years of residing in Harrisonburg, I’ve learned, firsthand that it’s a place where art is celebrated, opportunities to become involved are buzzing and people are true helpers. This community is a canvas. Already vibrant. yet always ready to embrace new creative energy.
There’s no doubt that being involved in your community or something you are passionate about is worthwhile; however, joining a committee, or making a donation is not the only way to be a part of your downtown community. There will be approximately 360 art shows in Downtown Harrisonburg in 2017. Making it to any or all of them is all that is required to make a large difference in the lives of our current and future artists, curators, businesses and organizations which dedicate their lives to making the arts a part of Harrisonburg's everyday culture. Art is a part of our everyday life. However, on the first Friday of each month, as a community, we take time to celebrate its undeniable value. The call to create will be answered, but how many more artistic voices might we have the pleasure of witnessing in this world if we show up to witness their creations? Downtown Harrisonburg is clearly on its way to finding out what happens when a community consistently shows up for their local artists.
You can stay up-to-date with First Friday happenings here, or on Facebook.
Written by Angela Carter, an author, poet, motivational speaker, spoken word performer, visual artist, art director at the Artful Dodger and a framer at The Frame Factory. Her writing in her full-length poetry memoir, Memory Chose A Woman's Body, was nominated for a 2014 Pushcart Prize. Her poetry performances have been featured in a multitude of venues including The KGB Club in Manhattan and Busboys and Poets in DC. Angela is an advocate of the healing ability of the arts. She, her husband, two daughters and two dogs reside in Harrisonburg, VA after relocating, from Bath, England, approximately 10 years ago. The Carters are proud to be a part of Harrisonburg's growing, and caring, downtown community. Read some of her work here.
Photo Credit: Cara Walton Photography