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First Friday event returns to downtown Santa Fe

By Teya Vitu | tvitu@sfnewmexican.comMay 28, 2019

Every city in America seems to do it.

First Friday, Second Saturday, Third Thursday — that one day a month when shops stay open later and people head downtown — has become a festive public gathering in places like Denver, Phoenix and Las Vegas, Nev.

Albuquerque has one of the nation’s oldest such events — the First Friday ARTScrawl, which has continued for 28 years.

The concept is returning to downtown Santa Fe on June 7 after a decadelong absence.

Downtown First Friday joins the First Friday celebrations on Canyon Road, where galleries stay open until 7 p.m. the first Friday of the month from May to October, and the Last Friday Art Walk in an area of Railyard District where galleries stay open until 7 p.m. the last Friday of each month year-round.

Just like the Canyon Road and Railyard events, the downtown festivities also will center on art galleries — though, the first lineup of participating shops includes other types of businesses as well.

The inaugural Downtown First Friday on June 7 will be modest, with eight shops participating.

“We’d love to have eight more,” said Ivan Barnett, owner of Patina Gallery and co-creator of Downtown First Friday, along with La Fonda on the Plaza Chairman Jenny Kimball.

The stops include Patina Gallery, a Palace Avenue shop that carries contemporary jewelry and sculptural pieces; Detours at La Fonda on San Francisco Street, a hotel lobby gift shop featuring Southwestern-style gifts, unique works by local artisans, books on Santa Fe and spa products; Shelby House & Spirited Goods Shop on Shelby Street; True West, a Lincoln Avenue gallery that deals in Native American and Southwestern jewelry and art; Antieau Gallery on Water Street, which markets the fabric pieces of artist Chris Roberts-Antieau; Niman Fine Art, a Lincoln Avenue gallery; Faust Gallery, a Palace Avenue venue specializing in Native American art; and Zephyr Clothing on Palace Avenue, a women’s clothing boutique.

These businesses have agreed to remain open from 5 to 7 p.m. the first Friday of each month for at least the next 12 months rather than closing at the usual time — around 5 or 5:30 p.m.

Some of the galleries might have exhibition openings those nights, and a couple of merchants are contemplating trunk shows.

Kimball and Barnett collaborated on First Friday with Deb Meyers, a multimedia consultant for The New Mexican who recruited the first crop of participants.

Barnett had been a co-founder of an earlier-generation, loose-knit First Friday event on Palace Avenue from 2003-09. Some of those galleries moved to the Santa Fe Railyard and established the Railyard Arts District, which launched a Last Friday Art Walk about seven years ago that is still in place.

“A lot of people come,” said Charlotte Jackson, owner of Charlotte Jackson Fine Art and president of the Railyard Arts District. “They do all the galleries and go to dinner afterwards. We get a lot of local traffic, even in winter. … We try to plan on [art show] openings for Last Friday. Some people buy — but I want to say people come in and have a chance to come back later.”

Kimball expects Downtown First Friday to help bring more focus back to downtown shopping.

“There is some dilution happening with other parts of town,” noted Kimball, referring to the creation of other shopping districts over the years, such as the Railyard, the Zafarano Drive area and the Cerrillos Road corridor.

“We’re just reminding the public this is still their downtown,” she said. We’re doing this to say, ‘Don’t forget we’re here.’ ”

Tourism promotion often focuses on filling hotel rooms, Kimball added. “Ivan and I want to go beyond heads in beds. We want heads in beds that are eating at our downtown restaurants and going to art galleries.”

Roy Sumner Johnson, a board member for Albuquerque’s First Friday ARTScrawl and owner of Sumner & Dene Gallery, said he’s seen the positive effects of the monthly promotion.

“It’s guaranteed the biggest day of the month for us,” he said. “Our art gallery sees 150 to 300 people from 5 to 8 p.m. We’re not typically open Friday evening.”

In comparison, Johnson said, Sumner & Dene typically sees 50 to 100 visitors on a good day, such as when a conference is in town.

Similar monthly art walks are scattered around New Mexico, with a First Friday Downtown Market in Roswell; Truth or Consequences’ Art Hop on the second Saturday; ArtsCrawl in Gallup on the second Saturday from March to December; Taos First Friday from April to December; and the year-round Las Cruces First Friday Art Ramble.

So far, there are no organized events associated with Santa Fe’s Downtown First Friday.

“I suspect it will take the first two or three First Fridays to get a sense of how it’s going,” Kimball said.

Kimball and Barnett are exploring getting the city’s permission to put sandwich boards in front of participating businesses to promote First Fridays and hope to get free parking at downtown parking meters those evenings.

“Locals are not going to come downtown if they have to drive around 15 minutes to park,” Kimball said.

She added: “It would be great if we can get food trucks on the Plaza in summer.”

Liz Reese, owner of Shelby House & Spirited Goods, which opened in August as a combination spirits shop and event center, is thinking of staging trunk shows or artisan markets in the event space during First Friday or tastings of nonalcoholic beverages.

“We just wanted to get on the map,” Reese said, referring to her decision to become one of the first participants of Downtown First Friday. “We were approached by Patina Gallery. We thought it’s great.”

Faust Gallery owner Bill Faust decided not to take a wait-and-see approach when he heard the idea for First Friday.

“I tend to be more of a proactive kind of guy,” Faust said. “Why not just do it? It sounded like a great idea. I hope to achieve more of an appreciation for American Indian art.”

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