Take Your Shoes Off at the Door

First Friday Is Still Flawed

Photo by B. Krist for GPTMC

First Friday in Old City is reappearing on the radar. There has been a staple group of visitors for First Fridays, yet the event has a reputation for discouraging local artists from participating. “In art school, we used to go to Old City for examples of what not to do,” a friend told me as we shoved through the crowd this past Friday.

When you have a chance to actually look at the work you see that the majority is skill focused, not informed by contemporary interests, says very little about the art community in Philadelphia, and (perhaps the biggest complaint) it is overly commercial. Why go to First Friday in Old City when you can go to Frankford Ave Arts’ First Friday, or to a show at Vox Populi, and be a part of something that reflects the art community and displays relevant work?

The First Friday tradition in Philadelphia has branched out, in part because Old City was only representing a small portion of the contemporary art scene in Philadelphia. Granted, a good portion of the art showing in the 40+ galleries at Old City’s First Friday is created by local artists, and the same can be said about the street vendors—who scale from pandering flea-market-esque venders to actual artists trying to support themselves through their work.

There is a distinct difference in the crowd at Old City and Frankford Ave Arts. In Old City you are confronted by people who are traveling from outside of the city, where Frankford Ave Arts caters to and supports their North Philly community. Community (and competition) seems scarce in Old City, but there are exceptions.

Surprisingly, some non-gallery spaces in Old City are drawing on their clientele to support local talent. This past Friday Indy Hall opened its doors to the public and invited people to KIN: “a collaborative exhibition featuring the creative endeavors of an evolving artistic community.” Indy Hall is not a gallery but a member based cooperative working space. All showing artists were Indy Hall members. A wider Indy Hall community was in attendance, supporting them, and as a result, purchasing local work and advocating for our creative economy.

Art in the Age, a store that sells an array of artisanal products, featured the work of Eric Kenney. His T-shirts, flags, paintings, and prints straddle the line between commercial and art, which sits well with a shop that does the same. Art in the Age is not stepping outside of their wheelhouse when they show and sell work like Kenney’s, but what they are doing is encouraging their customers to buy from a local artist.

Support for Philadelphia’s larger art community is why people like me are returning to Old City for First Friday. There are only so many Facebook invites from friends that you can ignore, but there is still a lot of room for First Friday to become more relevant. It will never be a noncommercial experience, but it has the ear of communities outside of the arts, so it is vital for those of us involved in the art scene to look at it critically.

Amanda is an artist and writer living in Philadelphia. Her work has been displayed at the Philadelphia Institute of Contemporary Art, featured at festivals, and in events with Fait Du Vide Collective. Amanda has published with Philly.com, the Philadelphia Daily News, Art Attack, and VICE Media. In her spare time she likes to drink and draw naked ladies.

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