First Fridays organizers may cancel event next month

Because a rash of violence and crowd issues now dominate the once taciturn art walk, officials are considering cancelling next month’s First Fridays event.

Because of an increased presence of teenaged violence and crowd issues, organizers of the monthly First Fridays Artwalk are considering canceling the Labor Day Weekend event. Owners of businesses along the Broad Street strip that attracts the most number of art walk spectators, along with onlookers, have noticed a distinct change in both tone and demographic over the last several First Fridays events.

One business owner, commenting on the most recent event, replied in an online comment thread that “…there was hardly any business at all. Beyond the teens, whom we all agree are part of the problem, the police are also at fault. No one wants to walk into an area that is…glowing with red and blue lights. I wouldn’t, I would stay away.”

Despite altering the time of the First Fridays event to fall within 5pm-9pm, violence and commotion spread along Broad Street and its parallel sidewalks as mostly teenagers crowded the thoroughfare.

Richmond Police Department Public Information Manager, Gene Lepley, informed RVANews that there were a total of five arrests, all males, including a felony arrest for “possession of a handgun.” Of the arrestees, 4 were aged 15-17, including the individual arrested for possessing a handgun. The other arrestee was  20 years of age. Video of last Friday’s event can be seen here and here.

First Fridays organizer, Christina Newton, indicated to the Richmond Times-Dispatch that school rivalries may be inspiring the agitation among the youth that have been attending the last several First Fridays events, all in summer months. Regardless of the cause of possible violence, which has resulted in a strong police presence, Newton has not yet announced firm plans to cancel next month’s event or any future ones. As it is at this point, cancelation is only one idea among others.

RVANews will continue to update the story as appropriate.

photo by Mr Michael Phams

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Notice: Comments that are not conducive to an interesting and thoughtful conversation may be removed at the editor’s discretion.

  1. Martin Eye on said:

    Dear Publisher,
    As this story is a rote exercise, save yourself some manpower expenditures: Use this (or numerous previous stories) as a template and insert time and place as appropriate. This city remains over talented and under administered. Have a nice day.

  2. This was discussed last month. I think it is the right decision.

  3. Nobody’s explaining why the kids are showing up. What’s the motivation?

  4. kimmy on said:

    Letting 5 fools ruin the ArtWalk is probably not the wisest reaction.

  5. I posted this on an RTD article on the same topic, but I feel like it might get a better response here:

    I was there last Friday and was pretty bummed by what I saw. I, like a lot of people, had hoped that with some additional efforts, more volunteers, and a less aggressive police presence, we could have a great event – and honestly, right up until 9:30 or so, it was not that bad at all. There were a TON of kids there and they weren’t all that interested in art, but it wasn’t that big of a deal. It became a big deal when the event ended.

    Here’s the thing… First Fridays doesn’t NEED to be a street festival. It’s about art and making it easy for people to come to the galleries and enjoy the art. So let’s renew that focus. I’m all for musicians – but let’s put them INSIDE the art galleries. No more street performers, bands on the sidewalk, or broadcasting loud music out into the street. I love hearing live music on Broad St., but it was clearly part of the crowd issue. Putting it inside of venues instead of out front would have a big impact, I think.

    If we put the focus back on the art and less on the festival-style atmosphere, I think that the kids will get bored and move on. When you have street performers and music blaring, it’s going to naturally draw a crowd. Let’s draw crowds INTO the art galleries where we want them.

  6. Runcible,

    Note in the article the suggestion of school rivalries as a possible draw. This is a BIG deal among certain segments and can result in deadly violence. Note the two murders in Shockoe Bottom earlier this year.

    Also, I think social media is being used to generate excitement regarding First Friday. People are coming because everybody else is coming.

  7. hank on said:

    Teenagers ruin everything.

  8. Jay B on said:

    I agree with Phil. The atmosphere on the street is a major part of the problem. I was down there with my wife and in-laws in April and we had a great time in the galleries. The annoying part was trying to get from gallery to gallery, circumnavigating loud DJs and bands that drew large crowds. Don’t cancel First Fridays, just as Phil stated, refocus on the art. Do away with the loud musical acts on the street.

  9. I have been attending First Fridays and been a huge supporter of the art community for 8 years. It is NOT acceptable to allow a few bad eggs to ruin what is one of Richmond’s biggest strengths. I don’t have a simple answer on how to address the teenagers and the “violence” but it is not okay just to pack up the show and quit something fantastic. People are still coming to the art walk, FOR THE ART, and the experience. I also don’t see how making the event an hour earlier makes it any more safe (if anything, it hurts those of us who work and can’t get there that early).

    The event is experiencing some growing pains, and it may be a little iffy before things work themselves out. This is not reason to freak out and flee when things get tough. We can work this out.

    Every month, it is so inspiring to be able to see world class artists, eat at fantastic local restaurants, purchase items at local merchants, enjoy the fresh air, meet friends at the neighborhood bar, and just revel in RVA. All FREE.

    Christina Newton has been nearly singlehandedly running this thing for years. She is a powerhouse with a vision, but she cannot fight bad PR and throngs of unruly teenagers by herself. If you care about the city, the art community, and the ability to come together and enjoy downtown, then offer assistance to her and Curated Culture. It’s going to take real effort if we want to keep the art walk and I urge you to find out how you can help. 804-304-1554.

  10. Canceling will help nothing. It will just hurt the city.

  11. Aso I lived in Jackson Ward. There is crime in that area. I witnessed lots of it happen and very little and late response from the police.

    It’s more about solving the crime problem to begin with. Not what happens one night a month.

  12. In response to the “few bad eggs” comments:
    As an active member of the Downtown Neighborhood Association as well as a Broad St. gallery employee for almost six years, the most recent First Fridays have been extremely disappointing. The criticism from uninvolved and uninformed Richmonders who may or may not have attended one or more of these past Art Walks is almost equally frustrating. There are not a handful of young people crowding the streets, there are thousands.

    Along with Curated Culture there have been efforts made by organizations in order to curb the crowding problems. The Downtown Neighborhood Association met with City officials as well as volunteers last week in order to gather more ideas on how to alleviate said “growing pains.” Volunteers were patrolling the sidewalks this past First Friday as an intermediary between crowds and police. The goal was to allow the police to concentrate on larger problems, as well as provide a positive presence and answer attendees questions.

    Continuous shifting of blame between police, teens, vendors, and musicians has caused tension to elevate even within the event itself.
    What First Friday needs to be able to continue is not criticism and blame but fresh ideas and enthusiasm to continue showcasing the rich creativity and diversity of our community.

  13. I was down there this past Friday. I once worked at a shop that held events on First Fridays. Fridays between the years of 07 and 09 may have been crowded, but nothing like this past Friday. Sadly, I think First Fridays are over. As many mentioned, many of the kids on the street were not at all interested in the art. As soon as my friends and I arrived and saw the crowd, I knew something was about to go down. I’ve lived in Richmond since 86. Great things always seem to end when certain “crowds” show up. I know that sounds harsh, but I’m just being real. Speaking as a black male, if you were there this past Friday, you know what you saw. It’s not all the teens, just a certain crowd. We sat outfront of Gallery 5, next thing we know, a swarm of teens came flying down Marshall street yelling and screaming. I guess a fight had just broken out. The arrest for the gun possession doesn’t surprise me at all. I was just waiting for a shot to be fired the entire night. I love Richmond, but seeing scenes like this past Friday are getting old. I can even remember my sister calling me this past fall at the 2nd Street Festival because someone was shooting out there, smh.

    Hopefully, if they do resume First Fridays once school has started, a lot of those kids will not be there. What are their parents teaching them if kids go out and behave like this, was what I was thinking the entire night. Not cool. Much like when the state fair was relocated because of crime, maybe relocating First Friday could be an option ??? That would totally suck, but I think First Fridays are over for now :(

  14. @ Phil (#5) -> I like your strategy.

  15. Robin on said:

    Thought: now, I don’t have data to back this up – I count on Ross and his Charts and Graphs for that – but imagine you’re a teen. It’s Summer. You’re supposed to have crappy job, right? That job is supposed to put cash in your pocket. Well, the economy is still crappy, and nobody is hiring anybody. Thus, you and your friends are a lot of bored teenagers. A lot of BROKE, bored teenagers. So you go looking for somewhere that’s cheap/free. Enter: First Fridays.

    What you’ve also lost in not having a summer job is learning communication, how to get along with people you might not really like (conflict management), and how to respect authority.

    Mom and Dad aren’t the only ones being affected by the economy. Here’s the trickle-down.

  16. Martin Eye on said:

    Robin: It’s August in Virginia. You are walking down the sidewalk in the sweltering mid-day heat. You come upon a tyke, nursing a two stick icy pop. Robins brain: “Its hot; I like two stick icy pops”. You snatch the popsicle from the kid and continue on your journey as her wails fade behind you.
    You are justified in your actions because of the heat? Because the popsicle company distributed their stuff in the vicinity?
    Your point is valid and well taken… Excusing this kind of herd mentality on external forces is feeding the problem.

  17. Robin on said:

    I am in no way excusing the problem, and I apologize for it being taken that way. I’m offering an answer to the question, “Where did all the kids come from?” I’m also suggesting why some don’t know how to behave when they get there. Basically because no one has taught them. We are all responsible for the youth of our city – parents, teachers, peers, pastors, even clerks at stores. It does, in fact, take a village to raise a child. They need positive role models – starting at home – to know what examples to follow. Young people, from all walks of life, need adults to be active in their lives, to guide them – but not lord over them. We need to help them make positive choices so that, when the time is right, they can be accountable for themselves, and proud of the decisions that they have made.

    If anything can be taken from this, it should be that the young people of our city need more outlets available to them. Outlets that help teach more social skills besides following the herd mentality.

  18. trevor on said:

    first friday hasn’t been about the art for quite a while now. for the last year, at least, it’s been nothing more than a tacky snoozer of a street festival that makes it possible for middle-aged white couples from the county to feel “cultured.” good riddance.

  19. Robin,

    These kinds of kids aren’t looking for other outlets. For example, the thing behind Center Stage last Friday. Yeah, that was well attended by the staff. Another flop created by the mayor’s office. Great going!

    These kids will grow up to be the thugs that terrorize the bottom and other places in the city. We are not all responsible for these kids. Their parents are. It’s not my problem that baby daddy left mom or never was with her. It’s not my problem that she doesn’t know how to raise her kid to be civil. Why is everyone else responsible for someone else’s hooligan kid? They are bored? Hell, I got bored as a kid and didn’t do this shit!

    I’m tired of everyone making excuses for this kind of behavior.

    Trevor, it happens to HAVE been a lovely event and it should go on…just without these horrible kids.

  20. Robin on said:

    Exactly why I said “starting at home.” And my comments are not meant to imply that everyone should have to babysit. I meant simply lead by example and not be afraid to get your hands dirty.

    I was bored sometimes too. I also lived in areas with budgets for after-school activities. There was also, generally, a 2-parent household. And when my parents separated, my family wasn’t written off as “too bad her baby daddy left.” I was being taught by many people how NOT to be an a**hole.

    I guess it’s a socio-economic thing.

    Some of these kids are the product of any NUMBER of problems: single parent households, poverty, under-funded education (including sex education)…many of which feed off of the other. These are not being brought up as an excuse, but more to highlight sources and possible fixes. You’re not going to fix the behavior of the kids by shutting down First Fridays. They’re just going to go so somewhere else. And if you say, “these kids aren’t my problem,” You’re the the ones excusing the behavior by turning your back on it and not correcting it somehow – hopefully positvely.

    Quick fix: Shut down First Fridays. Then you don’t have to look at the hooligans or think about their baby daddy.

    Long term fix: Volunteer with kids somewhere one day a week. Maybe more. Show them how they CAN be.

  21. Chip on said:

    I have to take issue with the sensational headline of this article. First Fridays and the galleries/shops of Broad Street really do not need this type of journalism. Although you state at the end of the article that Christina Newton, who organizes First Fridays, has not announced plans to cancel the event. You say that cancellation is the idea of “others”. Who are these other organizers? I expect and insist on better reporting, RVANews.

  22. So there are 2 other accounts of First Fridays that should be included in this discussion:
    One from Richmond Copwatch here:

    and one from myself here:

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