The First Fridays Art Walk is a celebrated occasion in Richmond. Once a month, tons of downtown galleries open their doors and visitors flock to take part in the energy that encapsulates the city. When people call Richmond an “arts-friendly” town, it’s largely thanks to the efforts of Curated Culture, which oversees First Fridays Art Walks.
Pictured: One man band Gull, a regular street performer at First Fridays Art Walk.
The First Fridays Art Walk is a celebrated occasion in Richmond. Once a month, tons of downtown galleries open their doors and visitors flock to take part in the energy that encapsulates the city. When people call Richmond an “arts-friendly” town, it’s largely thanks to the efforts of Curated Culture, which oversees First Fridays Art Walks. Curated Culture director Christina Newton — who can often be spotted enjoying a Brian Jones or Fight the Big Bull show around town — gave me the lowdown on the Art Walk via email.
What do you hope someone’s experience is like visiting the Art Walk, say, for the first time?
Hopefully a new visitor to First Fridays will stop by a variety of the participating locations and really take in the exhibitions and support the local businesses. Although we’re promoting arts and culture, we’re also encouraging economic development, which means shopping local. We also hope that visitor comes back on days other than First Fridays and starts making Downtown part of their shopping routine. We’ve got not only galleries and cultural venues, but boutiques, restaurants, and many hotels that are open all week long. First Fridays is a great entry to rediscovering Downtown, but the key to seeing the galleries and restaurants stay in business is supporting the neighborhood frequently.
Why include music at the Art Walk?
First Fridays Art Walk is a multidisciplinary event that showcases the diversity of the arts, so including music is a nice element to have. We initially hosted a free outdoor concert as a way to attract visitors to our event, and continued to do so through 2007, as weather allowed. We’d like to do this more often, but we just can’t afford to do so. There’s also live music and DJs along the street as well as inside galleries at times and these activities are usually handled by the individual locations although we help place performers too. Sometimes, performers set up on their own on the street and while that adds to the festive nature, we prefer that they engage a local business to ask for permission or contact us, to keep within the law and not block pedestrian traffic and entrances.
Talk about some of the bands you’ve featured on First Fridays in the past, and why you chose them.
I’ve leaned toward scheduling music that’s really creative, unique, and multicultural. If it’s something the audience hasn’t heard before, hopefully it’ll open their ears to something new and they’ll be curious to experience it again. Our first outdoor concert was with Klez’Or’Ami’m, a great local Klezmer ensemble, which had people dancing in the streets, which was incredibly exciting taking into consideration how small the Art Walk was at that time.
Over the years, we’ve also featured Bio Ritmo, Hotel X, Johnny Hott’s Piedmont Souprize, and a brass ensemble of the Richmond Symphony. No BS Brass has performed twice, including healing for a collaborative effort with CenterStage Foundation celebrating their groundbreaking. The guys lead a New Orleans style processional of over 100 visitors from the Carpenter Center to the First Fridays area, which was really cool. People just kept joining the parade; their energy was the perfect complement to engage visitors to take in everything that was going on that evening.
And on top of these great acts, we’ve been extremely fortunate to have partnered with the Modlin Center for the Arts at the University of Richmond, who as our former presenting sponsor, brought world-renowned groups eighth blackbird and the Hot 8 Brass Band to perform at First Fridays in both indoor and outdoor settings during the past two seasons. Through our relationship with Modlin and UR’s Department of Music, we’ve also featured local jazz musicians, the Doctors of Jazz, plus UR’s World Music Ensemble, which presents the music of Bali, Ghana, and Brazil, whom we hope to have back this spring. So to say the least, we’re indebted to UR for their continued support because we could never afford to present such caliber of artists.
Who are some of your favorite bands and musicians to see in Richmond?
My musical tastes are pretty diverse, but I love jazz and world music. It’s really hard to narrow down favorites in such a great music town, but my favorite band is Rattlemouth since they combine my favorite musical elements and feature Danny Finney on sax, but full disclosure is that it’s my husband’s band. I’m grateful to be able to hear them often and experience the creative process. I also love Bio Ritmo, anything that Brian Jones does, No BS Brass, Fight the Big Bull (and other projects of Matt White), plus Jonathan Vasser. I also respect the work of Roger Carroll, Pippen Barnett, Marty McCavitt, and especially Paul Watson, whose current And The Wiremen ensemble lead by Lynn Wright of Brooklyn is amazing. I had the extreme pleasure to hear Paul and Lynn as a duo last summer at this outdoor July 4th party, where Jonathan also performed, and it was magical. Certainly one of my favorite musical experiences of last year.
You’ve said to me in the past, “I’m such a big jazz fan and am really excited to be living in, and experiencing, such an important time in Richmond’s music history.” Why is it an important time to you?
You can just feel that something special’s happening. Even though I missed a lot of great musical moments in Richmond’s history, I’ve been here long enough to see its ups and downs, and it’s satisfying to see it on the rise again, and jazz at the forefront especially. Students have always been a driving force of our music scene, and it’s improving due to the caliber of artists coming out of VCU’s Jazz Program in particular. It wasn’t long ago that art school graduates would hit the road for somewhere bigger and more glamorous, taking their talents with them, but more often than not, they’re making RVA their home, contributing to the community, and creating incredible music here. It’s crazy to consider that we can have superb jazz shows booked 4 nights out of the week, sometimes with more than one hot band on the same night!
The First Fridays Art Walk takes place on the first Friday of every month, like tomorrow night, Friday, February 5. Visit firstfridaysrichmond.com for more info on the wheres and whats.