Arts Spotlight: First Fridays

Two hubs of the Monadnock Region are uniting arts and main street businesses to activate and enliven their communities by hosting arts activities, building partnerships with artists, and encouraging downtown businesses to stay open late every First Friday of the month! Arts are a great driver of tourism, economic activity, and community vibrancy.  First Friday Monadnock in Peterborough and First Friday Art Hop in Keene are beginning to build a partnership in which the two groups will come together to co-market the First Friday events in both locations.

Holding Space for Tradition and Fresh Enterprise

In Peterborough, community members wanted to extend the weekend for visitors and provide a fun evening for those who work and live in the town. Collaborations to plan events and activities  began early in 2018 and the town was able to launch First Fridays this past April. This has been a grassroots program created by the business community in collaboration with Depot Square, the Greater Peterborough Chamber of Commerce and the Town of Peterborough.

Organizers describe it as an opportunity to “explore and discover artists and art exhibits, shopping specials, musical interludes, tastings and samplings, enjoy therapeutic massages and beauty treatments and so much more.”  

Each month, First Friday has showcased new businesses that have established their company in the downtown area.  For what many consider a sleepy New England town, there is always something new in Peterborough. Side by side, these new businesses, enterprises and ideas share the night with local traditions, like MacDowell Downtown lectures by artists in residence, Peterborough Community Theatre film showings, Mariposa Museum’s exhibits of world culture, Toadstool Bookstore’s quality literary events, and Monadnock Center for History and Culture’s exhibits and musical events.

 MacDowell downtown events are a special part of Monadnock First Fridays where artists in residence at the famed MacDowell Colony speak about their work, process, and current global issues impacting their art.

MacDowell downtown events are a special part of Monadnock First Fridays where artists in residence at the famed MacDowell Colony speak about their work, process, and current global issues impacting their art.

Downtown Keene: Economic Development & The Arts

The City of Keene’s 2010 Master plan highlights the importance of downtown events that bring vibrancy as well as the importance of the creative economy to the region’s economic health. Establishment of a “First Friday” event is an excellent way to bring these two ideas together.

Keene First Friday Art Hop is being developed through collaborative facilitation by Carolyn Sweet, Community and Economic Development Specialist in coordination with co-founders Danya Landis and Rebecca Hamilton at Machina Arts. One of the primary goals of the organizers is to create more space for artists to show their work and build their communities of supporters. Machina Arts is already hard at work on this through their partnership with Hannah Grimes Center’s “The Hive” - a new music and art venue just off of Main Street in Keene. The first event will happen July 6th, 2018.

The art at First Friday Arthop will span disciplines such as: music, sculpture, dance, film, painting, photography, food, theater, circus, design, and new boundary-crossing works of art that defy easy classification. Two curators for pop up galleries have been selected - Jim Murphy, who has long-established connections in the arts and music community around Keene, and Meg Rogers, a vibrant muralist and artist with connections to artist making new and challenging work in the local art scene.

 Artist Meg Rogers, curator for one of the pop-up galleries in Keene, paints at a Machina Arts event at The HIVE.

Artist Meg Rogers, curator for one of the pop-up galleries in Keene, paints at a Machina Arts event at The HIVE.

The steering committee, which includes Monadnock Buy Local, Arts Alive!, The Colonial Theatre, and more, is preparing to include the use of evaluations for local businesses to demonstrate the economic impact on tourism.

First Fridays: Competition vs Collaboration

The Peterborough & Keene First Fridays’ organizers are working together. They both agree on this joint vision:

Art and culture are the heartbeat of any city. The Monadnock Region as a whole has a very strong network of professional artists, musicians, and performers of all forms. Having a First Friday each month in our local cities give our artists a chance to become a stronger force that can build our communities through their work and also expand beyond their own community to look regionally. What makes community programs so special is that its not just one person, everyone involved brings something important to the table and helps to shape and grow the program. First Fridays isn’t any different, and working alongside our other Monadnock cities only makes us stronger! We truly cannot wait to see what First Fridays looks like in the future!

The Collaborative Models of First Fridays

First Fridays are an excellent example of Creative Placemaking for economic development and for activating spaces that would like more foot traffic. Bringing community members and stakeholders to the table to steer and participate in the programming is essential to the success of Creative Placemaking.

Keene First Friday Arthop is building itself from the ground up based on a collaborative model. Danya Landis of Machina Arts says, “This event is for our community, and having our community bring ideas, insight, connections, and talent to the table was key.” This group is involving community members on every level, as partners, volunteers, and more, to get the ball rolling for their first First Friday.

Peterborough First Friday is also structured as a collaborative model, making sure that the participation commitment allows for diversity.  Organizer Pelagia Vincent says, “We want to be inclusive and allow room for the new, the small, the established.” A key to this, she says, is maintaining an affordable investment from each business. “There is no cost to join in the action, the only requirement is to stay open from 5pm to 7pm or later.”  She continues, “Many of the Peterborough merchants and companies are single proprietor and therefore limited in how much they can extend their hours. The ultimate business goal is to provide a platform to enhance their visibility and grow their customer base.”

Both groups also agree that inclusivity and diversity is essential as they reach out to artists. They are embracing art spanning disciplines such as: music, sculpture, dance, film, painting, photography, food, theater, circus, design, and new boundary-crossing works of art that defy easy classification.

Carolyn Sweet of the First Friday Art Hop says, “We believe allowing this diverse group to showcase, grow, network, and find opportunities on a regular basis will help to strengthen our creative economy, and build a rich, thriving, arts focused community that is all inclusive and alive.”