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How To First Friday

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­­­First Friday. It's that thing you hear people talk about going to every month. You think about going, but you aren't sure how to do it or even, really, what it is. You don't admit your lack of knowledge because surely you would receive that look of shocked distain and be shunned. Instead, you try to watch your First Friday friends, covertly of course, to figure it out; to hear the secret password. But it hasn't been working, has it? You've been leaning around corners and distractedly overfilling your coffee cup for naught.

Well we are here to help and very happy to tell you that First Friday is not so intimidating. There are no secret passwords and no initiation ceremonies necessary. This is our simple guide to help you know How to First Friday.

So what is First Friday anyway?

Visitors stroll through Gallery 1 at the Harrison Center experiencing Tasha Lewis' January installation. - HARRISON CENTER FOR THE ARTS
  • Harrison Center for the Arts
  • Visitors stroll through Gallery 1 at the Harrison Center experiencing Tasha Lewis' January installation.

Simply put--it's open gallery night. A large majority of local artist studios and galleries across downtown open their doors on this same night and invite the public to tour spaces, ogle art, sip drinks and munch on hors d'oeuvres, all in the name of culture and community and all for free.

"First Friday is one of the biggest community builders in Indianapolis. On First Friday, you find singles, young families, hipsters, seniors, high school students, all under one roof. Where else does that happen?"

 --Joanna Beatty Taft, Executive Director, Harrison Center for the Arts

All this started back in 2004 when the Indianapolis Downtown Artists and Dealers Association, or IDADA, organized the first First Friday as a way to coordinate gallery openings. In the days of yore, you might have had to juggle half a dozen dates a month in order to make it to all of your favorite gallery openings and would often have to make tough choices of which ones to fit into your schedule. Now you only have to remember two words: First. Friday.

In the last decade, First Friday has evolved into something much bigger than just open studios. IDADA updates a list every month of more than 30 official participating galleries, but the entirety of the cultural districts have joined in and claimed First Friday as their own. Shops and restaurants bring in one-night-stand shows of local artists' work, put on close-quarters concerts and provide plenty of snacks for the occasion. Bikes on Mass Ave, one of our favorite stops off the IDADA path, can be counted on to bring in some quirky local talent for entertainment as well as Sun King Beer, soft pretzels and Pop-Tarts. They even have a toaster for you. What more could you want?

We aren't the only ones that do this, either, by the way. Cities all over the country--Chicago, Philadelphia, Denver, San Antonio--all celebrate First Friday. It's kind of a big deal.

So how do I join in?

We are so glad you asked. It's easy. All you really have to do is show up, but in case you like more specific instructions: Here are our simple steps to a successful First Friday.

Step 1: Plan your Route

This is the crucial step. First Friday is basically a self-guided tour, but unless you are overly ambitious, you probably cannot see every gallery in one night. This is where you need to do a little research and make a few decisions. You can either strategize by location or by content. For those of you who like to park only once, we recommend venues like the Harrison Center for the Arts, the Stutz and the Circle City Industrial Complex as they each have plenty of galleries and artist studios to keep you occupied for the whole night. Also, picking one Cultural District (like Mass Ave or Fountain Square) where you can walk between several galleries is a good way to go. But there are all sorts of other great individual galleries out there so don't be afraid to be a Pinball Wizard and bounce around.

It pays to surf the web some and see what exhibitions are opening at galleries you are interested in. Most every gallery rotates shows for First Friday and you can expect very different selections month-to-month. Try and find what tickles your fancy. And you know, not everything is a painting. On First Friday, you can find installations, glasswork, furniture, film and much more. So think outside the frame.

Also, don't forget to include dinner, dessert and late night coffee into your plan. First Friday can be a full night out on the town.

Step 2: Eat, Drink and Be Merry

The night has come. You have your plan prepared and it's time to enact it. This is the part where you go and have fun. Don't feel intimated going into places you've never been. They are happy to see you. Don't feel awkward looking at art you don't understand. The artist is usually on hand and more than willing to answer your questions. Don't hide in the corner because you don't know anyone. Actually, you'll probably be surprised how many people you didn't know went out for First Friday. And even if your acquaintances chose a different side of town, it's never hard to make friends on First Friday.

While you are exploring art, shops and restaurants, making new friends, be ready to snack. It's Indiana and Hoosier hospitality is always out in force for First Friday with a smorgasbord of (free) snacks ranging from the fancy catered hors d' oeuvres in larger galleries to fresh-baked cookies and hot cider in a cozy artist's studio. It's delicious all around.

This is also the point where you shouldn't be afraid to deviate from your plan and explore. You've never noticed the Knit Shop in Fountain Square before you drove by it? Or the gamer's paradise next door with a great menu? You should definitely take a detour to check it out.

Step 3: Bring Some Cash

You can absolutely get through First Friday without spending a dime, but there are a few things you might want to have some money for. Adult beverages, for one. While you can find some free drinks around town, most places have cash bars available for the alcoholic options. There are even some galleries where you can feel good about buying that beer as the money goes to charity.

And you know, you might just want to buy some art. No, really, don't look at me like that. You may not think of yourself as an art buyer, but it's really simple. And not all art is a giant installation that wouldn't fit in your house and costs thousands of dollars. (But those are there, for those of you looking) First Friday showcases art in all sizes and all price ranges, starting at $1 postcards and going up from there. You just never know when you will find love at first site. So don't be afraid to boost the local economy and support an Indy artist.

"Buy something. Be someone who wants to let art into their home, who wants to make space for it."

-Nancy Lee, Nancy Lee Designs Studio, Circle City Industrial Center At-Large Representative

Step 4: Plan which Friends to Bring Next Month

And just like that, it's over. You are up on an Indianapolis culture high. It was good times and good times are best shared. So start thinking for the next First Friday and all the friends you can bring along. Because now you are the First Friday insider. Be a better friend, though, and let people know how open and accessible First Friday is so they don't have to fall while listening around corners and burn their hands from over-filled coffee cups.

Still not sure where to go? Check out our nifty Where to First Friday Map.

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