After managing First Friday since 2005, the Greater Augusta Arts Council is transferring management of the monthly event to Artists Row, an organization of downtown art galleries.
The change, about a month in the making, will take place September 5.
According to Greater Augusta Arts Council Executive Director Brenda Durant, the graduation of Jamie Lowe, the federal work study student from Georgia Regents University who served as the First Friday coordinator, may have been the impetus for the change — “when your federal work study student graduates you no longer have a federal work study student” — but the idea for turning the event over to a downtown organization has been a matter of discussion for a while.
“It’s a downtown event and it benefits downtown businesses, so we’ve been interested in trying to find a downtown business component to manage the event just like First Thursday at Midtown,” Durant says. “They don’t have an outside organization that manages First Thursday for them; the shops there manage it themselves. So it just made sense to us that it would happen eventually.”
According to Artists Row President Syd Padgett, who owns and operates OddFellows Gallery, the Arts Council was looking for a group that had something at stake.
“They said they felt we basically had the most invested and were the most involved with the success of First Friday,” he says.
Artists Row, which has a nonprofit component that allows them to manage the event, formed an events committee consisting of Padgett, Candlelight Jazz organizer Karen Gordon, downtown business owner Dr. Ben Casella and Augusta Market at the River Manager Brooke Buxton, and one of the first decisions they made was to shrink the boundaries of First Friday from the Metro Coffeehouse to the Book Tavern — roughly all of the 1000 block and half of the 900 block. Though Padgett expects it to expand beyond those boundaries, he thinks condensing the event will help give it more of an art-focused feel than it had under the Arts Council.
Artistic Perceptions in the 500 block remains an artistic island off the physical boundaries of Artist Row, but a participant all the same.
In summarizing her organization’s First Friday accomplishments, Durant emphasizes the structure the Arts Council was able to give the event and the kinds of things they were able to keep out rather than the things they were able to include.
“We’ve had at least one person on the street during First Friday to give out our vendor passes and make sure people don’t spring up selling cell phone accessories and things that used to happen pre-Greater Augusta Arts Council,” she says. “We’ve worked with the City of Augusta License and Inspection and the Sheriff’s Department, so we have a great working relationship with how the vendors go.”
Padgett, who moved his gallery from the corner of 8th and Ellis approximately two years ago, says that while the cell phone accessories might be a thing of the past, the event has been largely flat for the last year or so.
“It was a little better when I first moved over here, but it’s gotten to the point where it’s really kind of bland because there’s not a whole lot going on,” he says. “That’s one of the things we want to do is infuse some of the life and energy back into it.”
First Friday suffered from the July 2012 shooting that left six people injured and threw the safety of the event in doubt. Later, the Riverwalk beatings of Ashley Solesbee and Wesley Spires contributed to the perception that downtown Augusta was unsafe after dark.
Padgett says that while the late night bar crowd might associate with First Friday, the event itself runs from 5 p.m. until 9 p.m.
“First Friday is more about getting out with the vendors and going through the stores and seeing the artwork,” he says. “If you come down here and compare any Friday night with a First Friday night, it looks pretty much the same. It’s earlier in the evening where it’s a little different.”
As a way to highlight the galleries, Padgett and his events committee plan to put artists in the galleries themselves to enhance the personal connection. They also hope to help local artists navigate the sometimes difficult waters of self promotion.
“A lot of the artists we have in Augusta are new and they’re not really educated on the whole marketing aspect and how to get their work out and how to sell it,” Padgett says. “That’s one of the things I’m hoping to do with First Friday — get folks out and let them become vendors.”
A healthy art community only helps Artists Row, he says.
“We want new galleries and we want new blood and this is the way I see doing it,” he says. “We have the people out there in their tents and they’re selling artwork and the ones who are successful are either going to want to open their own gallery or band together and open an art co-op or, if nothing else, open a small studio on one of the side streets. I think it’s a good opportunity for the artist to grow in Augusta, and this is the spot where it’s going to happen.”
Padgett also wants to address the piecemeal way in which First Friday musical acts were arranged so that the musicians aren’t competing against one another. He’s also actively seeking a sponsor to fund a trolley service so that the colleges and people living on the Hill have easy access to the event.
“Basically, it would start at the Summerville campus of GRU, stop at the Partridge Inn, go over to Paine College, then to the medical district and then come downtown,” he says.
Riders would be able to follow the trolley via a Trolley Tracker that’s part of the First Friday app currently under development.
He hopes to have the trolley service ready by September.