News & Features » Miscellany

Once a month, something's buzzing on Broad Street.

Stepping Out

There's something new happening on Broad Street on the first Friday night of each month. There is energy, there is vibrancy — there are people.

Nov. 2 marked the second First Friday/On & Off Broad, a season-long program designed to promote new art exhibitions at local galleries and museums, and to lay the foundation for making historic Broad Street an "art district."

Created and administered by Christina Newton, executive director of Artspace Gallery at 6 E. Broad Street, First Friday is a free program that aims to promote the many art venues located on Broad and nearby streets.

With the city of Richmond's plan for development of the downtown area, exemplified by the future performing arts-complex, Newton and other like-minded art advocates saw the Friday events as a perfect opportunity to promote the visual arts in the area.

"There are a number of galleries having openings on the first Friday of the month, but there was no real coordination between them," Newton says. "This project seemed a natural progression to work together to increase overall attendance at the galleries along the Broad Street corridor." Newton adds that "First Friday" was a way to open up a dialogue between galleries in order to better serve each other and the greater needs of the Richmond community.

Newton looked to other cities — Charlottesville, Fredericksburg and Washington, D.C. — for models of art walks. In May, she held a meeting for all the gallery owners and museum coordinators in the Broad Street area to discuss the viability of such a project, and there was overwhelming enthusiasm and excitement.

"We really just wanted to introduce art and culture to the public in a fun and informal manner," Newton says.

In response to the initial meeting, 10 cultural institutions joined the partnership to create "First Friday." They include: Aquiles Adler Gallery, Artspace, The Black History Museum & Cultural Center of Virginia, Corporate & Museum Frame, Elegba Folklore Society, Richmond Public Library/Downtown, 1708 Gallery, The Valentine Museum/Richmond History Center, The Virginia Fire & Police Museum and Visual Art Studio.

To further encourage visitors to attend these venues, safety and transportation issues were addressed. GRTC Transit System, with assistance by Ukrop's & First Market Bank, donated free shuttles to the various sites. About 50 people took advantage of this service in October, and Newton hopes the numbers will increase in the future. In addition, a number of the Clean & Safe city program's "downtown ambassadors" are being stationed along the walking corridors.

With the addition of street performers to boot, Broad Street has nearly turned into a big block party. And Newton says there are plans to close the street off and offer more entertainment, food, drink and vendors.

Carrie Goodall, the gallery coordinator at Corporate & Museum Frame, is enthusiastic about the response so far to First Friday. "It is such a positive thing," she says. "I think people have been intimidated by the downtown — they think there's no parking, that there is traffic and crime. It's a misconception. It really is safe here and there is parking! I hope First Friday will help people change their minds about the downtown area."

If numbers alone are indication of people changing their minds, Goodall may have her wish. Artspace counted 820 people at the opening of "Think Small! International Miniature Invitation Exhibition," the largest attendance in the gallery's history. Dozens of people wandered through the Black History Museum, the Richmond Public Library, and the Valentine — institutions that aren't usually open on a Friday night.

For those afraid to attend this event because of other fears, namely that only a highbrow coterie of snobbish art types can be found, be reassured. First Friday brings out all kinds of people; young, old, black, white, families, singles. Whether listening to the DJ at Visual Art Studio, sipping wine at Aquiles Adler Gallery, or contemplating Richmond's past at the Valentine Museum, "First Friday" is a very open, multicultural event that aims to make art less exclusive and more available to the public.

"Everyone seemed to be in a good mood," Goodall reports. "How could they not be? With street performers, nice weather and great art, what could be better?"

Indeed. If nothing else can be said, at the very least, Broad Street at night is full of people. And that, we can all agree, is a good thing.

Add a comment