First Friday marks two decades of bringing art to the streets

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First Friday draws thousands of people to enjoy art, crafts, music and food in Las Vegas’ Arts District.
First Friday draws thousands of people to enjoy art, crafts, music and food in Las Vegas’ Arts District. Photo Credit: Photo Credit: Michael Bittle
Paul Szydelko
Paul Szydelko

First Friday, a monthly celebration of Las Vegas' burgeoning arts scene, is marking its 20th anniversary this week in the downtown Arts District.

Like the Smith Center, which is celebrating its 10th year, First Friday has come to symbolize the city's maturation as a regional cultural hub and its sense of community beyond the world-famous tourist corridor.

Established and emerging artists and craftspeople display their work along a giant city block from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. on the first Friday of every month. Three music stages, bar areas and several dozen food trucks add to the festivities. Admission to the family-friendly event is free.

"It's a very inclusive event. It just allows everyone to come together," said Corey Fagan, who has been executive director of the First Friday Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, since 2019. "We have people from all different walks of life that come out."

The featured artist for the Oct. 7 event will be Izaac Zevalking, sole creative of Recycled Propaganda, an English-American sociopolitical artist known for his graphic exploration of contemporary issues. The theme for this month is "One World Through Art," and representatives of many cultures and communities in Las Vegas will be on hand to display and sell their arts and to demonstrate their music and dance.

"Art breaks down barriers and allows people to have conversation and come together and just celebrate art and have different thoughts … but come together as one," said Fagan, who has been associated with the event for 11 years. "You're all looking at the same art, and you're all listening to the same music. It's always peaceful and just always has good vibes."

The Nov. 4 First Friday will be a celebration of indigenous people with Native American art, ceremonial dances and singing.

Not for locals only

While about 94% of the 15,000 to 20,000 people who attend each month are locals, more and more tourists are discovering the culture and community beyond the Strip, Fagan said. The Arts District is about 18 blocks of art galleries, restaurants, bars, breweries and other retail businesses.

"What we're seeing now is that people are actually planning their trips to come during a First Friday weekend so that they can support some of these local artists, see a little bit of culture, see a little bit of that hidden surprise and delight that some people tend to do when they go to visit any city," she said.

Having interactive artwork in which those attending can explore their own creativity is a First Friday tradition. Examples include a giant tree painted on a canvas, on which guests' thumbprints became its leaves, which was placed at a medical center. Another artist collected messages of encouragement on rose petal-shaped paper to become part of a mural at SafeNest, a shelter for those affected by domestic and sexual violence.

"I believe artists are here to heal the world. And I believe that we all need a little bit of that. So if you're coming from out of town, I hope that you leave a little more inspired than when you came because you came to First Friday," Fagan said.

Visit the event's website for more information.

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