Philadelphia First Friday events, the monthly art gallery openings and community gatherings seen across the city, started about 20 years ago in the Old City.
Now, one artist, Clinton Meister, a former Fishtowner who now resides in Queen Village, is making a push to move the monthly event north to Frankford Avenue in Fishtown.
There is no denying the emerging art culture in the river wards. On Frankford Avenue alone there are at least 10 galleries and businesses that participate regularly in First Friday events, and Meister said it’s time for vendors in Old City to make the trek to be part of the growing arts movement.
“Artists need to survive,” said Meister last week.
While working with a group of fellow artists during the May First Friday event, Meister was ousted from selling works on the sidewalks of Old City.
A June 16 report from City Paper’s Holly Otterbein noted that the city’s Licenses and Inspections Department was responding to business owners’ complaints about vendors taking up too much of the sidewalk.
Recalling that incident, Meister said the sidewalks along Frankford Avenue — which were recently refurbished — are much wider and allowed for more room for vendors and patrons alike.
“Fishtown just has a better scene. It’s bigger, it’s easier to get to and the people here are awesome,” he said.
Immediately after his ouster from Old City, Meister created an event on Facebook called “Go North! Celebrate First Friday in Fishtown!” to gather allies to his cause.
In the neighborhood, Meister would join an already active arts scene. In fact, at Extra Extra, an art gallery at 1524 Frankford Ave. that opened in January, First Fridays have been relatively successful events.
Even though Extra Extra doesn’t program specifically for the event, Derek Frech, co-curator of the gallery, said last week’s event did coincide with the opening of a new show — Lowbeam by artist Zachary Davis.
“We don’t like it to designate how we program,” said Frech. “But, I think it’s different than Old City. It’s a more commercial thing downtown. Here, we’re not strictly focused on making sales.”
Davis said the gallery saw about 100-200 visitors on First Friday and said the event on Frankford Avenue has been good for business.
“It’s been certainly good for foot traffic and it brings in a diverse audience,” said Davis.
On Friday, July 1, this month’s First Friday event kicked off on Frankford Avenue at Norris Street, near Rocket Cat Café, where Meister gathered with a group of likeminded artists to present their goods.
All along the strip vendors were set up on the wide sidewalks on both sides of the street, selling art and photographs as well as T-shirts, toys and knick-knacks.
Jim Horwat, a 34-year-old artist from Levittown, said he supported Meister in this move north to Frankford Avenue.
He said he’s been an artist for about 10-15 years and for at least the last six years he’s been meeting with Meister and their small group of friends to sell art on First Friday in Old City.
But after a month — the group celebrated First Friday on Frankford Avenue in June as well — he already likes having his works for sale in Fishtown.
“It’s been like a rebirth,” he said with a grin. “Fishtown really seems more inviting.”
But, as the event kicked off, the street seemed quiet and not many patrons were perusing the stand.
“It’s going to take awhile,” said Meister as he re-arranged items on his table. “But, I’ve been talking to local business owners and everyone seems really supportive.”
Moving forward, Meister said he plans to continue spending First Friday’s on Frankford Avenue and he’s hoping to see the event grow as other artists see the welcoming attitude that exists along the avenue.
“I want to bring people’s attention to Fishtown,” he said. “This place is full of artists.”
For more information or to join Meister’s movement to bring artists to Frankford Avenue for First Fridays, search Facebook for “Go North!! Celebrate First Friday in Fishtown.”
Reporter Hayden Mitman can be reached at 215-354-3124 or firstname.lastname@example.org