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Happy Anniversary, 1st Friday

by John Alund on September 1, 2011


There’s a buzz on the streets of Albany on the first Friday of every month between 5 and 9 PM. Art galleries and museums that would usually be closed at that hour are open. People are milling about on Lark Street, in Tricentennial Park, along Delaware Avenue, at the intersection of Madison Avenue and Grand Street, and in other neighborhoods where you wouldn’t normally expect activity. They’re stopping in nearby shops, and grabbing a drink or a bite in local bars and restaurants.

They’re enjoying what has become a local institution, the 1st Friday art night.

This week, Albany’s 1st Friday will celebrate its five-year anniversary. Administered by Upstate Artists Guild locally, the 1st Friday art nights are held in cities and towns nationwide as way to promote the arts and bring together the arts community. Though the movement predated the economic collapse, it has a scrappy, DIY spirit which grew from its grassroots, underground origins; the art night movement is perfectly in tune with today.

Upstate Artists Guild sees 1st Friday as an essential part of their mission, which is to promote art education in the community, maintain a space for instruction and exhibition, and work with the community to encourage interest in the arts: “1st Friday invites the community out to participate and be active members of the arts—to see, hear, taste, and feel what the arts and culture community of Albany has to offer.”

Michael Weidrich, an artist and administrator, is the coordinator of 1st Friday and a five-year veteran board member of UAG.  Asked to reflect on the growth of Albany’s wildly successful 1st Friday, Weidrich says, “I equate it to a garden, because you have to cultivate a garden—weed it, feed it, and take care of it.”

“I’m amazed 1st Friday reached five years,” he says. Weidrich also played a role in inspiring and shaping Troy Night Out and Art Night Schenectady, which quickly followed Albany’s art night and grew into great successes as well. This October, for the first time ever, all three cities—Albany, Schenectady, and Troy—will be having their art nights on the same evening as part of the MoHu (Mohawk-Hudson) Regional Arts Week, which will begin Oct. 9. (Metroland will have more details on this big event soon.)

While the 1st Friday events have grown in popularity, they’ve also grown in their geographical reach. UAG partnered with Albany Aqua Ducks and Trolleys to bridge the gap between Lark Street and Central Avenue, downtown, the Delaware Avenue corridor and uptown neighborhoods. Trolleys are free to the public, creating an opportunity to explore the city of Albany, which UAG touts as “the upstate culture capital.” UAG have also cultivated many partnerships and sponsorships with local entities, including the Central Avenue BID, Downtown BID, and the city of Albany.