What Are First Friday Art Walks About?

What is First Friday Art Walk?

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First Friday Art Walks occur on Main Street the first Friday of each month in spring, summer and fall. Hours are 5  – 8  on these evenings. At each of four galleries, you’ll find interesting art to view. They feature special exhibitions of art created by both local and imported national and international artists. Art of many types is for sale. The visitor will also find free beverages and hors d’oeuvres or dessert before or after dinner at one of our local restaurants. Look for music in some of the galleries and on the street. Find art in 20-30 store windows. Stroll the streets and gab with others as you run across interesting things—the art in the stores and their merchandise. These experiences are sponsored by the four galleries. As you can see First Friday’s are not just about selling art. They are about “selling” an experience and building a community around art. Read further to understand why we think this is important to Vincennes.

 The Role of Arts in the Community

Why should you care about artists making art? What’s in it for you?  Along with beautifying your own personal surroundings, note the national conversation about the role of the arts, all the arts, in maintaining and improving community well-being.  Usually this discussion cannot be found in the mainstream news media.  An exception here in Vincennes is Jenny McNeese’s consistent and in-depth coverage of art events here and in other Indiana towns nearby.

 The National Conversation About Art and Community

Even a quick google search, however, will turn up much conversation and information about the positive impact of a vibrant arts environment, examples of which can be found in many places throughout the nation and the world.  A town’s most pleasant places often involve the arts in significant ways. We are trying to help this ideal become a reality in Vincennes.

One of the topics in the conversation is how the arts can be used to build community.  One way is that artists often take over  unused, deteriorating buildings. They turn them into places where different groups come to see or create art. Pretty soon a new group forms. People who share the same focus repurpose another empty space. The group of active friends of the arts grows. The arts gradually come to bridge groups within the community and support the community as a whole. Often businesses take those spaces over and real estate values climb.

An argument might be made that we each have our own community and that is sufficient. Yes, there are many communities: We have church communities, medical communities, business communities, service communities, legal communities, educational communities, the agricultural community, labor communities, and the mining community. The arts cut across all these communities as a common denominator, providing visual, musical and verbal language content that speaks to the soul and flushes out our essential state of existence—being human. Old, middle-aged or young, if we pay attention, art can be moving, enlightening and healthy, like exercise. Vincennes, as can happen in many cases, seems to exist in a compartmentalized state—there are many communities with specific interests that do not overlap. Vincennes could use art to bring all these communities into a common focus, using the richness of our individual perspectives.

INVin’s Contribution

One new potential umbrella organization is INVin, a non-profit group participating with the Indiana Main Street project (overseen by the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs).   INVin has invested in gutting one of downtown’s larger buildings in order to repurpose and restore it into a beautiful, functional office space for Pioneer Oil. Not only that, INVin has purchased several other significant, but deteriorating, buildings on Main Street and is stabilizing them with the hopes of finding new owners who will develop them with businesses that contribute to the city’s economy. INVin has the understanding that the arts can attract other businesses.

While this is true, the arts need some support in the first place. It takes purchasers of the arts to help artists and galleries to survive in order to draw other businesses. Often it also takes requests for grants. Our First Friday movement is a way to do what INVin advises, to commercialize our art. We are not only trying to sell our art though; we are trying to sell an experience, the type of experience upon which INVin is trying to build. 

 Place-Making

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Creative place-making, partially through the arts, is another part of the national conversation. In Vincennes, Doug Halter of Halter Tree Service has installed trees and hanging flower pots along Main Street helping to make Main Street a pleasurable destination. Art can act as a focal point in a community as well.  It can offer universal content and beauty (whether visual, intellectual, emotional, spiritual—or otherwise enlarging). It can use existing assets of the community or bridge communities through creating special locations.  Art is refreshing to be around and art attracts audiences from across all fields and ages. It can make us proud, and it can draw a crowd.

Another example is the renovation of the Lincoln High School Administration Building, now called Clark’s Crossing, directed by Myszak & Palmer, Inc. This project has created a dramatic focal point along one of the city’s major corridors. It not only repurposes the building for functional living spaces, but it creates beautiful spaces in which to live, both inside and outside. This is a great example of place-making through the arts of architecture and landscape design. The park across 6th street from this building includes green space and plantings, as well as a gracefully incorporated parking lot. The park gently blends the  grand facade of Clark’s Crossing into the adjacent neighborhood.   

Art does cost money. Many communities have found, though, that investment in the arts stimulates growth and attracts residents, as well as visitors and tourists.  Instead of corporate art reproductions on the walls of our banks, offices, schools, organizations and medical facilities,  our community can use original and innovative artists shown by local galleries.  This is actually beginning to happen, which is a significant change that will hopefully grow. There is a sense of pride in our city that is developing, as we begin to celebrate, not only our history, but the best of our now.

 Best Practices in Using Public Art

Most public art works over the years have been quietly commissioned for Vincennes by various entities, who know little about art or about how to use art as an asset.  Many times over, they have by-passed a community conversation about the art proposed.  A long accepted practice in the acquisition of public art in other communities calls for these steps:

1.  Establish a clear definition of the project, and criteria for proposal submissions. This would be done by a panel that included representatives from the community and appropriate art experts.

2.  Create and advertise a national or international call for artists.  Bringing in a nationally known artist would put Vincennes on the map.

3.  Create and implement a series of steps in selecting the artist.

4.  Use the process to advertise Vincennes.  For example, proposals could be narrowed down to finalists who would come to Vincennes to speak about their ideas. An exhibition of proposals could be made, in which the public could provide input. When the project is complete, there could be a well-publicized  “unveiling” or “installation” event.  The artist could be on hand to speak about his or her work.  There could be ongoing coverage of the progress of the process.

Following such a protocol could make the presence of the artwork attract visitors from around the region and beyond.  Travelers might leave routes 70 and 64 to see a public artwork by a particular well-known artist.

 Art Addressing Social Issues

Folks in South Bend, Columbus, Ft. Wayne and Indianapolis have encouraged the arts to make their cities attractive destinations for people of many persuasions, occupations, and economic statuses. Many of us might be blind to the various social issues in Vincennes, but art can help cultivate a sense of pride, when best practices above are used in choosing art for certain locations. Art can help lead to social engagement of various facets of the community. The key is to do so with best practices ensuring engagement and aesthetic quality.

 We Have Work To Do!

The national conversation supports the fact that art contributes to economic growth for neighborhoods, towns and entire cities.   Art discourages crime and attracts businesses, tourism and investment.  Vincennes Visitors and Tourist Bureau headed by Shyla Beam has done an admirable job of working with what we have to help the city attract visitors and tourists. The rest of us must be mindful that what we do can either help or hurt the community’s efforts to sustain and develop a vital downtown.

We might consider why people come to Vincennes.  They might first come for an experience and then want reminders of that experience. They might use the hospital or clinic, fix a car, visit a relative.  In any case, they’ll likely buy a sandwich or other meal, a drink and possibly a hotel room.  They might discover something else they wish to see and spend an extra night, or decide to enroll a student into the university in coming years.

Vincennes has tried with some success to draw in visitors chiefly with its historical assets, with the presence of the university, and with the sports events of our youth. Often our efforts have been isolated, annual weekend events. We might invest thousands for a single short-lived annual experience. An event, such as the Rendezvous, is a great thing, but it is an annual event, not a daily one.  We also need to develop resources that make Vincennes special, beautiful and attractive daily, to both our residents as well as our visitors. We must find ways to better use the river and package our historical and our art assets.  We need to back this up with convenient services and opportunities that make people comfortable in our town, particularly by using our local color as much as possible. We need to encourage them to spend money on a memorable experience while traveling.

If we think about Vincennes, particularly downtown, who are we designed to serve? What are our offerings on Main Street? Is it a place we as residents like to visit, hang-out or explore? If we aren’t inspired by our own surroundings, why would a tourist care to visit? What is missing?  The biggest things that seem to be missing are the recognition of the charm and pride of our own environment, venues supportive of our major assets that accommodate visitors, and a night life.

First Friday Art Walk’s Effort

First Friday Art Walk has begun to change that scene. We have been seeing regulars come from surrounding counties to buy art and enjoy the ambiance. We have also grown a core of hometown supporters who come to nearly every event. The Old Thyme Diner and the Moonlight Cafe enjoy the benefits of the Art Walks.  Depending on your perspective, it’s so big city or it’s so small town! In either case it has charmed people who have attended our monthly event. There is something for everyone, so why not support our efforts and help spread the word?  Food, family, friends, fun and fine art on Main Street are making a difference in Vincennes!


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