Visual arts lovers, take heart. Your beloved galleries are reopening, albeit very slowly.

First Friday is once again upon us, and for June’s event, two downtown galleries will be open for your viewing pleasure.

Art 111 will once again welcome visitors and Eclectic CO, a boutique showcasing more than 50 local artisans and small businesses will also open up. Shopkeepers will allow 10 people inside at a time, including staff.

“We’re cautiously excited,” says Eclectic CO manager Ani Trejo Barrington. “We’re trying to do good by our clientele, and our best to ease back into whatever we need to do so our business can do well, too, and our artists can thrive.”

Last month, Art 111 Gallery & Art Supply reopened with limited entry and face masks.

“I’m very supportive of arts in Colorado Springs,” says Art 111 Manager Robin Schneider. “I have 20 artists in here, and I know every one of them, their details, what they do. I’ve been to their studios. These are my friends. It’s more than just a business. Promoting other people brings me happiness.”

In May, Cottonwood Center for the Arts dreamed up Drive-By First Friday, where people in cars or on bikes were able to view sculpture in the center’s parking lot. The event they had planned for this month, Cottonwood One Way: The Walking Tour, has been postponed. 

The timing-separated, socially distanced walking tour through the building and main galleries, along with live music, mural painting, outdoor dance performances, curbside food for pickup and properly distanced tables for dining, is now planned for July.  

Cottonwood announced via Facebook on Thursday that the event would be postponed "to show support for the important discussions happening in our community and our country."

Cottonwood will participate in Virtual First Friday, which gives gallery owners who have not reopened yet the opportunity to showcase their art with 360-degree video tours. 

The experience was helped along by the addition of the Virtual First Friday Challenge in April and May: Spend $50 or more at any of the participating venues, and the venue would receive an additional $50, thanks to a $4,500 gift from the Downtown Development Authority and Bee Vradenburg Foundation, which invests in and supports local arts organizations and artists.

It was a hit. Both Virtual First Friday events made more than $20,000 in gross revenue, reports Claire Swinford, director of urban engagement for Downtown Partnership of Colorado Springs. Some venues grossed equal or higher income than during their May 2019 First Friday. Overall, First Friday sales were down 12% compared to May 2019, and down by 10% in April compared to April 2019.

For June, Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region will offer a $1,500 gift for the Virtual First Friday Challenge. The funds would normally have been spent on the First Friday Shuttle.

It’s unclear when more galleries will reopen, even though the retail stores are permitted to do so. Many are open by appointment only, but very few are offering limited entry or other types of open-door policies, says Swinford.

“They’re waiting to see what their neighbors do,” Swinford says. “It’s a combination of hearing from patrons that, no, they’re not ready to do a normal First Friday and I’m a single business owner. If I get sick my revenue stops, so I’m going to play it very safe.”

Schneider, on the other hand, is feeling optimistic about his financials at the gallery. They entertained 41 guests during May’s First Friday, a drastic drop from the 300 they usually see. But what’s helped is Social Distance Saturdays, started by Downtown Colorado Springs this spring. For a $45 registration fee, a household can enjoy a 20-minute private appointment at up to five locations. All proceeds go to the participating galleries and retailers.

Each Saturday for the last month, about 20 to 25 people have made appointments at Art 111. The gallery has sold three times the amount of wall art than it did in May 2019.

“They’ve all been in buying-type mode,” says Schneider. “We don’t have nearly the numbers of people, but the people coming out are supporting like never before.”

Contact the writer: 636-0270

Contact the writer: 636-0270

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