On the first Friday in April, Hunter-Wolff Gallery owner Sharon Wolff sat in her home office, waiting to see what would happen.
At the stroke of 5 p.m., her phone rang. There it was, her first Virtual First Friday sale for her longtime Old Colorado City gallery. Wolff brought in five sales that night, a far cry from typical First Fridays, but a number she still considered a win under the pandemic circumstances.
“We could usually have dozens of sales on a First Friday,” says Wolff, who founded the OCC First Friday ArtWalk 15 years ago. “Some evenings it’s in the thousands of dollars. It’s a big night for my gallery and my artists. If everybody along the creative corridor said we’re not doing Art Walk anymore, I’d still do it. That’s how important it is to me.”
First Friday looked a lot different last month than in March. Rather than art lovers shuffling down Colorado Avenue or visiting First Friday Downtown, they were cozy at home, clicking madly away at their keyboards as the popular monthly event went virtual with 360-degree video tours at participating galleries.
May’s Virtual First Friday will look similar to April’s, though there’ll be a few additions. What won’t change is the Virtual First Friday Challenge: Spend $50 or more at any of the venues listed online at PeakRadar.com/VirtualFirstFriday, and the venue will 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. The gift applies only to purchases made during First Friday, and art buyers must immediately send proof of their purchase to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “BVF <3 VFF.”
“I tell galleries to think of it like a tip,” says Claire Swinford, director of urban engagement for Downtown Partnership of Colorado Springs. “That extra $50 free and clear means more to help with overhead.”
Last month, Bee Vradenburg Foundation pledged $1,000 in the Virtual First Friday Challenge. The entire grant was exhausted in the first five minutes of the event, says Swinford. The challenge was such a success that the DDA hopped on board with the foundation to increase this month’s amount.
April’s Virtual First Friday brought in more than $20,000, and that was only the amount of buying activity reported to Swinford through receipts intended to go toward the challenge. Data collected that night from seven out of the 15 participating venues showed only about a 10% decrease in revenue from April 2019’s First Friday event. Two of the seven galleries reported they made enough money in those three hours to cover their fixed costs for the month, all due, says Swinford, to the “community wanting to support.”
A couple of First Friday participants will mix it up this month. Art111 Gallery & Art Supply, in addition to featuring work online, will be open to 25 visitors at a time. Velvet ropes and a bouncer will decorate the outside of the gallery and attendees will be provided with face masks.
Cottonwood Center for the Arts, just east of downtown, also will offer an alternative to those who want their art in-person. Visitors are invited to Drive-By First Friday, where they can cruise their car or bicycle through Cottonwood’s parking lot and down the street. They’ll see 2D and 3D works by local artists, while musicians from the Colorado Springs Chorale and Colorado Springs Philharmonic and dancers from Ormao Dance Co. will perform. Anita Marie Fine Art, which is across the street from Cottonwood, will also put out paintings. Pot O’Gold Kustoms will display cars from the 1930s and ’40s, and Western Jubilee Recording Co. will provide live music in front of their venue.
“It will be like driving through a wildlife preserve,” says Jon Khoury, Cottonwood’s CEO and executive director.
The drive-by idea was born of Khoury’s desire to keep live engagement with the arts alive.
“We have to start thinking about how we’re going to live with this virus, and not just act defensively,” he says. “We want people to start to think how are we going to live and possibly engage.”
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