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Come On Downtown 

by Leah Sottile

It happens on Thursdays in some cities, Fridays in others, and at various times during each month across the country. In Spokane, it's on the first Friday of the month, and it's one event that is attempting to reform downtown's cultural core.

The cleverly named First Friday is much more than just an excuse to get suburban-trapped Spokanites into downtown - it's a cultural happening. On the first Friday of each month, a gaggle of downtown galleries, shops and cafes extend their hours in the name of local arts and culture. Galleries host opening receptions of new exhibits, live music performers are interspersed between venues and some participating retailers feature discounted items. Participating venues range from the recently opened Artist Tree Boutique to the established Lorinda Knight Gallery. (And don't get your hopes up, but sometimes there's free wine.)

This month's art walk, arranged under the theme "Cultivating Spokane: A Celebration of Gardens and Parks," is set to cater to a number of nature-inspired exhibits on display around town. L.R. Montgomery's paintings, drawings and prints of Manito Park and the "Magic of Manito" photo contest are on display at the Chase Gallery. Avenue West Gallery will feature watercolors of plants and flowers painted by Cheryl D. Halverson. Lorinda Knight Gallery will kick off the "Spokane River and the new Great Gorge Park" on Friday night.

And in a further effort to cultivate whatever cultural roots might be lying dormant beneath Spokane's streets, a number of live music acts will be performing -- ranging from a set by Canned Music outside of Auntie's Bookstore to a classical performance by violinist Constance Eller at the corner of Main and Wall. And Fiddlin' Big Al will be playing starting at 6 pm at the Lorinda Knight Gallery.

Since its inception last November, First Friday has had an increase in participating businesses, but the Downtown Spokane Partnership (DSP) still hopes for more support by downtown shops and locals.

Erin Gurtel, events and promotions coordinator for the DSP, says Spokane's event is more than just an event for visual arts junkies - it's another way to celebrate the rich culture that the city has to offer.

"[First Friday] is supporting our local businesses and showcasing what downtown has to offer," she says.

The DSP got the idea after seeing cities like Boise, Seattle and Portland have so much success with their monthly visual art walk events. Portland's First Thursday art walk dates back to 1987. Cities with more vibrant downtown cores, however, have less trouble attracting crowds than Spokane does.

"We are wanting to get folks downtown and excited about going downtown as a destination place to find art, to shop, to eat and to feel a real sense of community," says Susan Hardie of the Spokane Arts Commission.

Hardie says that she believes that because of First Friday's efforts so far, people are already starting to take a bigger interest in what downtown Spokane has to offer - and she believes that interest will be what makes First Friday the thing to do every month.

"People are starting to take a real pride in downtown," she says. "They are experiencing and discovering all the treasures that downtown has to offer. There is so much going on down there."

Publication date: 08/05/04

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