On the first Friday of every month, Philadelphia’s art galleries stay open late and welcome everyone — from casual passerby to serious collectors — to come in and peruse their current curations. The aptly dubbed “First Friday” has been happening, rain or shine, since 1991, and has become one of the city’s most visible and popular events. Although historically focused on the 40+ galleries between Front and Vine and Market and 3rd streets in Old City, First Friday open houses are now hosted by galleries all over the city, from Space 1026 in Chinatown to the Projects Gallery in Northern Liberties to Highwire in Fishtown. The best thing about this expansion is that, even though every First Friday shares the same core elements, depending on who’s showing what where, you can have a radically different experience every single time.
How cheap we talkin’: FREE!
Why this will impress your date: Because you can show you are as comfortable around refined oil portraits as you are around avante-garde video art. This is a good thing, I promise.
The Inside Game: If you want to know who’s showing where, need to plan a route, or find galleries in a particular neighborhood, there are a lot of great resources for planning ahead, like Phrequency’s “DIY First Friday” list, conveniently organized by neighborhood. The Philadelphia Weekly also shares its pick of noteworthy exhibitions each month in its Arts and Culture section.
Score Extra Points: By doing a little homework before hand (see above) and then leading the way. Strolling from gallery to gallery is perfect for hand-holding.
Next date: Friday April 1, 2011! And then the first Friday of every month, all year round (approximately 5-9pm).
Keep reading for highlights from First Fridays past, and where to find the galleries that still have free booze!
The First Friday experience offers a wide range of environments for art appreciators from all over the spectrum. From the huge, almost museum-like Trust Gallery at 249 Arch Street, to the upstart collaborative Stupid Easy at 307 Market Street, there is something to engage and interest everybody.
If you want to play art collector for a night, stick to Old City bastions like the Wexler Gallery and 3rd Street Gallery (on 2nd). A fun game to play with your date is to pick out, from every gallery, which piece you would take home, where you would hang it, and why. (These are also the galleries to head to in the dead of summer, as some of the more DIY spaces don’t have AC).
Although the posh and polished venues are more visible, seeking out smaller, newer, and less established galleries can be a particularly rewarding experience. For example, when I went to check out a friend’s piece in a collaborative show at Space 1026 a few months ago, Iended up catching a captivating electronic music set by Zomes (e.g. Daniel Higgs from Lungfish). True, the drinks weren’t free, but I didn’t mind paying $2 for a beer which went, in part, to support the gallery.
Meanwhile, nearby artist collective Vox Populi is a great place to explore if you’re not in the mood for wandering the streets. With several stories of studio space hosting openings on First Fridays, this warehouse is chock full of experimental art and artists working largely with newer mediums like scultpure and video. It’s also where to find the after-party: First Friday’s at Vox Populi stay open to 11.
Finally, don’t overlook non-traditional sites when planning your route. Although the Drink Philly headquarters don’t generally function as an art gallery, DP supports emerging artists by lending their ample wall space to the cause on First Fridays. As a regular contributor to DP, I have been to more than one of these events, and I have been impressed by how well-attended and fun they are. In addition to showcasing under-represented artists on the walls of their second-floor office space at 209 Chestnut Street, Drink Philly’s First Friday events include live music and a featured bar/restaurant offering complimentary food and (obviously) drinks to attendees(bring ID!). Past event partners have included Continental, Tria, and Triumph Brewery. If you are interested in the food, get there early (it goes fast!), but if you’re just looking for a good party with a laid-back and diverse crowd, feel free to come late!
Whatever the artsy atmosphere you are looking for, you can find it somewhere in this city on First Friday. Particularly lovely in the spring and fall months, First Fridays are a chance to wander the streets at dusk, mingle with artists, collectors and other curious folks, and appreciate how diverse and active Philly’s art scene really is. And with art being the reliable and provoking conversation starter that it is, First Fridays are a particularly good choice for couples on those first few dates.
It’s not a bad way to meet new people, either.