Fifth First Friday

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”
       Edgar Degas

First Friday. Somehow this has become a thing, the day each month when cities across the U.S. hold some kind of art “event.” These have various handles: art walk, art crawl, art party, art groove (really Estes Park?), art trail, and probably others more (or less) creative. Missoula, Montana, is no different, except perhaps in its naming. Best I could determine it's simply called “First Friday,” demonstrating the town's overall weirdness.

As it is in most cities, First Friday in Missoula is an opportunity for artists in all visual media to display their work, often in venues not normally associated with art. The action is centered on Higgins Avenue and a block or two east and west of Higgins on some of the feeder streets. A number of galleries call this area home; on First Fridays they, along with caf├ęs, coffee shops, restaurants, real estate offices, and other businesses stay open into the evening beyond normal hours to display a wide range of art. It's not unusual for roving bands of musicians to parade up and down Higgins, stopping here and there to entertain passers-by. There have been “street pianos” on which anyone, skilled or talent-free, can stop and (attempt to) hammer out a tune. Climate Smart Missoula's solar-powered charging station appears on one corner or another so folk can stop and charge a mobile device (for free in more ways than one). Maybe art, maybe not, but still very cool. There's a lot going on, and it draws plenty of sidewalk traffic.

Early Firsts

Art show booth, FLFA, July, 2019

A small section of my first First Friday show.

Going back a few years, I had my first First Friday exhibit when invited to do so by the Montana Wilderness Association. That show, in a small, informal Mexican restaurant typical of a college town, drew what seemed to me a shockingly large crowd. Some were people I'd invited. It helped that Eugene Beckes, another photographer also featured in that show, seemed to know half the people in western Montana, and half of those people came. Because of the overall success and great look of the show, the venue's owners asked if we'd keep the show up for a second month and attend that next month's reception, which we gladly did.

Environment Montana, to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the (U.S.) Clean Water Act, hosted a First Friday in December, 2017. In that show I exhibited a few pieces, along with two other artists, and had a good crowd in spite of very cold weather. That show hung for only the one night.

Soon after that show I received, via email, an invitation to exhibit in a high-end real estate sales office. They'd found me and my work via my Web site. Pat and I drove down to Missoula to check out the venue. It's an older building, refurbished and restored with large front windows and a long, nicely-lighted brick display wall. We gladly accepted the invitation, and the warm September evening of the show brought in a steady stream of people. The University of Montana's Grizzlies had a home football game that weekend, which brought in the out-of-towners, enhancing the crowd. We sold a few pieces and made a new friend or two. What's not to like?

First Number Five

The long view of my fifth First Friday exhibit, September, 2019

First Friday, display wall.

When invited to return in 2019, for what would be my fifth First Friday, and given the choice of any month I wanted, Pat and I talked it over and decided not to mess with success; September would be just fine.

I looked through my new work made during the past year, selected a number of pictures, made some prints, and then did some framing and matting. I also included a few very popular older prints. We loaded the car on Thursday, and then Friday morning drove down to Missoula, about 70 miles (113 km) south of our home in western Montana.

The venue is a working office, and I wanted to disrupt their business as little as possible. To that end I'd mapped out in advance which pictures I'd hang in which locations, based on snap-shots made during the 2018 show. As I brought pictures in from the car I hung them, and then returned to the car for another batch. We were in and out within 30 minutes. I also had some pictures I'd display on table-top easels, but would set that up just prior to the show after the office's business day had ended. Pat and I spent the rest of the day running our usual Big City errands and goofing off in Missoula. There are plenty of fun things to do when one has time to kill.

With the opening advertised as starting at 5:00, we returned to the office around 4:30 to set up our tables. Danny Iverson, a jewelry artist with whom we'd shared the show in 2018, arrived about the same time and set up his tables. Our hosts set up a table with a couple varieties of wine and some great munchies. By 5:00 we were ready to go, and people were already coming in to view the work. We had a steady flow of traffic, lots of conversation. This being another football weekend the street teamed with people. About 7:30 the gloomy sky dumped a brief downpour which brought in a drippy mass seeking shelter. A captive audience is never a bad thing; more fun dialog, and we ended the night with a couple of sales.

The Guy

I've done more gallery shows that I can count, along with a dozen or so outdoor shows and the five First Fridays. At every show there's a guy who starts a conversation by asking a question or two about my work. Nothing unusual about that. He always asks what kind of camera I have, also a common question, which I answer simply with, “I use Canon gear.” He then quickly moves on to describing, in excruciating detail, his own photographic history, every piece of photographic gear he's ever owned, the merits of each over everything else ever made, and why it's all superior to whatever I'm using. Sometimes he'll start a rant about the enormous benefits of shooting film over digital. It's all tedious and alternative-fact-laden, but to make up for that he monopolizes my time such that I miss conversations with people who have legitimate questions, interesting stories, and sometimes want to buy a picture. If you've been a featured artist and attended opening receptions, you've met The Guy.

I've learned to recognize The Guy when he approaches. He's always a guy (in my experience), although there probably are women who do this. He scans the crowd and gets this laser-focused look as he targets his prey, the featured artist. He's often around my age (old), with wiry gray hair, a man-bun (what that is, why nobody should, and what others really think) or long pony tail, and a scruffy short beard. It wouldn't hurt him to spend a few bucks at a laundromat. There are variations on the theme: pot-bellied and bald, 30-something hipster in $400 loafers but can't afford socks, and others, but they're all The Guy. When I see him coming I jump into a conversation with anyone nearby, or otherwise make myself hard to corner.

And like clockwork, The Guy showed up at this First Friday reception. The same guy, I'm all but certain, who appeared there the previous year. We made eye contact and I saw the look, indicating he was on his way. I managed to stay out of range and eventually lost track of him in the crowd, but it was a close call.

A Good Time

During the wind the FLFA show, July, 2019, after we opened up the canopy

A wide view of my fifth First Friday, as Danny Iverson sets up his tables (cell phone panorama).

By 8:00, when the show officially ended, the crowd had thinned (and The Guy had left). We took down the pieces we'd displayed on the tables, cleaned up a bit, and then went next door for a quick dinner. Selecting pictures, printing new ones (or new sizes), framing and matting aside, this is a fairly easy show to do, the pictures look great in the venue, and we have a really good time regardless of sales.

We returned a week later to remove the pictures. As with the set-up, tear down was quick and easy. As we headed out the door with the last load one of our hosts shouted, “See you next year!” I look forward to it.

September, 2019

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