Another First Friday is upon us. What started out over 15 years ago as a way to bring people back to downtown, has turned into the largest event of its type in the country. Each month, over 100 venues open their doors and over 20,000 people converge on downtown. By any accounts it is a success. But this success has come at the price of a truly vibrant downtown.
If Phoenix wants to have a 24-7 downtown, with activity going every night of the week, we need to get out of the “let’s have an event on First Friday” mentality. I have no problem with the walk or small gallery openings, and I admit that First Fridays are a great way to get walk by traffic It is the slew of other events that could be held any night of the month and still draw an audience that I’m talking about. Does the Phoenix Art Museum really need to host its 50th Anniversary Party tonight? Or the Latino Cultural Center Grand Opening? Or the All Hands on Deck finale at After Hours Gallery? I would love to attend each of these great events, and would gladly have done so if they were held on any other night of the month. I’m sure there are hundreds of other people who would have as well.
So why hold event such as these on First Fridays? These events will draw their own audiences regardless of when they are held. Holding them tonight only dilute the audiences for other smaller galleries and openings that also deserve our attention. Moreover, the gaggle of events on First Friday mean that they will be other nights throughout each month when downtown will continue to fade to black after the offices close and classes end.
I’m not blaming the event organizers, per se. After all they are playing by the informal rules established by over a decade of habit. There once was a time that the only day a month that many people would dare venture into downtown Phoenix after dark was with the crowds that formed on First Fridays. Over the past several years, however, this has changed. Downtown is now a safe place any night of the week. The only thing missing are things to do other than catch a game, eat out or grab a pint.
Downtown Phoenix has enough activities to keep it going strong almost every night of the week. The problem is they are all clumped together on a select few nights a month. To be a truly vibrant downtown, these events need to start occurring throughout the month.
To be sure, things are changing slowly. As an example, SideBar’s 1st Anniversary Party held this past Wednesday was a huge success. Hundreds of people proved that they are willing to venture out in the middle of the week to attend an event. Sure SideBar could have waited until tonight for the party, but they didn’t need to. This allowed people to enjoy downtown Phoenix on a weeknight freeing their First Friday for the hundreds of other events going on. In addition, many of those in attendance stopped by other downtown establishments for dinner before hand, or drinks afterward, bringing customers to the central core on an otherwise quiet night for most businesses. Events like this is a small but important step towards a vibrant downtown more than one day a month.
Next time you want to hold an event—and are thinking of doing so on a First Friday—ask yourself if it could be held on another night of the month. And if you normally only venture downtown for First Fridays keep an eye open for other events going on throughout the month. It is only by overcoming Phoenix’s First Friday folly that we will achieve a truly vibrant downtown.