It's more than free wine and cheese.
First Friday, the monthly art cruise along Artists' Row, a collection of art studios and galleries on Broad Street, has become a tradition for many Augustans.
"Augustans are now aware of us," said Lou Ann Zimmerman, artist and co-owner of Gallery 1006 at 1006 Broad St.
First Friday began four years ago as a way for merchants to entice art lovers and new customers into their studios and galleries.
According to gallery owners, the concept is working.
"There were times three years ago that if we had two dozen people through here on First Friday we were happy," said Mrs. Zimmerman, who shares space with fellow artist Michael Pearson.
Now an estimated 800-1,000 people participate in the monthly gallery walk, said Mrs. Pearson. Crowds have grown, thanks to advertising and word-of-mouth.
The one-day event, held from 5 to 9 p.m., brings in the best business of the month for many galleries, especially with sales of smaller items, said Mrs. Zimmerman.
The evening also serves as a preview for buyers, who often return on Saturday to purchase a painting they've seen the night before.
The Banker Martin Gallery, 1022 Broad St., opened in February and is the newest art studio on the block. Even so, its owners said they've seen consistently bigger crowds on First Fridays.
"We haven't completed a year's cycle, but it definitely seems like downtown is increasing in popularity," said potter Juliet Martin, a co-owner.
The event is appealing because it's free and it has a "home-grown" feel, said Glen Bennett, executive director of the Downtown Development Authority and Main Street Augusta.
"It's truly an Augustan event. It's got a lot of room to grow," he said.
Although there isn't any research about the attendance of downtown events such as First Friday, Mr. Bennett said he'd like to develop a way to measure them as a way to attract new businesses and advertisers.
For artists, it's an opportunity to visit with regular and potential customers.
"I like the exposure here. I like being able to communicate with customers," said Karen Lind Banker, a painter and co-owner of Banker Martin Gallery.
Today's First Friday falls during the Artists' Row holiday open house, with most businesses also staying open until 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. During the holidays, most galleries will be open until 6 p.m. Thursdays.
What:A monthly open house at art galleries and businesses
When:5-9 p.m. today
Where:Artists' Row art galleries on Broad Street
Reach Margaret Weston at (706) 823-3340.
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