I was ready to call time of death on First Friday: I felt the monthly arts event, once the crown jewel of downtown development efforts, would never recover from the criminal blows that laid it low last fall.
But there may be life in the old girl yet.
Augusta in February saw stirrings of what could well be the rebirth of the monthly gallery walk and sidewalk stroll. A group of Eighth Street merchants, working independently of First Friday founding fathers Artists Row, initiated their own, small-scale event. While the Eighth Street Contingent (as they have come to be called) event was sparsely attended, in no small part because of some particularly frigid February weather, the group plans on continuing its First Friday festival tonight and in the months to come.
There also have been hints that Broad Street may follow the example of its side-street successors. Plans for bringing music and vendors back to Broad are under way, and Main Street Augusta has been accepting applications to fill those slots. Tonight, they return to the sidewalks on a limited basis, with an eye toward increasing numbers as the weather warms.
So what will be the success secret for First Friday, Mark II? Well, there are variables. Most important will be a concerted effort by Main Street Augusta, Artists Row and the Eighth Street Contingent to bring the Populist feel of First Friday back to downtown. This means music, outdoor artists and a sense of cultural diversity, with an emphasis on both quality and quantity. It will mean business owners, artists and organizations being able to compromise on a vision, a thematic feel that falls comfortably between the wine-and-cheese atmosphere of a gallery walk and the street-party ambiance of an outdoor festival. It also will depend on the uncontrollable element of weather. A few rain-soaked First Fridays could drown revitalization efforts.
But the most important factor in bringing this patient back will be the community's ability to forgive and forget. The only way First Friday can become a weekend destination again is for people to return to the streets. Sure, the recovery will most likely take several months -- that's the bad news. The good news is that, despite early pronouncements to the contrary, First Friday can come back.
I'll see you there.
Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or firstname.lastname@example.org