It has been nearly two weeks since the downtown shootings that injured six people after First Friday festivities. And in the days that have followed, much talk has centered generally on downtown safety and specifically on safety during First Friday.
There are those who feel the shootings are indicative of a larger problem, that the crowds attracted to First Friday have become increasingly unruly and that the incident is the final straw.
Shut it down, they say, before someone else gets hurt. Shut it down, they say, before someone gets killed.
Look, I don’t want anyone getting hurt – downtown or elsewhere. I certainly don’t want anyone getting killed. And if I thought, for a second, that ending the nearly 20-year tradition that is First Friday would prevent that from happening, I’d be in favor. But I don’t. In fact, I believe the suggestion that First Friday and violence downtown are in any way related is ridiculous.
The two most famous First Friday incidents – the shooting this month and the 2002 street fight that led to the event’s temporary suspension – occurred well after festivities wrapped. It’s important to remember that First Friday operated under very specific parameters, and after 10 p.m., there’s no First Friday on Broad Street. After 10 p.m. it becomes, well, just another Friday night.
And while I have no documented proof that those responsible for both the shootings and the fight had not shown up earlier to peruse a few galleries and listen to a little acoustic guitar, I do find it unlikely that there is an Augusta art lover who preps for a family event with a handgun and a healthy dose of malice. I’d bet the family farm that these incidents are more properly categorized as Friday night fights and not gallery walk violence. Even the very best watercolors don’t incite that sort of passion.
There might well be reasons to close the book on First Friday. There are, for instance, merchants who feel the expense and inconvenience of staying open late isn’t worth the minimal bump in income the event represents.
For years, gallery owners have told me that many people look at art on First Friday, but very few come downtown looking to buy a landscape for the living room. And if we are being honest, patronage is not what it was during the event’s heyday.
So if the businesses that, in essence, are the backbone of the event are ready to see it end, then it should end. It has always been a fairly informal arrangement to begin with.
All I ask is that we be honest about the reasons.
Crime is bad. Crime downtown is bad and disappointing. Crime related to First Friday is bad, disappointing and, most importantly, improbable. Do we really think Broad Street without First Friday will no longer attract a late-night crowd? It seems unlikely.