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First Friday Gallery Night event brings buzz to the Commons

A visitor admires the Community School of Music and Arts’ Gallery opening on Nov. 6.
By Elizabeth Morris and Will LeBlond

Bright bubble gum pink candy, Celtic knots integrated with playful colors and 3D dimensions dominate just a few of the many shows displayed across Ithaca’s downtown during a walkable gallery night. Visitors trickle in to admire the local art before heading out to other shows just a quick walk away.

Artist Christi Sobel is the creative genius behind one of 22 galleries participating in First Friday Gallery Night, a local collaboration organized by the Downtown Ithaca Alliance where Galleries release their new shows once a month. This year she put together a 12 set cohesive piece aimed to be a calendar, integrating local staples like wine and beer with animals and Celtic knots.

“Every show’s a little bit different, last year I actually did another calendar show at Sarah’s [Patisserie], totally different paintings, but again, a body of work,” said Sobel. “When I hang a show, I try to make a cohesive body of work.”

The Gallery Night includes businesses whose sole purpose is to promote the arts, and then also stores, restaurants and bars who also find artists and arrange shows.

Sobel has participated in the event numerous times at various different venues, sometimes at galleries, but also at the businesses.

The Gallery Night started around 15 or 16 years ago, and Downtown Ithaca Alliance first took it over in 2007 and transformed it from a quarterly event to a monthly one, said Evan Williams, Outreach Coordinator for the Downtown Ithaca Alliance.

First Friday Gallery Night first began with six or eight core galleries. Over time, the number of venues has increased from 8 to twenty, increasing the diversity of artists, said Williams.

“Each month we seem to have one or two new ones who sign up and so some people only participate a couple times a year, some people participate every single month, other venues pick and choose when they have shows,” said Wylie Schwartz, Gallery Night Coordinator. “So it’s always a different mixture of who’s participating and what the shows are like.”

The Gallery Night opens art shows, but the displays are available to visit during the week. Williams estimates that a few thousand people view the galleries that participate in Gallery Night throughout the month before they switch during the monthly Friday event.

One Gallery that’s been a part of First Friday Gallery Night since the beginning is the Community School of Music and Arts, or CSMA.

Robin Tropper-Herbel, Executive Director of the Community School of Music and Arts, said that people come to CSMA to see the artwork during First Friday Gallery Night, but then learn more about the organization and their other arts related programming.

“It’s a fantastic program because it’s all the galleries. Now we’re on this same cycle that each month we either open a new show or continue say a two month show,” said Tropper- Herbel. “But we all have the openings at the same time for the most part, so that the community can just come and go from gallery to gallery, and really make a night of it.”

Tropper-Herbel said the Downtown Alliance branded the First Friday aspect of Gallery Night, which is helpful for galleries because it allows visitors to plan their schedules ahead.

The Gallery Night’s ability to bring together so many diverse facets of the community creates a compelling event, Tropper- Herbel said.

“There are so many working artists that live here, doing all kinds of work in a range of mediums, styles and just a lot of people working in the arts here,” said Schwartz. “And it’s great to have so many venues that offer a platform for this work.”

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