After standing in line for 30 minutes to board at the Cecil B. Moore stop and a long subway ride of unintentional yet unavoidable grinding with strangers, I wasn’t feeling very festive on my way to my first First Friday on Sept. 7.
First Friday is a monthly event in Old City when art galleries host open-houses. In recent years, the esteem of the event has been diminished by street vendors, sidewalk musicians and an array of characters that greet you upon your emerging from the Second Street stop.
Personally, I love the crazies.
With a therapeutic ice cream in hand, I began to wander in and out of galleries until more eccentrics arrived to cheer me up. One was particularly packed, with attendees admiring two large grids of simplistic animal portraits done by Sean Martorana for his show, “The Essence of Life and Line” on 22nd N. Third St.
I couldn’t help but imagining how cool each design would look on a T-shirt before realizing that I was the only person without a troupe of hip 30-something friends. A wave of awkwardness hit me, and I left.
I strolled back to Second Street, now inundated with young Philadelphians ready to get their quirky on.
A pair of young guys stood with their arms crossed on the side of the street, seemingly hoping that anyone who passed would stop to look at the framed photographs laid on a sheet in front of them.
I was shocked to find out that both of them were in high school. Having found out about First Friday by ear of mouth, Stephen Sutter of Gateway Regional High School decided to take his chances on bringing his framed original photographs to the event. He was lucky enough to encounter Schuyler L., a Philadelphia artist who
has been participating in First Friday for about a year now. With plans to leave Philadelphia for a while, Schuyler seemed happy to share his space and a little more with Sutter.
“I’m telling him all my secrets,” Schuyler L. said.
As I continued back up Second, I couldn’t help myself from talking to a cute guy in old-fashioned garb behind a typewriter. A sign at his feet read, “A Poem for You.” This seemed too good to be true.
Ryan Ashley, of Denver, has been writing all his life, but has participated in First Friday for about a year, he said. He said he runs off of donations but has never turned anyone away.
As I watched him typing, I realized that this was going to be worth more than the handful of change I had prepared for Ashley. I mustered my last dollar.
Ashley also offers his talents for poems available to order for special occasions on his website, untouchedpoetry.com.
After a personalized poem and enjoying some street performers, I decided to end my evening on a note that First Friday’s founding fathers would appreciate — an artist’s talk at the Center for Art in Wood on N. Third St. The artists speaking were part of the International Turning Exchange residency, in which participating artists lived and collaborated together for two months.
Artist Daniel Ostrov, a Tyler School of Art graduate, stood inside his giant hanging piece “Koan,” describing how the piece was meant to be experience from the inside as well as the outside.
“[When standing inside of the piece,] you start to see the rest of the room through the sculpture itself,” Ostrov said.
Without any friends to pull me in different directions or to tell me to stop talking to strangers, my first First Friday was an unhampered experience. Although scary, I suggest that everyone tries solo wandering First Friday at least once. You’re in a generally safe part of the city, and with so many artists willing to chat, loneliness just isn’t a factor.
Jenelle Janci can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.