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December 21, 2014

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Joe Downtown: First Friday to undergo dramatic shift next month

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Justin M. Bowen

A look at First Friday, the celebration of Arts held in the Las Vegas downtown Arts District Friday, August 5, 2011.

First Friday 10th Anniversary

Devontah Pope of Las Vegas, models accessories from Alex's Unique Boutique during First Friday in Las Vegas on Friday, October 5, 2012. First Friday celebrated it's tenth anniversary this year. Launch slideshow »

A downtown event that has drawn upward of 30,000 people one night each month is changing direction in August.

Up until now, First Friday has been composed of art and craft vendors under tents, food trucks and entertainers along several blocks south of Charleston Boulevard near Casino Center Boulevard.

Next month, the event will get a new look and feel: Organizers plan to set up a winter streetscape for the Aug. 2. event and either eliminate the tents or shift them north to provide more visibility to galleries and businesses.

“It’s going to be a great and exciting opportunity for gallery owners to attract new people and open their doors and welcome everybody and say, ‘Come on out and experience the galleries,’ ” said Marc Ableman, Arts District Neighborhood Association president.

Tentatively called “Antarctica,” organizers hope to partner with artists and volunteers to create sets and backdrops resembling an icy tundra along several blocks of Casino Center, First Friday spokesman Charles Ressler said.

The tents and vendors usually seen south of Charleston will disappear. Some could sell their goods outdoors north of Charleston, and businesses and galleries will be given a chance to host artists and installations.

“It’s a statement about what we can do to change perceptions in Las Vegas, to see things from a different angle,” Ressler said. “We keep saying this event belongs to the public, and we’re getting in tune with what that actually can mean.”

Organizers hope to elicit the public’s help in creating the tundra set. The vision will be developed over the next few weeks with local artists and technicians.

For some time now, gallery owners have grumbled about First Friday becoming less about art and more about a party in the streets.

“They’ve said, ‘Please make this more about art,’ ” Ressler said. “So we’re making this a completely immersive art experience to the south … We’re saying to the community, ‘Look, this belongs to you, come build it.’ ”

The Arts District “has been building for 12 years, and we want to honor them and drive as much traffic as possible into their businesses and see if it can really work,” Ressler added.

“They’re listening to what people want,” Abelman said.

Details of the event are still being worked out. Organizers have roughly three weeks to finalize plans.

Food trucks will still be stationed somewhere, but details about where were not available.

“This is a chance to break down walls,” Ressler said. “This is the chance to set the bar together.”

People interested in volunteering or finding out more about next month's First Friday can check for updates and information in the First Friday newsletter and on the event's Facebook page and Twitter feed.

Joe Schoenmann doesn’t just cover downtown; he lives and works there. Schoenmann is Greenspun Media Group’s embedded downtown journalist, working from an office in the Emergency Arts building.

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