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Portion of First Friday arts festival to take two-month hiatus

18b

Leila Navidi

The 18b Arts District in downtown Las Vegas.

Updated Monday, July 18, 2011 | 11:46 a.m.

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First Friday Las Vegas, downtown’s monthly art festival, has apparently grown too successful for its own good.

Organizers announced Monday that the festival portion of the event at Casino Center Boulevard and Colorado Avenue will take a two-month hiatus this summer to “evaluate and address rising costs.” It will take August and September off and return in October, the festival's founder said.

The rest of the arts district galleries will continue to celebrate First Friday, several vendors said.

“First Friday has grown so quickly that expenses for putting on the event are now double what they were six months ago,” said Cindy Funkhouser, president of Whirlygig, the non-profit group that administers First Friday, and the festival's founder. “We’re working on a sustainable fundraising plan for the continued success of the event.”

The festival’s time off will likely to be a blow to thousands of valley residents who flock downtown every month and dozens of businesses that rely on the customer infusion. Former Mayor Oscar Goodman once called First Friday “the best thing that has ever happened to Las Vegas.”

As its name implies, First Friday runs on the first Friday of every month. The festival entered the downtown scene in 2002 as a grass-roots collaboration between a handful of businesses and art spaces. In those early days, it attracted a few hundred people to buy and peruse art.

Now the festival stretches more than 20 blocks and draws as many as 10,000 people in its peak months. Streets are shut down, booths are built, portable toilets are brought in and stages are erected.

The city of Las Vegas shoulders some of the cost, and Whirlygig receives federal and state grants to help pay for the event. Community sponsors foot some bills. Artists show their work for free, and attendees pay no cover.

But Funkhouser said increased attendance has caused the event’s footprint to grow and required more security, factors that have added to its costs. The festival’s popularity has become both a blessing and a curse. Organizers clearly want their startup to succeed, but not so much so that the event puts itself out of business.

“What began as a mission to provide a venue for artists one day a month has grown into a thriving art scene,” Funkhouser said. “Now we need to take some time to consider how popular First Friday has become and how it should continue to grow safely and sustainably.”

Other arts district vendors vow to keep their First Friday festivities going.

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