The Future of First Friday Street Closures (To Be Continued)

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Note: This article's been updated to reflect accurate gallery openings.

More than 70 members from the downtown community and representatives of the Phoenix Police department met Wednesday night at MonOrchid to discuss the future of street closures during First Friday.

The short story: Fur flew and the closures are still canceled.

The long story: The whole lot of artists and business people have a heated history, conflicting opinions and personal feelings about what First Friday was/is/is supposed to be.

Lt. Sean Connolly of the Phoenix Police Department called the meeting after he was approached by T.J. Jordan and Jim Baca of Revolver Records with a plan for a First Friday face lift, of sorts.

Originally, First Friday's street closure, or Phoestival, was canceled because of excessive heat and law enforcement issues. The original idea of the closure was to "promote revelry" throughout downtown, which is now happening all along the light rail, according to closure organizers. The closures have since remained on hiatus, but Jordan and Baca hope to bring them back.

The duo pitched their idea to a roomful of artists and art scene must-knows including representatives from Roosevelt Row CDC and Artlink, Kim Moody of Alwun House, Helen Hestenes of Icehouse, and Carla Wade of Carly's Bistro, to name a few.

Jordan and Baca's vision for First Friday would include four areas -- on First and Second streets, to the north and south of Roosevelt street -- for a potential farmer's market, arts fair, community area, and food area.

According to Jordan, these areas (with street closures) would increase safety, organization, and raise money that could be used for community improvements and would ultimately provide an "urban cultural experience".

And that's when the other side of the room opened its mouth.

Local business owners like Dwayne Allen of the Breadfruit said the street closures had been a "significant hindrance" to business and that the new event would draw people further from his restaurant on what many consider to be Downtown's busiest day of the month.

Kenny Barrett, project manager at Roosevelt Row CDC, was worried that the new plan might step on the progress of developing art projects, specifically "Art Markets", which Barrett (and RoRow) hopes will take over vacant lots with art fairs and shows on different days of the month.

"The current vibe is ugly," said artist Michael 23, who cited his years of experience with Artlink and the once-upon-a-time First Friday which was much more about art and galleries and much less about the shenanigans. "I'm waiting for a shooting."

There was criticism of Jordan's "newbie" status on Roosevelt Street (Revolver's been open in its current location for a year and a half) and his reluctance to host the event on another day of the month, which left the room divided as to "whose" First Friday it was/is and what "First Friday" is supposed to be about, anyway.

True, First Friday used to be an artwalk where a few hundred (older) Phoenicians would mingle about the galleries and buy art. As the event gained popularity (as most good things do) street closures were introduced. By police estimates, thousands of people began flooding the downtown event, which all-too-often resulted in stolen art, public intoxication arrests and mountains of trash left for the morning pick-up.

But hey, Circle K was making a killing.

The current scene is part-Phoestival, part-art-revival, where the shows continue and art is still purchased, though some galleries including eye lounge, MonOrchid, Modified Arts, Greg Esser's Regular Gallery and Casebeer's  studio on Portland are holding their show openings on Third Fridays, instead of First Fridays.

Ultimately, the room emptied in a stalemate. The slips of paper with check boxes "for" and "against" street closures made a messy stack in Connolly's fist as artists and business owners lingered and chatted about proposals of youth engagement, volunteer security and public education about First Friday ... once they, and the community as a whole, can decide what that actually means.

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