First Friday Art Openings: Fredericksburg’s Best-Kept Secret
By LAUREN ORSINI
When UMW alumna Caitlin Kell wanted a place to showcase her artwork, downtown Fredericksburg’s First Friday event seemed like the right option.
This ’05 grad isn’t alone in her decision. Each month on the first Friday of the month, hundreds of local artists display their work at the nine galleries in downtown Fredericksburg.
“It’s a good opportunity to show my work to my community. It’s a great way for me to come out and participate in the community and my school,” Kell said.
The First Friday event began in 1992 when resident artist Johnny Johnson established Art First, Fredericksburg’s oldest artist co-op. According to local artist Pat Thalman, the event has been so lasting and successful that one third of the original 30 members are still involved in First Friday.
“It’s a very important day of the month for the art community. It’s a tradition now. We establish many of our sales as a result of this night,” Thalman said.
Though First Friday has been a perennial event in downtown Fredericksburg for sixteen years, resident sculptor Joseph Wilkinson notes that surprisingly few Mary Washington students attend.
“First Friday is still a well kept secret- not that we want it to be that way,” Wilkinson said.
However, resident painter Bill Harris has observed a steady rise in First Friday attendance. Harris has been a local painter since before the beginning of the event and a resident artist at LibertyTown gallery for the past decade.
“Every night, half [of our attendees] are people that have never been here before, and half are people that have come back,” Harris said.
Harris also says that the event is a great opportunity for Mary Washington students.
“It’s fantastic first, because it’s a place to get free entertainment, food, and beverages, and second, it’s a walking tour of Fredericksburg if you visit all the galleries,” Harris said.
First Friday has also been a place for many art majors at UMW to launch their careers. The Visitors’ Center gallery on the intersection of Caroline and Charlotte hosts a show by UMW art students every month.
Long before Kell displayed her work at First Friday, ’68 MWC alumna Beverly Coates began her career in the same location.
“After displaying my work at First Friday in April 2004, I made the step from saying I’m an artist to saying I’m a professional artist,” Coates said.
However, the event isn’t just for art majors. Students interested in seeing the area through its galleries, meeting artists and other community members, and eating and drinking for free should also attend.
“I like going because its fun and there’s free food and wine,” said senior Eva Richardson.