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First Friday art series goes virtual


Friday night’s forecast predicts rain, but for once that’s not going to dampen the First Friday art trekkers.

Rochester’s monthly mass art opening series has been on hold since the city’s cultural organizations jointly decided to shut their doors in early March.

But this week, First Friday will be streamed over Zoom, joining the ranks of area arts and cultural organizations that have individually ventured into the virtual world to host digital exhibitions or performances online.

This experimental event, presented by Rochester Contemporary Art Center, will test the waters with artists streaming brief presentations from 13 participating venues over one Zoom channel.

This month’s spotlights include a glimpse at “This Way, Recent Work by Nicholas H. Ruth” at Colleen Buzzard’s Studio in the Anderson Arts building; a talk with Writers & Books Artist-in-residence Annalisa Barron and Communications Director Chris Fanning; an opportunity to get to know new creatives through ImageOut’s annual juried student exhibition “20emerging” at Gallery Q, and a preview of Rochester Contemporary’s “6x6” exhibit, which will include an artist talk and a little game of “guess which artist made this.” The event’s full lineup is online at

Not all participants will stream from a gallery or studio. For example, Sabra Wood of Cat Clay will present “Kitties Against Covid” from home instead of her Hungerford studio. And rather than showcase artwork, Cat Clay’s presentation will spotlight what local organization Sample Soap is doing for Rochester’s most vulnerable citizens and how you can get involved. She will also preview another upcoming virtual event.

Rochester Contemporary Executive Director Bleu Cease underscores that this first go is experimental. This virtual First Friday will understandably run differently than it would under normal circumstances — instead of art lovers schlepping from gallery to gallery, choosing from dozens of exhibits and events, they can tune in via Zoom (meeting ID: 827-3111-9662) or stream over Facebook Live to watch a series of curated presentations from the comfort of their homes.

The event will be a bit like speed dating, with art. The program runs for two hours, from 6 to 8 p.m. Participants at each venue will have about 10 minutes to show off the exhibited work or give a talk, Cease says. And some of those segments will be further split between multiple spotlighted artists. There will be a solid diversity of conversation, and hopefully some interaction with visitors and attendees, Cease says.

A few of the participating venues will showcase work or hold a brief discussion related to a program that was planned for April, but thwarted by the quarantine. “So this is an opportunity to at least show and share some of those works, and give the artists some props and some visibility,” Cease says.

The plan is to continue hosting a streamed monthly First Friday, Cease says, expanding and tweaking where opportunities arise. “We're proceeding a month at a time, we'll see how it goes,” he says, adding that as the group learns the ropes, people will gain a sense of how to program for the platform, and activate their spaces more creatively.

Over time, organizers will have to troubleshoot various challenges involved in translating the dynamic, vibrant First Friday series to the virtual realm. Because it’s a structured, two-hour, streamed presentation instead of a big list of physical venues to hit up, art patrons aren’t able to choose which venues to pop into and which ones to pass over. Because there are structured time slots for presentations, there’s a limit to how many venues can participate. And though Zoom and Facebook Live allow some interactions from viewers, it’s a far cry from being able to pick an artist's brain over an individual work of art for half an hour.

On a typical First Friday, one could spend the entire evening exploring the open studios in The Hungerford or Anderson Arts buildings, taking in a cross-section of studio spaces with artists working or presenting their art. During this Zoom presentation, only two or three studios or galleries from each building will be highlighted.

It’s not possible to “pass the mic” to 40 different studios in a two-hour time frame, Cease says. But he adds that he thinks that some method of recreating these one-stop environments will emerge as this experiment proceeds.

There’s also some potential for aspects of this new mode of presenting the First Friday art openings to continue after quarantine is behind us. Cease says that a silver lining to the health crisis, for the organizers at least, is that they’ll finally be able to take part in the full First Friday experience. Usually, artists and curators presenting events are stuck hosting at their own venues all night and unable to check out what their creative colleagues are showcasing at other spaces.

“So maybe after the shutdown, if there is an after the shutdown, maybe this becomes an annual little tradition for us,” he says.

Additionally, each participating venue will highlight a local restaurant or nightspot during its presentation, either by ordering food or just talking about their favorite venue, as a way to encourage viewers to support the local food industry. It’s a logical connection, given that many First Friday attendees make a night of the event with dinner and drinks before or after their trek.

Cease says that this endeavor underscores the impact the arts has on other local economies, and the interdependence of small businesses across the board.

Rebecca Rafferty is CITY's arts & entertainment editor. She can be reached at [email protected].