All Photos by Garrick Ramirez
If you have yet to attend a First Friday, Santa Cruz County’s massive monthly art party, you may be wondering what all the fuss is about. Yet once you go, you’ll understand why the popular event draws a lively, fun-loving crowd. Below, we’ve broken down First Friday basics—what it is and what to expect—so you can mark your calendar and join the fun!
WHAT TO EXPECT
On the first Friday evening of every month, Santa Cruz galleries, shops, and cultural venues open their doors to showcase the works of Santa Cruz County artists. With a block party-like vibe, the multi-venue event provides an opportunity to discover local creative talent in a fun and festive setting. The good food and drink helps too. Most venues entice attendees with yummy cheese-and-wine-filled spreads, while others shake up speciality cocktails like the delicious Mexican Mules at Home/Work and a rotating Stripe-tini at Stripe. It’s a great way to fuel a fun night of art and community.
WHERE IS IT HELD?
First Friday is a countywide event, which means you’ll find hubs of activity Downtown, along River Street (in the Old Sash Mill and The Tannery Arts Center), Midtown, Soquel Village, and San Lorenzo Valley towns like Felton and Boulder Creek.
WHERE SHOULD I START?
First timers will appreciate the large cluster of walkable venues found Downtown. Start at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History (MAH), which is a hive of activity on First Friday thanks to free admission, extended hours, and live, toe-tapping music. “At the MAH, people don’t just look at art. They make it, talk about it, and share it with fellow visitors,” says director Nina Simon referring to the all-ages activities—from weaving to seed-bomb making—featured at every First Friday event.
IT’S MORE THAN JUST GALLERIES
In addition to rubbing elbows with local artists and fellow art lovers, you’ll also discover new (and new-to-you) shops and galleries. Artisans Gallery has long been an enthusiastic supporter of local artists. They were one of the first venues to feature prominent local artists like September Wren and the late Doug Ross. On First Friday, Artisans Gallery hosts additional Santa Cruz artists such as Katell le Bourdonnec whose vibrant collages marry vintage images with floral patterns. The gallery also invites local craftspersons to create in-store pop-ups such as Vanessa Rude who, when she isn’t helping Bangladeshi girls learn how to surf, creates beautiful jewelry.
At the newly opened PF Atelier, a clean modern gallery on upper Pacific Avenue, artist and owner Paola Favatà exhibits a host of artists amidst her own multi-discipline artwork including studio jewelry that she fashions at a small workspace within the shop.
It’s not just art galleries that are participating. On First Friday, shops, wineries, hotels, and even yoga studios are transformed into temporary galleries. Pacific Wave found space between its surf tees and skate shoes to showcase the modern, surf-inspired works of Jared Leake who melds local coastal photography with vivid graphic design. And on a recent night, stylish boutique Stripe featured Caryn Owen, a former marine biology professor who paints vibrant paintings with colors and abstract forms inspired by Santa Cruz shores.
Venture beyond Downtown and you’ll find other unique participating venues including Wargin Wines in Soquel Village, Chaminade Resort & Spa and Annieglass in Watsonville.
"First Friday gives dozens of artists regular opportunities to exhibit their work, brings out floods of community members to enjoy our lively neighborhoods, and is terrific fun,” says Michelle Williams, the Executive Director of Arts Council Santa Cruz County. “It’s part of what makes Santa Cruz such a vibrant and wonderful place to live and visit.”