Fourth Fridays and Other Acts of Exhibitionism

Story and Photo by Lois Carol Wheatley

Fourth Fridays and other acts of exhibitionism

Fourth Fridays is a downtown art and gallery event that takes place from 6 to 9 p.m. with roughly 25 participating venues. So let's do the math to figiure out what it might take to do the full tour. Within a three-hour time period it works out to 8.5 stops per hour which gives you a little over seven minutes per stop, not counting the time needed to travel between them. You'd be hard put to do it all even if you skipped the free food and beverages and also pretty much skipped the art.

Some call it Fourth Friday Gallery Night and some call it Fourth Friday Art Walk, and there are problems with either designation. It's not just galleries that participate. It's also a couple of restaurants, a book store, a consignment shop, a hair and nail salon and a radio station Any place of business within a 14-block downtown district that has walls and hangs art is eligible to jump in on this event.

Call it an Art Walk and that envisions a leisurely stroll, whereas it would have to be an Art Gallop if you were to attempt to achieve the aforementioned schedule of seven minutes per stop. There is always much Art Talk, which is even more time-consuming than the free food and drink. Your best strategy is to divide and conquer, sectioning off the downtown district into manageable chunks, and spreading this tour over at least a few months.

Just as the participants are a diverse group, Fourth Friday sponsors include some far-flung interested parties, in particular a chiropractor, a restaurant (that doesn't otherwise participate), a design firm, a local magazine, an arts organization, a marketing firm, a web site and an economic development organization.

Downtown merchants have come together to create Fourth Fridays in the absence of an arts council and/or any type of public funding. Therefore it is somewhat decentralized, almost like the Internet with many servers all over the place and nobody really fully aware of what is going on at all times. No one assumes any responsibility for misdirected or lost seekers of art.

So let's put it this way. If a gallery is going to hold an opening reception to kick off a new exhibit, it will do it on a Fourth Friday. If artists choose to hang out at a gallery and discuss their world vision with whoever drops in, they will do it on a Fourth Friday. If someone decides to stay open a little later than usual and bring in some live entertainment while serving up something along the line of wine and cheese, well, you get the idea.

In the beginning

Fourth Fridays launched in 2002 with 14 participating galleries and a meager handful of sponsors, all chipping in to promote the event and print maps and posters. "Originally we talked about just doing the spring and summer months and we had such a strong response to it that we decided we would go through the end of the year," said Merrimon Kennedy of New Elements Gallery.

"We weren't doing the first three months of the year, but we kept getting people who were asking. I think we did it three or four years before we started offering it year-round. There are very few years when we do December because the Fourth Friday typically falls on something like Christmas Eve."

Sometime around 2008 or so a nonprofit organization known as Art Soup took charge of the event and opened it up so that you didn't have to be a gallery to participate. It was the vision of Steve Gibbs, spearheading Art Soup, to create greater community involvement, and to throw open the doors to all interested parties.

Art Soup runs a number of diverse events in various venues—visual art, film, music and literary—and with whatever money it raises, it buys art supplies to give to public school art teachers. It also nurtures budding young artists in other ways as well, through educational programs, presentations, and art advocacy. Among many other things it helps struggling artists find places to displaly their handiwork.

Fourth Fridays is the biggest program on Art Soup's plate—or should we say in its bowl—but other recurring events are noteworthy. Among these are Acoustic Soup, usually on Memorial Day weekend, typically involving guitars, art, wine and beer. In September, it's Between The Lines, a poetry reading at Bottega Gallery & Art Bar on Front Street. An annual film event is called OCULI, and that runs from screenings to lectures, classes and workshops, sometime in the spring.

It's a lot for anyone to keep up with. Studios and galleries come and go, move in and move out of downtown spaces, drop in and drop out of Fourth Friday participation. Especially in this economy, times are particularly hard for the art community. So don't get too attached to the following line-up, always subject to change with or without prior notice.

More Information:

Terms: Fourth Fridays in Wilmington

Fourth Fridays in Wilmington

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