Over 20 years, First Friday turns downtown Las Vegas into creative nexus
Twenty years ago, they tried something pretty audacious for downtown Las Vegas.
They put on the very first First Friday, a one-night carnival of food and entertainment centered on art in the area of Charleston Boulevard and Main Street.
It was audacious in 2002 because back then, the Arts District was nothing like it is today. It was mishmash of used furniture stores, curio shops, rebuilt carburetor shops and art galleries.
But what started as a small-scale event centered on art galleries has grown into a bona fide cultural institution. Over those 20 years, First Friday has turned downtown into a creative nexus and introduced thousands of local artists and bands to suburban Las Vegas.
It has also helped the Arts District become one of the hottest spots in the valley.
“It was a ragtag group of people, maybe 300 of us,” Alvarez said. “There were no sidewalks, there was no lighting.”
He said the Arts District is night and day compared to what it is today.
“It’s gentrified, it’s insane to see what the Arts District became.”
First Friday has lasted as long as it has because “it was ours,” Alvarez said. That it belongs to the community.
“I think it’s finally gotten its sea legs today,” he said. “I can just walk there from my house”
Corey Fagan joined the First Friday Foundation about 11 years ago. She, for the most part, grew up in Las Vegas, but wasn’t aware of the event.
“I remember walking down that street,” she said of her first event. “And this is when the magic happened. It was all put together and all the artists that came out, music stages and everything, and I walked down Casino Center, because it was on both sides of the street at that time. I stood and I was in my own personal bubble that happens a lot for me at First Friday, just watching the magic taking place. … I said, ‘I don't know what this is. And I don't know what my part is in this, but I know I want to be a part of it.’”
The event went from hundreds to thousands, and now they see about 15,000 to 20,000 attendees.
"But there's so many people who have still never experienced First Friday yet, which is exciting," she said.
Listen to the interview above for more. Visit the First Friday website for more information on Friday’s event.
And, if you missed us last time, KNPR will have a booth at First Friday from 5 to 11 p.m. We'll be offering merch such as tote bags, hoodies, mugs, pints and NPR shirts. There will also be chances to win a $25 member reward certificate, merch discounts and more.
Corey Fagan, executive director, First Friday Foundation; Brian Paco Alvarez, anthropologist and cultural entrepreneur