Abingdon celebrates the arts on First Thursday
By Leslie Grace | A! Magazine for the Arts | June 26, 2013The First Thursday of the month, the brick sidewalks and trolley in Abingdon, Va., are filled with people visiting local galleries.
First Thursday began in 2012. "The idea had been discussed by many venues for quite some time," Leila Cartier, curator at William King Museum, says. "We were all hosting our individual events on a routine basis, so it was just a matter of coming together and coordinating schedules. Last summer I made an effort to speak with all of Abingdon's downtown arts organizations to try and make it a group effort. Chef Nate Breeding (House on Main) was immediately on board, because he had been supporting monthly art openings on Thursdays for almost a year. The board of The Arts Depot was in favor of hosting open houses on First Thursdays even though their opening receptions were generally on Sundays.
"William King Museum's Director of Education Lindsey Holderfield helped Zazzy'z Coffee Roasters and Wolf Hills Brewing Co. build a schedule of rotating exhibits. I spoke with Polly Mallory who was just about to open Mallory Fine Art. She made a huge effort to move her timeline up a few weeks. Candace Sykes, William King Museum's director of marketing, made the posters and print materials. Susan Howard of Abingdon Main Street helped to spread the news. We all celebrated our first First Thursday Sept. 6, 2012. I know Candace as well as William King Museum's Callie Hietala and Marcy Miller made it to almost every single venue that night. Since then many art venues have come and gone based on what works best for them, and we still welcome newcomers. For example The D.aR.T House Gallery was opened by D.R. and Robin Mullins in June."
Abingdon's First Thursday is not walkable. Since the venues are spread all over the town, there is a trolley that loops around Abingdon from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Participating galleries include Mallory Fine Art, D.aR.t House Gallery, Wolf Hills Brewing Company, Zazzy'z Coffee Roasters, William King Museum and The Arts Depot.
"First Thursday has consistently brought in new faces to the gallery as well as helped create a monthly habit of regular attendance for others," says Polly Mallory, owner of Mallory Fine Arts. "It helped put Mallory Fine Art on the map as a new business, and the Thursday evening foot traffic has certainly equated to increased gallery sales. In addition, First Thursday is a fun event for a local gallery to host. To be able to offer to the community a monthly outing of local art, music and food to enjoy with other friends and neighbors as well as others in the surrounding area is a wonderful way in which to serve our Abingdon community."
Mallory says that on average 80 to 100 people visit her gallery each First Thursday. Her gallery is not the only one that mentions increased sales. The Arts Depot's 6x6 fundraiser in February featured 141 pieces of art for sale. During First Thursday, they sold more than 100 of them.
"People have been buying a lot of art, and it is all original work made by local artists," Cartier says. "When I finish working at the William King Museum and go out for dinner, I see attendees at restaurants or continuing to walk around Main Street. I think it has definitely had a positive economic impact for the organizations and businesses that stay open late on First Thursdays.
"Our goal was to keep matters simple so that it would not be so complicated that it would never take off or be too difficult to maintain," Cartier says. "It was immediately a huge success and has continued to be because of the core organizations that work each month to hang new art for visitors to see. The most important factor that has made each venue successful is the amount of self-promotion they do, which ultimately is marketing that helps the entire group."
The galleries not only work together to make sure they have new creations every month; they also work together to promote each other. The Arts Depot invited the Abingdon Thumb Strummers, who play dulcimer music, as a collaborative effort to promote William King Museum's exhibit, "The Virginia Dulcimer." Holston Mountain Artisans organized a Block Party that featured quilts and quilt-related events across town; this helped promote the museum's quilt exhibit.
"The arts organizations have been excellent at coordinating these events and maintaining consistency," Cartier says. "The positive group effort and open communication have made First Thursday a success."
Cartier says she does not just measure the success of First Thursday by its economic impact. "I measure it by the increased attendance we have seen at William King Museum. I know all of the art venues have been very pleased with the number of guests that walk through each night. Each month at least one venue has soaring attendance. If someone can't make it to all the venues in one night, they know they can return because the exhibits will stay up for the entire month. Also, we are all seeing new faces, which is always important. It shows that we are reaching new audiences and continuing to build a strong arts community that will come back as well as share their experience with friends and family. Every event has been so entertaining and great that I sometimes call First Thursday my favorite monthly holiday."
If you'd like to help celebrate Cartier's favorite monthly holiday, just pick a gallery, enjoy the art and refreshments and then hop on the trolley. Businesses that would like to join in the celebration should contact Cartier at firstname.lastname@example.org or Lindsey Holderfield at email@example.com.
"All participants are asked to share in the responsibility of marketing these events," Cartier says. "By working as a group, each venue shares their audience and in turn is introduced to the supporters of other organizations and businesses. We could not have done this alone, and it has been wonderful to see this group of talented people working together for the common goal of bringing awareness to the arts and culture in our town."
"It's a casual, artsy, fun excuse to go out and enjoy the community of Abingdon on a summer night. It brings both our locals and tourists together to enjoy a very important part of what makes Abingdon so special," says Mallory.
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In Abingdon the trolley helps move the crowd around town during art walks.
Internationally known fantasy artist Charles Vess held a signing at Mallory Fine Arts Gallery.