First Fridays a staple in Lincoln's art scene

Story and video by Nick French, NewsNetNebraska

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A central player in the First Friday Art Walks, Gallery 9, located at 124 S. 9th St. in downtown Lincoln, is currently showing work from painter Wendy Jane Bantam.

Lincoln’s art scene thrives around a single night of every month.

Local galleries fill up with swells of curious art-goers and free wine and fine cheeses are in abundance.  Many artists have the best chance of selling their work. It’s first Friday in downtown Lincoln.

For the past few decades, artists and patrons alike have come together to celebrate the First Friday Art Walk, where dozens of galleries open their doors to showcase the varied mediums and talents of artists near and far.   In recent years, three downtown galleries; the Tugboat, Gallery 9, and Indigo Bridge Books, have played significant roles in the first Friday art scene.

Deb Weber, the executive director of the Lincoln Arts Council, said that first Fridays are essential to specific galleries, but also to keep the local art scene blossoming as a whole.

“First Fridays are very important to our community,” Weber said.  “One just has to be in downtown Lincoln on a first Friday evening to see the vibrancy that is created by the arts.  The gallery walks attract a large number of people who experience an intrinsic impact such as intellectual stimulation and social bonding.”

As a first Friday veteran of sorts, Gallery 9 has been exhibiting art since 1995 when owner/curator Judith Andre bought the archaic two-story brick building and transformed the first floor into a gallery. Andre was an influential player in establishing first Fridays in Lincoln.

A central player in the First Friday Art Walks, Gallery 9, located at 124 S. 9th St. in downtown Lincoln, is currently showing work from painter Wendy Jane Bantam.

“Right after Gallery 9 opened,” Andre said, “Anne Pagel, who was then the director of the Haydon Arts Center in the Haymarket, got together with a group of downtown gallery representatives and we talked it over.  We finally agreed to coordinate and have all of our openings on first Fridays.”

This month, Gallery 9 is showcasing work from Nebraska native Wendy Jane Bantam, oil paintings rich with bright pastel tones that harness abstract, ethereal scenes of nature and the human form.

“Dream and reality have always inter-played within my work,” Bantam said.  “In regards to my most recent body of work I moved through the process of making paintings without restriction of linear narrative. I created the work to be viewed as a movable storyboard.”

Andre said with summer approaching, she is looking forward to generous turnouts at Gallery 9.

“It’s always busy this time of year,” Andre said.  “First Fridays are very important.  The largest part of our traffic and sales comes from first Friday.”

A more recently established gallery that’s active during the art walks is Indigo Bridge Books.  The bookstore, located at 701 P Street, was founded in 2008 as a way to combine literature with local creativity and community outreach.

Indigo hangs visual work throughout their sizable bookstore and adjoined coffee shop, encouraging visitors to sip an espresso as they admire the art.  During the month of April, Indigo Bridge took a non-traditional approach to first Friday, holding live performances by local musicians Nick Dahlquist and Phil Malcom.   Indigo is also showing an exhibit by visual artist Rachael Wells.

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Perhaps the most widely attended hotspot during first Fridays exists in the core of downtown Lincoln.  The Tugboat Gallery, sectioned as part of the Parrish Studios, is located in the space above Gomez Art Supply at 120 N. 14th Street.   Founded in April 2008 by bygone Lincoln artists Joey Lynch and Jake Gillespie, the Tugboat is one of a dozen galleries in the Parrish Studios.
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Oil paintings by artist Ben Moore will hang throughout the month of April in the Tugboat Gallery at 14th and ‘O’ St. in Lincoln.

“The Parrish sort of condenses that whole process by putting several galleries in one building, and constantly trying to find the new and best artists to display,” current co-captain of Tugboat and local artist Nolan Tredway said.  “First Fridays are kind of a staple of the art world throughout the United States. It’s not just us, but Lincoln’s enthusiasm for the arts is something to be proud of.”

Tugboat is a non-commission gallery, and their funding comes entirely from fundraisers and patron donations.  Tredway said the Tugboat exists not as a separate entity but instead a small contributor to a much larger movement: first Friday’s in Lincoln.

“It’s something we love to do, and are happy to do the work,” Tredway said, “and we can sleep a little better knowing that we made something happen.”

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Art-goers admire an exhibit during a first Friday at the Tugboat Gallery, a space that’s part of Parrish Studios in downtown Lincoln.

Lincoln’s First Friday Art Walk was recently awarded the City Center Award from the Preservation Association of Lincoln.  The award distinguishes outstanding effort in creating and maintaining exuberance in Lincoln’s urban core.   Weber said there are myriad reasons to attend the art walks and support Lincoln’s fine arts scene.

“In Lincoln there is an incredibly talented group of visual arts who create work that is inspiring, thought provoking, and aesthetically pleasing,” Weber said.  “The gallery walks are very accessible, free and open to the public. They are a great opportunity to expand your horizons.”

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