by STACY JOHNSON//Editorial Assistant
For a few hours each month, Lubbock’s downtown area is transformed into a bustling, picturesque landscape of socialization and cultural activity.
For the past 12 years, First Friday Art Trail has brought a dazzling vibrancy to Downtown Lubbock. From 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on the first Friday of every month, crowds gather as the sun sets. After dark, the streets become a sea of lights, people, and enticing smells.
Artists from the South Plains and surrounding areas feature their work at an increasing number of diverse venues around the city, from traditional art galleries and studios to restaurants, a museum, and even a local clothing shop.
Organized and partially hosted by the Louise Hopkins Underwood Center for the Arts (LHUCA,) the event is held primarily in Lubbock’s Cultural Arts District. There are free dedicated trolleys, which bring people together and provide convenient transportation between the various venues.
Trail-goers can begin at any of the designated venues and explore the exhibits in any order at their own pace. Each person controls his or her own experience.
Families huddle around a fire pit while groups dine and mingle at picnic-style seating nearby. Old friends are unexpectedly reunited, and new friendships are formed over thought-provoking artwork, food and drink, and shared experiences.
In addition to being a prime spot for entertainment, social gathering, and cultural enrichment, the First Friday Art Trail benefits the community in many important ways.
Chiemsee Holder, the First Friday Art Trail Coordinator at LHUCA, says, “In Lubbock, you generally can see that we’re a little bit informally segregated as a city. But during First Friday, you see such an eclectic crowd of people you wouldn’t see under the same roof together anywhere else. It’s a very accepting, very well behaved, very, very enthusiastic crowd. …Everyone who comes here comes for the art.”
Food trucks and concession stands in front of the 5&J Courtyard, located at the intersection of 5th Street and Avenue J, give local businesses the chance to introduce themselves to the community and for patrons to experience the diverse flavors of West Texas.
On Feb. 3, local artists shared their work and held a poetry reading, with proceeds going to the Lubbock Rape Crisis Center and other programs that help women in need, both in the Lubbock area and throughout the country.
Every month, rain or shine, the Art Trail is going strong and continuously evolving. During the past seven years, the Art Trail has grown from eight to nine venues and crowds of 750 to 900, to nine to 12 different venues, on average, with crowds of 2,000 to 4,500, depending on the month.
“It grows every single year,” Holder said. “We progressively get more venues. More people have interest in being on the Trail. …This is where you want to be if you’re an artist or an art enthusiast. …We don’t really have anything else like this anywhere else in town. …It kind of puts Lubbock on the map.”
Harrison Brooks, a resident artist at Charles Adams Studio Project (CASP,) says, “It’s not often an artist gets to have so much community involvement. A lot of artists don’t have that kind of opportunity.”
The Artist-In-Residence (AIR) program provides in-studio housing and a monthly stipend to select artists who are willing to fully immerse themselves in their work by living on-site at the studio. Resident artists must also agree to share their artwork with the community by displaying it at the CASP, and by participating in various events such as the First Friday Art Trail.
Artists benefit from the exposure, the artistic community involvement, the access to LHUCA resources, and the ability to choose to focus on their art without distraction. The community benefits from the access to quality artwork. The workshops and lectures hosted by resident artists provide value to aspiring artists and people who want to become more educated about the process behind how art is conceived and created.
Brooks says the rustic pieces featured in his exhibit remind him of the sights that were common in West Texas when he was growing up. Mostly comprised of interactive pieces with moving parts, he describes his artwork as “reminiscent of toys.” The Art Trail gives Brooks a rare chance to encourage people to “play with” his art and to witness their reactions.
“Make something every day,” he advises aspiring artists. “The second you step away from your workbench or your drawing table, you lose that motivation.”
As a resident artist, Brooks has the benefit of scarcely ever needing to leave his workbench and remaining immersed in his artwork.
The 5&J Gallery currently features “Retrograde,” the work of Isadora Stowe, a previous resident artist at CASP.
The work of some of the city’s youngest artists from All Saints Episcopal School was displayed in their exhibit, “Experience Art Through a Child’s Eyes.” It brought proud parents together and allowed the children whose drawings were featured to experience the joy of having the public view their artwork.
Full-room exhibits set to music, photographs of scenic West Texas, art from repurposed objects, a replica of Buddy Holly’s famous guitar, walls of children’s artwork–there is something to suit most every taste on the Art Trail.
Holder advises artists who wish to have their artwork displayed at First Friday Art Trail to “Have a collection of art that no one’s really seen from you before.” Then create a portfolio and get in contact with one of the venues. She adds that each venue chooses their own exhibits and artists, and they all have their own requirements and standards. Artists and their work are carefully vetted to ensure that fresh, quality exhibits are featured each month on the Trail. A person who would like to get involved as a volunteer can do so by contacting the LHUCA.
Even if you have attended the event in the past, every Art Trail is a unique experience.
“It’s a progressive event, so it changes every single month,” said Holder. “It is never the same.”
If you wish to treat your senses to new sights, sounds, and tastes, the First Friday Art Trail is an uncommon opportunity to experience art, culture, and food all right in the heart of Downtown Lubbock.
[Photos by RYAN SHANKS & STACY JOHNSON/PLAINSMAN PRESS]