The River Market district at night is not just about eating, drinking, music and more drinking. One night a month it goes highbrow, when trolley-traveling art lovers go to the galleries on President Clinton Avenue, in the Historic Arkansas Museum and (out of the district) at the Arkansas Arts Center.
Conceived by Reita Miller of the Cox Creative Center, Garbo Hearne of Hearne Fine Art and Debra Wood of River Market Artspace and put into action when critical mass was achieved — with the opening of the Clinton library and other new galleries — 2nd Friday Art Night was a smash hit from the get-go in March 2005. Hundreds showed up and stunned gallery owners got on their cell phones to each other, asking, “Are you getting this many?” Wood said. They expected a crowd, and they knew there was a modest number of art lovers, but the turnout proved that a) people like art and b) people think visiting galleries at night is a fun thing to do.
The event is still attracting hundreds (the Cox Creative Center clicked in 489 in September) of visitors to the galleries and to the Ten Thousand Villages fair trade shop.
2nd Friday has its promotional underpinnings. Sales of art go up during and after the monthly event. But there are philanthropic benefits as well — River Market Artspace donates proceeds to a non-profit every other month. But mainly, it’s the fact that it’s something to do — a cultural event — that is most appreciated, both by the gallery owners and other downtown businesses seeking to draw a broader crowd to the area. Natives and newcomers ride rubber-wheeled trolleys from gallery to gallery to see art, see friends, shop, sip wine and nibble on hors d’oeuvres and enjoy what Wood calls “a classy evening.”
Some news: 2nd Friday Art Night, which runs from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., will add celluloid to the media on view when it debuts the 2nd Friday Art Night Reel Evenings, a series of art films to be shown after the galleries close at the Darragh Center of the Main Library. The Central Arkansas Library System and the Arkansas Literary Festival are partners in Reel Evenings; someone representing the annual festival will provide a speaker to introduce each film.
The first film, “The Moon and Sixpence,” a 1943 classic about the life of Paul Gaugin, will be shown Dec. 8. Films are scheduled through December 2007.
Miller, who, inspired by a similar event in Memphis, introduced the 2nd Friday Art Night concept to the gallery district, hopes to broaden the demographics of visitors to the library and 2nd Friday Art Night. She wants to attract every age, race and socioeconomic group. She said the event — which brings gallery-goers to two galleries at the Cox Center, one a retail gallery and the other for special exhibits — is “generating buzz and getting people downtown for other reasons than the Farmer’s Market.”