Wait is over for Portland’s First Friday Art Walk

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After a hiatus of almost a year and a half due to the coronavirus pandemic, Portland’s First Friday Art Walk will return July 2.

But the crowds that gather on Congress Street are expected to be smaller than in the past, along with a reduced number of galleries, artisans, and vendors collaborating to celebrate Maine’s creative culture.

Openings and exhibits will nonetheless span from Portland’s West End through the Arts District along Congress Street, to the Portland Public Library, Monument Square, and the Press Hotel, and will include the Portland Museum of Art and Maine Jewish Museum.

Crowds clog Congress Street near Monument Square in Portland during a past First Friday Art Walk. The monthly event returns July 2 after a hiatus of more than a year because of the coronavirus pandemic. (Courtesy Creative Portland)

Art walk hours are 5-8 p.m., and thousands of holiday weekend visitors are expected to help relaunch the event, according to Dinah Minot, executive director of sponsor Creative Portland.

“It’s a great opportunity for artists around the town to market their work,” Katie Page, Creative Portland program assistant said. “But we also want to be mindful (of the pandemic).” 

Creative Portland will not “impose an overarching regulation” regarding gathering sizes or the need for vaccinations, Page said, although most of the event will take place outdoors and vendors will be set up farther apart than in the past. She said the organization is asking everyone to follow public health guidelines established by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and is also deferring to arts organizations’ own reopening plans.

In past summers, First Friday included about 60 participating venues; this Friday the event has approximately 30. Organizers called it a soft opening and said they plan to add pop-up exhibitions and performances in August and September, with local musicians and performances to receive first priority. 

“A lot of people haven’t had the chance to have an in-person art experience,” Page said. “So we’re excited to get back up and running.” 

Craftspeople and artisans who might not have had the chance to sell their works during the pandemic will have the chance to do so during the art walk. Street artists will be set up around Monument Square.

For artists whose work was not on view to the public during the pandemic, Creative Portland is continuing an exhibit from October 2019 called “All the Great Trees.” The show recognizes the wonders of nature and is a tribute to all the great trees in our lives, both literal and abstract. It will be at the Creative Portland office at 84 Free St.

Katarina Weslien’s “What did you smell when you were away?,” which brings together three long-term projects through mixed media and textile pieces, will be featured at Speedwell Projects, and two exhibitions at New System Exhibitions, a venue that focuses on content rather than salability, will be shown in the West Bayside neighborhood. 

Another highlight will be a collaboration of  Titi De Baccarat, the artist leading The Kneeling Art Photography Project, who aims to promote humanist and social action in Maine as a response to the local problems of racism and injustices, with The Love Factory and Mosart 212 at The Francis Hotel. 

“In a way, the artists are the soul of the community and during the pandemic, we lost that connection,” Page said. “This is a great way to heal together.”