First Friday Celebrates Waterville’s Destination as an Arts Hub

Arts5 min. read

A collaborative effort between Colby and Waterville Creates, the monthly event is designed to bring people downtown

Greene Block + Studios
The musician Kafari performs during First Friday in February at Greene Block + Studios in downtown Waterville. (Photo by Gabe Souza)
By Bob Keyes
February 28, 2023

As downtown Waterville evolves into a regional destination for the arts, Colby and Waterville Creates are collaborating to present fun, engaging, and interactive activities as part of a monthly First Friday celebration.

This month’s festivities, from 4 to 7 p.m. Friday, are centered around the opening of the Ashley Bryan/Paul Wilson exhibition Take the World into Your Arms at the Joan Dignam Schmaltz Gallery of Art at the newly opened Paul J. Schupf Art Center downtown, as well the Youth Art Month exhibition Your Art, Your Story. Now in its ninth year, the opening of the youth art exhibition draws hundreds of families, and this year student artwork will be on view at both the Ticonic Gallery at Schupf Arts and down the street at the Greene Block + Studios.

"Thy Self" by Paula Wilson
Paula Wilson, Thy Self, 2020. Monotypes on various papers and fabrics with India ink, pastel, charcoal, and crayon; fasteners: acrylic paint on wood. 187 x 99 in. (475 x 251.5 cm). Collection of the artist.

Organizers see First Friday as a way to draw people downtown to show off the changes that have occurred since the pandemic, including new buildings and traffic patterns—and new energy emanating from the city’s growing artistic core. They want it to build momentum and become a community magnet and point of civic pride.

Businesses and artists across downtown, including those associated with the Lunder Institute for American Art, are getting involved with special events, First Friday cocktails, and extended hours and discounts. 

“It highlights the wealth of what downtown Waterville has to offer from food to shopping to arts experiences, in businesses that continue to anchor the downtown and the newer ones opening,” said Tyler French, Colby’s Arts Office associate director of artistic planning and community engagement. “It creates opportunities for all Waterville residents, including Colby students, to cross paths, and it recognizes that the histories of both Waterville and Colby have and continue to be intertwined.”

French and Diamond Family Director of the Arts Teresa McKinney introduced First Friday at Greene Block + Studio in March 2022, and it expanded when Waterville Creates and the Colby College Museum of Art added programming in January, following the opening of Schupf Arts in December.

Shannon Haines, president and CEO of Waterville Creates, said her organization is “all in” on First Friday. “It’s fun to bring people downtown to wander the streets on a Friday evening, go to restaurants, enjoy the arts, and see friends,” she said.

Even during the bitter cold of First Friday in February, a large crowd turned out. She expects “a really big” crowd of several hundred on Friday. “The buzz is out, and people are excited about the new art center. By summer, this will be wildly popular. I am excited to see how it evolves.”

Serena Sanborn, education and outreach coordinator at Waterville Creates, said First Friday programming stems from community focus groups. People said they wanted free events, where adults could enjoy the energy and excitement of downtown and experience hands-on art-making activities, as well as exhibitions and movies, she said. “We see this as an opportunity to create something that is like being in a little city, where people can go to dinner, go see a movie, and experience the arts,” Sanborn said.

Students climb the staircase in the Paul J. Schupf Art Center on their way to a concert in the Waterville Opera House, which is connected to Schupf Arts via a skywalk. (Photo by Ashley L. Conti)

At Schupf Arts, Friday’s activities include a self-portrait session with puppets, stamps, and collage, relating to both the Take the World into Your Arms and Your Art, Your Voices exhibits (4 to 7 p.m.); mobile exhibits with Children’s Discovery Museum (4 to 5:30 p.m.); green screen family photos (4:30 to 6:30 p.m.); and opening remarks for the Ashley Bryan/Paula Wilson exhibit (5 p.m.)

From 4 to 7 p.m. at the Joan Dignam Schmaltz Gallery, the Colby College Museum of Art will give away children’s books written or illustrated by Bryan to kids 12 and younger. Beyond his work as a painter, Bryan also was an award-winning author and illustrator.

Ashley Bryan, Still Life, c. 1965. Oil on canvas. 36 x 48 in. (91.4 x 121.9 cm). Colby College Museum of Art, Gift of the Ashley Bryan Center, 2022.004

Under the direction of Waterville Schools Choral Director Ciara Hargrove, Waterville Senior High School students will perform at 5:30 p.m. at Schupf Arts and 6:30 p.m. at Greene Block + Studios.

At the Greene Block, visitors can explore the Center for Book & Print and try their hand at risograph printing. Also on display is the interactive exhibition Where We Are Now: Maps and Doorways by artist Maggie Libby ’81, Colby’s curator of digital discovery and engagement.

Other artists with Colby ties will host open studios and galleries from 4 to 7 p.m.: landscape painter Matthew Russ ’96, 50 Main St., second floor; photographer and Professor of Art Gary Green, 18 Common St., third floor; and Hinge Collaborative, 5 Silver St., operated by printmaker Elizabeth Jabar, Colby’s Lawry Family Dean of Civic and Community Engagement, and photographer Sean Alozno Harris, member of the Colby College Museum of Art Board of Governors.

Kris Bergquist, the Mirken Curator of Education and Engagement at the Colby College Museum of Art, said First Fridays will celebrate the vibrant creativity of Waterville by inviting residents downtown to experience art, creativity, and community.

“Our hope is that people know that every first Friday in downtown Waterville there are great things happening at our arts organizations, businesses, and maker spaces. The vision right now is to make sure people know it’s happening, to grow in participation, and to create a set time every month where people of all ages and backgrounds can come together, connect, and have an engaging experience with the arts.”

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