Written by Mark Drinkard
Once a month, art galleries across Chattanooga collectively open their doors to the public for special gallery showings. The event, coined “First Friday” allows local Chattanoogans and tourists to see new art pieces, mingle with artists, and support their local community.
One gallery spearheading the event in Chattanooga is Area 61. Keeli Crewe has been the curator of Area 61 since its inception in 2009. Crewe is the first face one will see when visiting Area 61, and it is clear from her vibrant smile that she is living her dream.
Crewe has worked diligently to provide platforms to artists regardless of the medium. For her, art is at the heart of First Friday and operates as a binder that connects people to the Chattanooga community.
“I really hope it grows continually,” says Crewe “It helps the local economy. I always tell people when they come see me on First Friday who else is open, that way you can keep people hopping and keep them interested.”
First Friday not only promotes local art, but it also encourages patrons to visit other local establishments. Crewe believes that when the arts are successful, all other communities should have a chance to thrive as well.
That value of shared success is even more prevalent among the art galleries of Chattanooga. First Friday promotes competition in the arts, but it doesn’t stop galleries from supporting each other.
The decades-long tradition has given galleries such as Northside Gallery, Bluffview Art District and In-Town Gallery the opportunity to form strong connections and open up a space of support. They will publicise events of other galleries and also encourage patrons to visit them on First Fridays.
As support for local galleries grows, so does the appreciation of the individual artists that display their work. In-Town gallery has been an artist-owned and artist-managed gallery in Chattanooga for over 45 years. They operate as a true artists collective and place the power in the artists hands on how the gallery will run.
One of their goals is cultivating appreciation for the individual artists of Chattanooga. The end result of a finished piece is admired and fawned over, but few people give credit to the process and work that goes on behind-the-scenes of these beautiful paintings, sculptures and tapestries.
Jennie Kirkpatrick, an artist and partial-owner of In-Town, speaks on the trails that come with her work.
“It is hard. I know people that think its just a hobby. You go in and you just enjoy every minute and get rid of all your frustrations. No,That’s what you do when you’re a hobbyist. But if you’re trying to produce, it’s a problem. So it’s not really the way a lot of the public perceives it. It’s hard.” Said Kirkpatrick
The job of an artist is hard work. No one sees the work they put into a piece or the late nights that led to their breakthroughs. But on First Friday, all that hard work comes to fruition.
Mark Emanuel Drinkard is a Multimedia Producer currently attending the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga pursuing his BA in Communications. Drinkard specializes in videography and video editing. His passion for helping others drives his lens to frame the unnoticed voices of the community. This can be seen in stories such as “Legacy of Grief”, where Drinkard spent several weeks connecting with the McAllister family to tell their personal story of grief and loss. His work also extends to youth in need. In summer 2021 he worked as Photography Supervisor at a resident camp in Colorado, capturing timeless memories for the next generation. For business inquiries or any questions you can contact Mark Drinkard at firstname.lastname@example.org.