First Friday goes virtual

A festival of art, food, and music appearing on a screen near you.

Althea Designs block prints. — Gabrielle Mannino

Last spring, Althea Freeman-Miller opened up her art studio, Althea Designs, in Vineyard Haven. She creates colorful and playful linoleum block prints. But even before opening her studio — five years ago — Althea joined the Vineyard Haven Business Association looking for ways to promote art in the town. 

She realized that at the time, unlike Oak Bluffs for instance, there weren’t that many events being held in Vineyard Haven. Althea, who was born and raised on the Island had previously been living in Montpellier, Vt., and the city, like many other cities around the country held an event on the first Friday of every month called First Fridays. It billed itself as a block party celebrating art, culture, and community. The event was extremely popular and Althea thought it could be just the thing to liven up the scene in Vineyard Haven. She proposed the idea to the Business Association and four years ago the town’s first First Friday was held. Sidewalks were opened up to artists. Musicians played at Owen Park, and food trucks fed the crowd. It was a big hit. 

Last Christmas, First Friday was held at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum. Musicians were on hand to perform, 35 artists showed their work and Gina Stanley from the Art Cliff Diner provided food.

A state-wide celebration of the arts called ArtWeek has been held in Massachusetts for many years, and this year First Friday planned to coordinate with ArtWeek and hold their event starting on May 1— ArtWeek runs from May 1 to May 10 every year.

Then along came COVID-19 prohibiting public gatherings and Althea figured First Friday would have to be put on an indefinite hold. But last weekend Althea and local musician and producer Andy Herr had an idea. Wouldn’t it be great to hold First Friday virtually. But if they wanted to still hold the event on May 1, that only left about a week to pull the whole thing off. 

Andy is responsible for booking and running the sound for many events around the Island and one-by-one they were all being canceled. “The Ag Fair was the last straw,” he said. Recently Andy had been learning more and more about the world of streaming technology. He’s currently streaming Open Mic sessions on Tuesdays, Amp Jams from Alex’s Place, and last week he did the John Prine tribute concert produced by Chrysal Parrot.

Admittedly, given the short lead time, Althea and Andy said that the event to be held this Friday is very much a work in progress. Some artists and musicians will be streamed live from their homes or studios. Others could be pre-taped. Althea will be giving a tour of her shop. Other artists showing their work and talking about their craft are expected to join as well.  Andy has confirmed that local musicians Mrs. Biskis, Nate D’Angelo, David Wolff, and Brad Tucker will be there and said that others are likely to join in as well. “And wouldn’t it be great if some guest chefs were there to share some recipes and cooking tips,” Althea said.  

Andy and Althea both encourage musicians, artists and chefs to join in, if not for this Friday’s event then for First Fridays in the future — they plan on making this a regular event. “And if you’re not familiar with the technology,” Andy said, “I’d be glad to help you out, it’s not that difficult.” 

First Friday will be held on May 1, from 5 to 8 pm. It can be seen at firstfridayvh.com

Or by going to Andy Herr’s Facebook page. It promises to be a fun event, You’ll get to be able to see the artwork, hear the musicians — you just won’t be able to taste the cooking.