The unofficial 20th Anniversary of Art in Downtown Louisville on First Fridays

It’s been just over 20 years now of coordinated art events on First Friday in Downtown Louisville and it all happened thanks to a few local artists coming together to create a community with a little help from TARC, the Mayor’s Office, and the Downtown Business District. It would struggle, flourish, and grow for almost 3 years until 2001 when the office of Mayor Dave Armstrong would take things to the next level binging on our title sponsor, Republic bank, and make the event an official monthly event supported by the city, dub the “Republic Bank F1rst Friday Trolley Hop.”

Around the close of 1999, Chuck Swanson of then Swanson Cralle East Market (now Swanson Contemporary), Billie Hertz of Galerie Hertz, Zephyr Gallery and Erin Divine Gallery (a predecessor of PYRO) had come together in what had only just begun to be the revival of what would soon be called the Nulu business district. Most of the buildings were industrial, or commercial but on a dusty corner of Main street in 1996 a few artists starting taking advantage of the reasonable rent and building prices. In late spring of 1999 they started to coordinate openings together to help build an audience on their block.


The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky)31 Aug 1997, SunPage 26 Trolley Hop History


A brief history by Chuck Swanson of Swanson Contemporary Galley, recalling how the First Friday Hop came about.
“For several years the art gallery group, at that time known as V.A.N. (visual art network) tried to organize art events in a way that could tie the galleries together. My wife Karolle was the city’s Cultural Planner at the time. We happened to be visiting Columbus Ohio around 1998 and stumbled upon their First Friday Gallery Hop. So, the Louisville gallery folks started talking among ourselves about how that could happen in Louisville.”

“By the end of 1998 Swanson had opened a branch on East Market and so had Zephyr. Billy Hertz had a working studio on the same block and a gallery three blocks west. Soon after, Erin Devine opened her gallery in the same block as Swanson and Zephyr and Julius Friedman opened his large gallery on West Main. Around that time Dave Armstrong was elected, we decided to push again for an event to tie the galleries together and we arranged a meeting with the Mayor, here on East Market Street to explain the benefits of such an event. He immediately got it, saw the economic impact it could have and how it could help make the city a better place to “live work and play”. He put the full force of the city behind the effort with banners, posters, trolleys and so on. At one point the event was even underwritten by a local booster who donated $700 a month for wine. Originally the hop included only the for-profit, retail galleries but before long it included all of the nonprofits as well, KMAC, Glassworks, The New Center and others. Mayor Armstrong, a strong supporter of the Hop frequently attended the First Friday event, and played a major role in helping to promote it as it began to grow.”

“At a certain point we had so many people in here I was worried the floors might buckle.”

“This is a typical trend in every city, from New York to Louisville, according to Swanson. Artists are drawn to “opulent spaces . . . in vacant wastelands,” developing artist colonies that, in turn, attract small upscale boutiques, trendy restaurants and a bohemian mix of people. Increasing demand pushes up real estate prices, Swanson continued, until art galleries are pushed out by more lucrative businesses.”

– Chuck Swanson of Swanson Contemporary Galley, 2013, 2001, 1996

The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky)09 May 1999, Sun Page 99

Beisler, Mills signed a lease on 1,200 square feet of studio and gallery space at 712 E. Market St. in late August, then opened Sept. 6, said Russell Mills, a sculptor who is co-owner of the gallery with fellow sculptor Larry Beisler.

Paul Paletti on the start of the Gallery Hop:
“When I started the gallery,” he said, “I had two things in mind: To be an educational resource for photographers, so they could see what really great black-and-white photographic prints look like, and to be part of the Louisville Photo Biennial. I knew I would keep collecting, but had no strategic plan, and no inkling that it would continue.”

“I didn’t even have a name for the gallery until about November 2001, when the mayor’s office called (it was Dave Armstrong then), and said they were starting a First Friday Gallery Hop, and all the other galleries said I needed to be included. The other galleries were referring to it as the Paul Paletti Gallery, and the mayor’s office was calling to find out if that was actually the real name. I said, ‘I guess it is now.’” – The Paul Paletti Gallery celebrates  15 years of photo exhibitions with ‘Reflected’ LEO Weekly JUL 27 2016 BY JO ANNE TRIPLETT

“The most dramatic change has been in building uses, she said, with the East Market area moving gradually from junk shops to upscale galleries and antique stores.”

“The changes to the 1990, founding of the East Downtown Business Association; the early gambles by Hertz and Ley; and financing made available by Stock Yards Bank & Trust Co. and Bank of Louisville and Trust Co. There are still a few vacant buildings in the 800 block,” Smith said, adding that landlords like her are “buying them up as fast as we can.” – Barbara Smith, 1996

“People laughed at us when we moved down there. I think we’re getting the last laugh.” – Ley

Ley was one of the first to invest in East Market in the late 1970s, when most of the other business were leaving or gone.

“What started as a $50,000 investment in a building at 615 East Market has expanded until Joe Ley Antiques now owns “half a city block.” Joe Ley –

“People are determined to make this area incredibly beautiful,” Hertz said various people who took the garden tour told him they “hadn’t been downtown in years.”

They were surprised at how the area had changed and improved, he said. “Some of these people had even lived in this area, but had not been back until taking the garden tour.

“I feel that what everyone does here is very important. You have to give more to your community than you take out.”

“We always have had this thing of cooperation, We want to make it as easy for them as possible. Cooperation has been very successful and made for a stronger market.”

“The pie just gets bigger,” he said. “That’s one reason why the galleries cooperate with each other. Generally, we’re not taking business away from each other.”

– Billy Hertz 1997

On October, 4th of 2019 Downtown Louisville will host another First Friday event to celebrate the kick off our 20th year of celebrating art, in all its forms, and we welcome everyone to join in the fun. Many of the original artists and galleries will be open. The founders from Swanson Contemporary and Paul Paletti to brand new galleries hot on the hop will be open and actively participating.  From all of our members, past and present, from the Nulu Business Association, Republic Bank First Friday Hop and everyone who has come to love art Downtown as part of this legacy of art and local entrepreneurs.

Shows that started it all –

Swanson Cralle East Market, 638 E. Market St. Friday, May 12, 2000, 1 1 a.m.-6 p.m. “Rapture,” by Jeaneen Barnhart, featuring new paintings, drawings and mixed-media and outdoor steel sculpture by Brian Holden; ends tomorrow.

Louisville Galleria, atrium, 400 S. Fourth St. Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sunday, noon-5 p.m. “Derby Landscaped Sandscape,” 75 tons of sand sculpted into a Kentucky Derby scene; ends May 31.

Louisville Science Center, 727 W. Main St. Monday-Thursday, 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 9:30 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sunday, noon-6 p.m. “The World We Create,” a permanent exhibit that puts science and technology at your fingertips. $5.50, $4.50 for adults 60 and older and children 2-12.

Images Friedman Gallery, 833 W. Main St. Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Works by Marie Woo; ends May 27. t Kentucky Art and Craft Gal-m V lory. 609 W. Main St. Monday- Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. “Millennium Glass” ends July 8. This international survey of studio glass features the works of about 70 artists. As part of the exhibition, glass-blowing demonstrations will be presented today, 1-7 p.m.; and tomorrow, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Lectures will be held through the run of the show. Opening reception: today, 5-7:30 p.m. (502) 589-0102

Dec 4, 2001, 11:30am
The city of Louisville and the Transit Authority of River City have joined with Downtown gallery owners who have been hold a monthly tour of galleries along the trolley route of Market and Main streets, between Clay and 10th streets.

“I believe that the arts community are well supported, and by showcasing our downtown galleries, we get to show off the concentrated area of painting, sculpture, photography and glass art that many may not know about,”

Louisville Mayor David Armstrong said in a news release. Tours will be on the first Friday of each month, and a dozen galleries are participating. The galleries will stay open until 9:30 p.m. on the tour days, exhibiting an artist opening and offering refreshments. TARC trolleys will circle the Main Street and Market Street corridors, where people can get off and on at any of the designated trolley stops. Trolleys will run from 6:30 to 10 p.m. and are free. TARC is providing half the funding for the program, called the First Friday Downtown Gallery Trolley Hop, and the galleries are providing the other half. The first tour is Dec. 7.


The Courier-Journal SCENE (Louisville, Kentucky)10 Jul 1999, Sat Page 30


The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky)23 Nov 2001, Fri Page 27

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