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First Fridays | A KC Art Tradition

by Lexi Ryan | May 06, 2019

The Crossroads Arts District has become an established destination in Kansas City for galleries, street food, live performances and eclectic crowds. Just 34 years ago, the Crossroads were considered part of “Midtown” until galleries began to fill the buildings and artists like Jim Leedy began moving in, transforming the area into what we now know as the Crossroads Arts District.

In 1995, there was a growing concentration of galleries, restaurants and creative businesses, but the artists needed a way to get people circulating through the area after regular work hours. John O’Brien joined Leedy in building up the district to the thriving place it is today. The pilot First Friday began with a handful of galleries, hosted art shows and parties, creating a higher profile of the neighborhood, which initially raised concerns with artists afraid of getting priced out of their district. As foot traffic increased in the district each subsequent First Friday, artists began to see the benefit as sales and word of mouth increased. 

Today, First Fridays occur on the first Friday of the month year-round. The tradition continues to attract up to 10,000 attendees to the heart of the city to explore the art of local makers, the live musicians, performances, food, libations, breweries and much more. This event is a staple of the arts and culture of Kansas City. 

In 2001, the Crossroads Community Association was formed to act as a liaison between the community and the city to keep the Crossroads Arts District growing and prospering, while attracting new and regular visitors for First Fridays, and every day.

There are many art galleries to explore during a First Fridays experience including Belger Arts Center, Buttonwood Art Space and Leedy-Voulkos Art Center, the gallery that sparked the development of the Crossroads in 1985 by Jim Leedy, also known as "The Grandfather of the Crossroads Arts District."

FF6Mar2015-1003No festival is complete without live music. There are places to enjoy the sound of First Fridays whether that be jazz at the Green Lady Lounge, outdoor concerts at CrossroadsKC at Grinders or even pop-ups in open parking lots or along the sidewalk as visitors explore the neighborhood.

Don’t mind the occasional aerial performer while navigating the streets in the Crossroads. One well known performance group is Quixotic, an innovative performance art collective that uses technology, dance, projection mapping and live music to create the truly unimaginable. Occasionally, there are other street performers like musicians and break dancers. These unpredictable performances are what help create a unique experience each time.

It’s important to factor food into a First Fridays experience. On warmer evenings, enjoy patio dining at Mission Taco Joint or Extra Virgin. There are several indoor upscale dining options as well, including Corvino, that also offers live music while you dine. Bigger groups may enjoy having several options in one place, like Parlor KC.  

Taste award-winning local spirits at Tom’s Town or J. Rieger & Co. at underground bar Manifesto. Breweries can also be found throughout the Crossroads at places like Casual Animal Brewing. Or enjoy a cocktail while admiring the Kansas City skyline at Percheron Rooftop Bar at Crossroads Hotel Kansas City.   

The popularity of First Fridays creates a density of people and activity that contribute to the electric atmosphere. All ages are represented each month, from families pushing strollers, to young professionals, to middle aged couples and retirees, there is something for everyone. First Fridays offers a unique vibe you cannot find anywhere else in the city. To learn more about First Fridays, visit https://kccrossroads.org/first-fridays/.

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