There’s a First Thursday for everyone

Every first Thursday, the streets of downtown are flooded with people. Those who are unfamiliar with this Portland ritual will often wonder—”what’s all the fuss about?”

Every first Thursday, the streets of downtown are flooded with people. Those who are unfamiliar with this Portland ritual will often wonder—”what’s all the fuss about?”

For the uninitiated, First Thursday is a monthly celebration of art, food, music and culture that takes place in the Pearl District of downtown Portland—and now even stretches into other parts of Northwest Portland. Galleries open their doors and the crowds mingle with the artists themselves, allowing for a discourse between creators and admirers.

Drew Anderson, artist and owner of Millions of Hundred Dollar Ideas gallery on NW Everett, describes the event as “a time when people are given the first opportunity to support artists and galleries by purchasing work…First Thursday is a fun social gathering where skilled artists display works and people get to walk around and drunkenly critique what they see.”

Anderson celebrated the latest First Thursday by inviting visitors to his gallery to pose with a sculpture he created which he playfully titles the “Pickle Baby.” The Pickle Baby looks exactly as it sounds. The photos were then compiled into a YouTube video and also placed on the photography website Flickr.

The artistic works range from abstract to ultra-realistic. This month, at Nisus Gallery on NW Broadway, artist Nick Baxter showcases what he calls “sharp-focus realism,” beautifully detailed oil paintings with layered meanings. The opening reception on July 7 brought the artist all the way from Austin, Texas.

Baxter, originally a tattoo artist, brings an intense personality and political theme to his works, which make the “ordinary” that we see seem surreal and magic.

A visitor to Portland, Baxter enjoys what First Thursday brings to the art community. “The whole event is a great way to connect people to the arts,” Baxter said. “The fact that it’s an ongoing event can add some positive energy to this area as people anticipate what’s going to be new and different the following month. I’m sure it helps the local, younger and emerging artists too, connecting them to potential buyers and encouraging networking with fellow artists.”

If sculpture is more your style, this month the Werks gallery is showing the works of Todd Simmler and Chris Cole, two artists who work to bring new life to scrap metal. Simmler’s work uses anything from farm tools to car parts, bringing the aesthetic qualities of these everyday objects to the forefront. Cole, on the other hand, brings life to his works, as his kinetic sculptures of fantastic creatures are entirely constructed from bike scraps and sheet steel.

But there’s more to First Thursday than just art. Portlanders dine at food carts that line the streets, offering a diverse array of snacking fare. Anything can be procured—from a steaming bowl of home-style soup to deep-friend tempura pickles.

Aside from food carts, a variety of pubs, bars and restaurants are open late into the night to satisfy any hunger pangs. Davis Street Tavern is located near a large pod of galleries and provides upscale food at reasonable prices. The happy hour is a must for any gourmet-lover seeking nourishment during First Thursday, with food topping out at $9 a plate. With choices such as duck wings and a delicious beef short-rib sandwich, the tavern can satisfy any famished art critic.

Music is also a major part of First Thursday. Most art galleries feature live DJs or local music alongside the art displays. At Backspace, a local underage venue and coffee shop, First Thursday is an opportunity to listen to the latest in Portland music and art. This month the Backspace featured works by artists Joshua Mays and Meagan Spendlove. The bright and sensuous styles of both artists’ works mesh well with the upbeat atmosphere of Backspace.

In a way, First Thursday provides an ample introduction to the city for new transplants—such as students just settling in for the summer before fall. Without a doubt, it is quintessentially a Portland experience. Not only are visitors allowed a unique opportunity to connect with local artists among many fields, but they are also allowed to drink, eat and be merry.

This monthly meeting of arts and community brings together Portlanders to enjoy lovely cuisine and drink and allows for people to genuinely come together. The masses gather in order to positively support creators of works of art—whether it be a painting, a sculpture, a cocktail or a bagel. The connection that is made at this event is one that should be celebrated.