Winston-Salem holds first Friday downtown

by Eric Ginsburg

First Friday events in Winston-Salem include family-friendly activities and plenty of fine art. (photos by Alexandria Stewart)

Even though I didn’t buy a “voodoo love doll,” tooth-shaped earrings, or any paintings or photographs, I spent hours perusing the Downtown Arts District of Winston-Salem’s art galleries and walking absentmindedly through the middle of the blocked-off streets.

This was my introduction to First Fridays in Winston-Salem — though I’ve been to a number of them in Greensboro — and I learned a couple of things. For starters, each store had a distinct smell, partly because of the nature of the businesses.

As I walked out of the free parking deck adjacent to one of the blocked off streets, the first gallery I entered was set up in a salon and smelled strongly of various hair products.

Photographer Helen Baldwin’s “Ordinary Magic” was on display, including framed work on the wall, images inlayed on coasters and other prints. Like in a number of the other galleries, the salon offered light refreshments.

I found one of my friends scouring the offerings at Imagine Flowers, and as soon as I entered I was hit by the strong smell of orchids near the door.

One gallery smelled like a dog, and the person walking in ahead of me almost tripped over a girl sitting on the floor talking to the fourlegged odor-emitter. This gallery displayed work in a handful of sections by different artists, including one of East Forsyth High School’s scholastic art entries.

In the back, Alan Miller stood behind a rack of jewelry on sale for $10 apiece drinking a glass of red wine. He mentioned offhandedly that he was headed to the coast of Honduras soon to photograph whale sharks. He wore a Hawaiian shirt decorated with fish, and mentioned he would normally be wearing matching pants. Before I had been standing by him for long, 35-year veteran art teacher Mary Bailey hurried over to make sure I was aware how impressive Miller’s work was.

“I’ve seen some of the world’s best photographers show their slides,” Bailey said. “He is a master.”

Outside, kids lay in the street, covering the road with chalk in every direction. An older group of kids sat around their friend on a bench nearby while he played a guitar and whined along. A block later, an electric band was playing music that appeared better rehearsed and written. A man in a cowboy hat and a woman held each other gently and slow-danced a few yards away.

As I kept walking, I passed three people in animal costumes, hanging out as if it was their daily routine. One of the people I was with mentioned that there seemed to be more families than at Greensboro’s version, which was probably accurate.

Author Shawn Black was set up in the hall outside of Body & Soul, selling and autographing copies of his books. He described Stick and Move as an “urban fiction trilogy.” The series begins with Yasmina, a college freshman from Jamaica, and follows her as she struggles with her relationship, her troubled past and keeping her daughter out of the life on the streets she lived.

Black grew up to Winston-Salem, and in some ways he can relate to his character. He used to be a drug dealer, and wrote the series while sitting in federal prison serving a nine-year bid. Black makes a point of reaching out to kids on the verge of going to prison and tries to share his insights and steer them in a different direction. He is also studying to be a physical therapy assistant at Forsyth Tech.

Back outside, murals can be found covering some of the walls, and in some galleries artists continued working amidst browsing patrons. Depending on what they were looking for, they could find art for a few dollars or a few hundred dollars.

Needless to say, a lot was happening even though the area wasn’t packed with people. With the streets blocked until 10:30 p.m. the first Friday of every month, it’s hard to think of a reason not to check it out.