Richmond's popular — lately too popular — First Fridays Art Walk will take a holiday during the Labor Day weekend, although restaurants and some galleries are expected to be open.Curated Culture made a near fatal mistake in planning for this month's (August 2011) Art Walk. Faced with growing crowds of teenagers showing up just to be a part of a "scene", Curated Culture made the mistake of trying to make the event more "kid friendly" by having the event earlier and actually including an outdoor music concert stage with music aimed at young people. The result? More teenagers showed up than ever, and on the overcrowded sidewalks of downtown Broad Street shoving, fights, and a near riot were the result.
Organizers of the walk along the Broad Street corridor agreed Friday to take a break for September after another spate of teenage rowdiness marred this month's event.
"The last couple months, the crowds have been a little bit overwhelming, and it's a holiday weekend. We'd probably have lower attendance anyway," said Maggie Smith, exhibitions manager at Quirk Gallery. "It's perfect timing to take a breather."
Please understand, I sympathize with the kids. These kids don't have jobs and they don't have any entertainment opportunities. It was the organizers of the event that made the mistake of having the event earlier and including a concert deliberately designed to draw more teens. They've included street musicians and vendors and the event is free. What is there not to like from the standpoint of a broke, jobless, bored teenager?
I feel for these kids: they are broke and bored with nothing to do on a Friday night. But they aren't the demographic these businesses need. Broke, jobless children aren't going to buy any art or nice restaurant meals, and they certainly shouldn't be buying alcohol.
Fixing the problem requires the following:
1. Ban street vendors and musicians: move the entertainment indoors;
2. Move curfew up to 10:00pm;
3. Move the event back later so that it ends after curfew, say 11:00pm or Midnight even. Let the police encourage the children to leave before curfew;
4. Charge admission to get rid of freeloaders. The music district in Dallas had a First Fridays event with admission. All the participating venues sold wristbands and those wristbands were good for admission to all of the participating venues. If all the entertainment is indoors and you have to pay $5 to get indoors, the lookyloos and street children will disappear--the event will have become boring for them, no reason to go.
If the city wants or needs to entertain teenagers with live music, then I say great, but do it in such a way that it is safe and does not interfere with other businesses and activities. Free outdoor live music events should be held in appropriate venues. Broad Street simply isn't set up for huge crowds of underage kids. Brown's Island, Kanawha Plaza, or the parking lot of the Tredegar Ironworks would be far better places to hold music events geared to younger crowds.
Curated Culture needs to refocus its event on fine art and get out of the street festival business. The city should support that transition by sponsoring appropriate events for teenagers at alternative venues, away from Broad Street.