March 31, 2020

     As a college student, I’m always looking for anything that has the word “free” attached to it. So, when my friend invited me out for a night of free art throughout the city a few weeks ago, I was ecstatic.

     Over 30 art studios in to pen their doors for free every first Friday of the month. And it’s not just free art. Often there are musicians, beverages and food.

     Believe it or not, this weekly event has been going on since the ’90s, a fact I learned while chatting with Colorado Springs’ First Fridays’ coordinator, Claire Swinford.

     “Some of the Tejon Street galleries,” she said, “including Gallery 113, started the effort as a way to draw arts patrons downtown on a regular basis. As it grew in popularity, it got to be more work than could be funded or handled by just one gallery, so they effectively gave the program to Downtown Ventures to run. We now handle listings, press releases, advertising and special events for First Fridays Downtown year-round.”

     What started off as a movement to get more and more Colorado Springs residents involved in the art scene of the city has turned into a coordinated enterprise.

     Downtown Colorado Springs, Old Colorado City and Manitou have started working together to create one long corridor along Colorado Ave. While walking between the venues can be nice when the weather holds up, Downtown Ventures is starting a free shuttle that will take patrons between multiple studios, all while a local musician serenades you via PeakRadar.

     It’s truly a great cultural activity in Colorado Springs. And let’s be honest, Colorado Springs needs as many cultural incentives as possible.

     For those who are interested in attending future First Fridays once the stay-at-home order is lifted, Clair and her colleague Laurel Prud’homme have got some pointers for you:

  1. Go to downtowncs.com/firstfriday and plan which studios you want to go to.
  2. At the beginning of this year, the city of Colorado Springs extended street parking to 10 p.m., seven days a week. So, if you want to park for free, you will need to park a little out of downtown and then walk into downtown, or you can park in any city parking complex for only $1.
  3. Snag a bite or drink at a spot downtown to start, then wander between some of the studios on your list.
  4. After you’ve finished an area, keep an eye out for the free shuttle to head into Old Colorado City and Manitou.

     If you’re not sure which studios to check out, Clair and Laurel agree that their “must see” studios are: Cottonwood Center, Arts Alley, Eclectic CO and Kreuser Gallery.

     Personally, going to the Cottonwood Center and then the Machine Shop was my favorite. The Cottonwood Center has a ton of studios inside, so if it’s cold, it’s a good spot to just hunker down at and get lost in. Then the Machine Shop is just a really cool, very industrial space. Both of these locations normally have beverages and a food truck outside.

     If we’re all not quarantined and you need to get out of the house, check out downtowncs.com and peakradar.com. They’ve got some great events coming up, including city scavenger hunts, popsicle walks, art on the streets and more.

     Note: visit downtowncs.com for more information on First Friday venue closures due to COVID-19.