The Williamsport area has four artists who met over a cup of coffee to thank for the First Friday event we have grown to love today. It all started when Lynne Maietta, Ricki Moler, Judy Olinsky and Jeane Ryersbach gathered at a downtown coffee shop, and decided they each wanted more art in the community. There, the concept for the First Friday event was created. Institutional support was provided by Laura Flynn of Our Towns: 2010. They then teamed up with Bonnie and Bernie Katz of the Williamsport Merchants and Businessmen Association. The group was awarded grants from the Williamsport-Lycoming Arts Council through the Pennsylvania Partners in the Arts program. The Coffee and Tea Room on W. 4th Street was already displaying artist’s work, and Laura Flynn teamed with Judy Olinsky to open Gallery 152. By 2000, First Friday had begun, artists and performers were promoting their work on the street and art related merchants began opening shops downtown.
The First Friday Committee worked with these merchants and local schools, and soon opened three student galleries; Ch’Art, an elementary school gallery at Plankenhorn’s Stationary, 144 W. 4th Street, St’Art, a high school gallery at the Genetti Hotel, 200 W. 4th Street, and Collegetown, a gallery at the Community Arts Center, 220 W. 4th Street. They also created a public art program called AIR/Scape, or Artist In Residence/Small City Public Art Program. In this program, local artist created pieces of art to display publicly in Williamsport’s downtown. By this time, the art scene in Williamsport began growing, and bringing in artists from all over the country. Two developers from New York City came to Williamsport, purchased an old factory, and turned it into the Pajama Factory, providing studios to local artists.
Williamsport’s First Friday event has grown and expanded tremendously over the past several years. The event joins the community to celebrate the art, with an aim to stimulate Williamsport’s reputation as the northern tier regional cultural center. In the warmer months, usually May-October, Williamsport closes down a section of the downtown streets for an artist’s festival. Businesses keep their doors open late to host local artists, bands and art related events. Artists may show and sell their work between 5pm-9pm in this area. First Friday continues each month throughout the year however, with a theme for each month. You can check out a map of where events are held, and what this month’s theme is on the event’s website, www.williamsportfirstfriday.org.