First Friday at the Harrison Center: For the arts and for the city

Spend your First Friday night in October at the Harrison Center for the Arts. Photo courtesy of Alex Lindsey


On Friday, Oct. 2 from 6-9 p.m., the Harrison Center for the Arts will feature artists from the Indianapolis community in their monthly First Friday event. The Harrison Center is a community-based nonprofit arts organization located in downtown Indianapolis. Currently, First Fridays are the only events open to the public. 

During First Friday, the Harrison Center will present various works in their six separate galleries. These pieces will range from exploring themes of history and political philosophy to paintings inspired by Indy at night and even a collection of patients, caregivers and staff artwork from the IU Health Simon Cancer Center and University Hospital. Each month the show is completely transformed, so attendees will never know what they will discover. 

Joanna Taft, executive director of the Harrison Center, said her favorite part of the event is the collaboration between meeting people and discovering new art. 

“I think it’s meeting old and new friends, and that includes the art,” Taft said. “A friend, a painting you meet that surprises you and other times is just meeting a new interesting person.” 

Taft will work in the Harrison Gallery every First Friday and loves to see familiar faces and get to know new guests. Each year she works with the rest of the Harrison Center staff to put on over 76 shows focused on diversity within the Indianapolis community. 

This year, that number is significantly lower due to the impact of COVID-19. On Friday, July 3, 81 people attended the Harrison Center’s First Friday event since the galleries had closed.

“We were actually excited because it was safe, and people felt safe and we felt like we had been able to practice a system with a controlled group of people and that was really good,” Taft said. 

Masks and social distancing are required throughout the event and encouraged by stickers placed on the floor. In addition, there is a one-way flow of traffic with a controlled entrance to space people throughout the building, and social distancing is encouraged.

Ben Neumann, a senior entrepreneurship and innovation major said that he is not too concerned about attending a public event with people who are also mindful of safety precautions.

“I think as long as the organization is conscious about it, I think there’s no concern about it.” Neumann said.

Meghan Singer, a senior communication and media studies and Spanish double major, has been attending First Fridays since her first year at Butler. Singer says that the event has been a great way to become acquainted with her new home of Indianapolis.

“I bought some cool prints and whatnot, so it was cool getting a taste of the community cause I’m not from here,” said Singer

Taft and Singer agree that the Harrison Center is more than just an art gallery.

“We’re also for the city, and we really care about the neighbors in our city and we use art to know and love neighbors,” Taft said.

In addition to providing below-market-rate studios and showcasing the art of community members, the Center also provides wraparound services to the artists. That means they ensure that people have access to housing, counseling and whatever else they need to be healthy so they can focus on their art. They want local artists to thrive and grow within the Indianapolis community.

“First Friday really helps us show the community that we are for the arts and it invites them to be for the arts too,” Taft said.

Singer feels that Indianapolis has so many amazing arts opportunities, but you have to put in the effort to find them here. She says that First Friday was a good tool to accomplish this. 

“It was cool cause you got to get little business cards or buy things from whoever you wanted and it introduced me to a lot of local artists,” Singer said.

While Neumann prefers sculpture and Singer enjoys a variety of performance art, the Harrison Center features pieces that cater to various preferences while still staying true to the presenting artists. Many two dimensional pastels, photographs and paintings are featured throughout the galleries, but during one of the most recent First Fridays, an artist carved logs of wood into beautiful sculptures using a chainsaw. The audience could even see the art being created in real-time. 

The Harrison Center also provides many internships and volunteer opportunities. In the past, Taft has spoken at Butler about the Harrison Center and invited students to volunteer at First Friday Events. 

The Harrison Center is especially flexible with internships, as it offers opportunities for students to write grants, record music in their recording studio or custom craft their own internship experience. Taft recognizes that Butler has a great campus, but she likes to show students all the things that the city of Indianapolis has to offer.


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