First Fridays are the Time to Celebrate Art in Ypsilanti

. August 1, 2016.

Want to learn about antique quilts, sip a frothy beer float, meet and greet local musicians and artists, and maybe even craft your own puppet – all in the same night? First Fridays Ypsilanti offers those experiences and more. 

The third season for the city’s self-guided and family friendly art walk on the first Friday of each month is underway, and it showcases local artists, local talents and local wisdom while supporting local downtown Ypsilanti businesses.  

Jenee & Khadijah of Make Art Studio!
Photo Credit: Mike Frieseman

On Talent

“First Fridays came out of the need for more foot traffic in the downtown area,” Kayj Michelle, the president of First Fridays – who grew up in Ypsilanti – explains. “The original intent was to provide more opportunities and galleries for local artists to display their pieces.”

Michelle, herself a photographer and artist, worked at other First Friday projects in Seattle and San Jose – two internationally acclaimed festivals showcasing art local communities. “I’ve seen what these sorts of events can look like in other places.” Since beginning in October 2013, First Fridays Ypsilanti has grown into a yearly nine-month (April-Dec) event that connects components of the Ypsilanti community, plugging in Eastern Michigan University to the city, downtown to Depot Town, businesses to customers, and artists to art lovers.        

Art galleries, coffee shops (The Ugly Mug, Cultivate Coffee, Bona Sera), shops (The Rocket, MIX, World of Rocks) and other local businesses are now volunteering to get on board with First Fridays and it’s up to each business to determine  the talent they want to showcase in their space. “First Fridays provides an organized and coordinated platform to make it possible to tie together these business based events all at once,” said Michelle. Like a real-time LinkedIn with the Ypsi creative community, this is face-to-face, feel-good networking.

YpsiPlanti Garden Supply
Photo Credit: Mike Frieseman

With over 30 venues lined up for the coming months, it will be a challenge to see it all in one night. “We publish a map of all the events and venues before each monthly event,” said Michelle. “We recommend downloading the map off our website before you go, so you can pick your route with your top five highlights.” Everyone’s experience will be different, depending on a custom walking plan.                   

The range of performances include talent shows for youth, poetry readings, stand-up comedians, scenes performed by the Neighborhood Theatre Group, local bands, howls by the Violin Monster and a myriad of art exhibits. 

Most First Friday venues are free and family friendly, with a focus on getting children involved with hands-on activities such as puppet-making, drum-circles, talent shows and costume contests.

Sidewalk art


On Community

One of First Fridays missions is to help create economic stimulus in downtown Ypsilanti and Depot Town. “We’ve already seen a difference,” said Michelle.  “When you have so many people walking around the streets, they’re going to discover new spots, step inside places they’re curious about and come back again. It’s really all about getting people comfortable and familiar with the area.”

Ever since the unfortunate dwindling popularity of Ypsilanti’s National Heritage Festival, the First Fridays team felt there was a gap in the cultural and creative celebration of the city. First Fridays partners with the Riverside Art Center, which provides funding and resources. The support of the Bank of Ann Arbor, who also puts on Sonic Lunch in Ann Arbor, has greatly increased the scope and reach for First Fridays as well.       

The event continues to grow. In 2013, four to six venues were participating regularly, while now at least 26 venues  are in the lineup each month. “We had over 400 people attend our opening 2015 First Friday on April 1st,” explained Michelle. “People are excited about the energy of the event and they want to be part of it.”

Frances Ross sepnds her Friday night showing off her skills
Photo Credit: Mike Frieseman

Come check out all the buzz this month: Friday, August 5. 
Events occur between 5-11pm.
Print out your PDF map on
Want to volunteer? Are you a venue interested in hosting?
Are you an artist with a talent to showcase?
Click the Join tab on the First Friday website 
for information forms and applications.


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