First Thursday draws art crowd in 8th year

(Courtesy Photo) The Late Greats play on the Loring-Greenough House lawn as part of last month’s First Thursday Sept. 6.

It’s hard to imagine Jamaica Plain without its signature First Thursday event, with the whole community engaging with art, music and each other.

But seven years ago, there was no such thing. Thursdays were just another day.

Then Arva Clark and Frank Burns, then-heads of the JP Centre/South Main Street (CSMS), married the concepts of shopping, viewing art and walking together, to get business owners to keep their shops open later. The event was called Shop Late ’Til Eight.

It was a hit. JP has been walking along the Centre/South corridor every first Thursday since.

“The stroll has grown a great deal in seven years and it is a favorite evening out for many of the residents and businesses,” CSMS Executive Director Randace Moore said. “Hundreds of residents enjoy the music art, food and the true sense of community the night creates.”

The monthly event invites shoppers into stores along Centre and South streets to admire local art and music and possibly make a purchase.

The event became a fixture between March and November for those first six years before becoming a year-round event last fall, much to the satisfaction of businesses, Moore said.

“It started with seven shops now we have 35,” Moore said, adding that Brent Refsland of Room 68 at 68 South St. was a driving force in making First Thursday a year-long event.

Along with a longer calendar, First Thursday after-parties are now a regular feature. Lasting from 8 to 10 p.m., they usually take place at businesses that want an extra boost, Moore said.

October’s after-party will be hosted at Streetcar Wine & Beer at 488 Centre St., a recent newcomer to Centre Street.

The event has also pushed its boundaries outside, Moore said, especially since South Street businesses have been blooming and pulling people past the Loring-Greenough House’s large lawn.

“The Loring-Greenough House is a really big destination for First Thursday…The farmer’s market started this year” and more bands are performing outside, Moore said.

Moore continues to work hard for First Thursday. Funding is a notorious problem, she said.

“Funding has been an issue,” she said. “We need more staff, more signage” and more cash, she said.

It costs CSMS $5,000 yearly to produce First Thursday, the largest of CSMS’s events. The latest attempt to raise the cash, a new campaign called The 500 Club, asked 500 JP residents to donate $10 each. Moore got 20 people to sign up.

“Fundraising in JP is brutal,” she said. “We hope to raise the money, but it’s a struggle.”

Moore got involved as an artist six years ago, when she showed her work at The Alchemist, the last occupant of Canary Square’s current space at 435 S. Huntington Ave. She then volunteered to help raise funds to support the program. The following year, she was executive director.

“I wish other Main Streets would copy” First Thursday, Moore said. “No other program does something like it.”

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