Mr. Jim Leedy climbed into his car to make the journey from his studio to his gallery that he makes every First Friday. He has driven a few blocks and he sees the iconic red and blue flashing police lights and he pulls over to side of the road. Leedy rolls his window down and the police officer approaches the window.
“Don’t you know not to come down here on a First Friday old man. There are so many people down here, and you might run into someone,”the officer says.
‘I’m sorry officer, it won’t happen again,” Leedy says.
What that officer didn’t know was the he was talking to “The King of Crossroads,” Mr. Jim Leedy. That officer was talking to the man that started First Fridays.
The area between Union Station and Downtown, referred to as the Crossroads, is an area with with life, art, food and people. Before the Crossroads was known as the Crossroads, the area was bare, desolate and a place many people would avoid. That area was a place no one would venture to.
Leedy thought otherwise. He saw potential is this empty neighborhood. Many people would call Leedy an artist and a dreamer. He saw this empty area as a place where he could build his dream of an arts community. Leedy opened up the gallery the Leedy Volkus Art Center in 1985 in the Crossroads. This was the first step in creating the arts community.
“My goal was educate people on art, to show art to people who have never seen art before,” Leedy says.
As years passed, more galleries, shops and restaurants joined Leedy and moved to the Crossroads. The Crossroads began to attract attention.
Just as things were going well for Leedy and the others in the Crossroads, 9/11 happened. Leedy says that people were afraid to come out and participate in the events that were going on in the Crossroads. A group of shop, restaurant and gallery owners and people involved in the crossroads got together to come up with a plan to get people to come out again. The idea of all the galleries, shops and restaurants being open at the same time evolved into First Fridays.
“After 9/11 people weren’t coming out,” Mr. John O’Brien, owner of the Dolphin Gallery said. “First Friday allowed for people to come out and talk to others again and try to get back to life.”
On the First Fridays in March 2002, the very first First Friday, Leedy was anxiously waiting to see if people were going to show up. People were continually saying nobody was going to show up, and people wouldn’t bring their children.
“When I saw people walking on the streets with their children going into galleries and shopping and eating I had tears in my eyes,” Leedy says. “It felt good to see people talking to one another, dancing and having a good time. It was better than any other victory. It was soul enlightenment.”
First Friday has turned into something that can’t be defined. First Friday is food. First Friday is art. First Friday is shopping. First Friday is a place for ideas to flow. While walking down the street the smell of fresh hotdogs is in the air. The sound of car horns and music from the shops can be heard. The yellow glow of street lights line the sidewalks. Hundreds of people walking past. First Friday has grown into something bigger than many people would have expected it to turn into.
Mr. David Hughes, co-director of the Charlotte Street Foundation, and non-profit organization that gives grants to Kansas City based artists, describes first Friday as “a zoo…its not a bad thing but it’s a zoo. First Friday has something for everyone, either on the streets or in the spaces.”