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Founder Cindy Funkhouser on the First of a decades’ worth of Fridays

Cindy Funkhouser, owner of the Funk House antique store on Casino Center Drive, was the driving force behind the first nine years of First Friday. It began as a modest art walk, put together with volunteer effort and donated creative materials. Despite concerns that Vegas — and especially downtown — wasn’t ready for a cultural project like that, First Friday tapped into a deep vein of community eagerness for cultural growth. A few years after its founding, a street fair component was added, and, despite some occasional noisy side-taking by people who favored the art-walk aspect of it vs. proponents of the street fair, First Friday has became the city’s signature cultural event.

We talked to Funkhouser about those early days.

Was there one factor or one moment that caused you and [co-founders Julie Brewer and Naomi Arin] to decide to start an arts walk?

No, it didn’t happen that way at all.

Julie and I were already doing Art at the Funk House — she agreed to work with artists and curate the shows, and I gave ’em the wall space. I understood from that point the need for artists to have a place to hang their work. I couldn’t believe how pleased they were.

Then I went to Portland, and they have First Thursday — they’re about 28 years in, I think. I just said, “Why can’t we do this?” I came back and thought about it for six months, brought it up to Naomi and Julie, they tried to talk me out of it for about a month: It’ll never work in Las Vegas. They were like, “We have to help you. But be prepared for failure.”

When people suggested it wouldn’t catch on here, what were the obstacles they foresaw?

They both had been part of the arts community here much longer than I had. They just said it was too hard, Vegas was just not … I knew from my store … most of my customers are tourists, not locals. And I think they thought there wasn’t as much interest in the visual arts here as in other cities.

Even the city didn’t think it would work.

What did they say to you?

A few people with the city and others said, “It’ll be too dark, no one will come—” I said, “Eh. We’re doing it.” Then I met with [then mayor Oscar Goodman] and he was, of course, very supportive.

As that first First Friday approached, what was your level of apprehension vs. optimism?

In those days I was totally optimistic. I had no apprehension at all.

And how did that first one turn out?

It was amazing. Jerry Misko worked with us, he was curating at the Arts Factory at that time. And I was like, ‘Jerry, what’re we gonna do? I need the Arts Factory to be open.’ And he goes, ‘I’ll make sure everyone knows and everyone’s open.’ And he did.

So, 300 people showed up. Julie looked at me and said, ‘I can’t believe it.’ And I said, ‘I know, it’s awesome.’

There were no expectations and certainly no disappointment.

First Friday has become more or less the most important arts event in the city. When you look at it now, do you feel a sense of pride?

I try not to invest any time or energy or thought into things like pride, quite honestly. Pride will lead you astray, every single time.

I’m very pleased it’s still happening. I was talking to some of the First Friday people about the anniversary. And I said, My real feeling is, I’m not the important thing, because it’s 10 years; and you guys are not the important thing, because you’ve carried it on — although it bears importance. It’s the people who are coming, the community has continued to support it. And I think they should be the focus. The community and the artists.

Not even a tiny, little bit of pride?

[Laughs.] No, not really. I’m just pleased that it’s still happening.