Wednesday, Oct 02 2013 02:09 PM

First Friday: Hitting the streets with a new approach

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    By Steven Mayer / The Californian

    Bakersfield Planning Commission President Elliot Kirschenmann, left, and Sustenance 101 owner Seamus Finn-Chandler help plant several trees along Eye Street in downtown Bakersfield last month. Businesses and the Tree Foundation of Kern teamed to bring more trees to downtown sidewalks in advance of Imagine Trees, a special event celebrating Invest From the Ground Up, happening during the October First Friday.

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BY STEFANI DIAS Californian assistant lifestyles editor sdias@bakersfield.com

Each First Friday, businesses and sidewalks teem with artists, performers and onlookers soaking in the community event. This month, the excitement spills over into the street with a farmers market, more artists and programming inspired by an initiative to plant trees downtown.

"It's going to be quite a turnout," said Seamus Finn-Chandler, owner of cooking studio Sustenance 101 on Eye Street. "This is all about community, bringing people together. That is what really matters. We're trying to put out a good product."

Related Info

Imagine Trees

What: Farmers market; artists and organizations with a tree theme; music by Ernie Lewis and David Zent, Retrolux and The Fruit Tramps

When: 5 to 9 p.m. Friday

Where: Eye Street between 18th and 19th streets

In a First Friday first, Eye Street will be closed from 18th Street to 19th Street to accommodate the special event celebrating Invest From the Ground Up, a California Urban Forests Council project launched in April.

Bakersfield was one of several cities selected for the project that focuses on promoting the value of trees and green spaces. In August, volunteers tied price tags around the trunks of downtown trees and stenciled sidewalks marking locations that would be good tree spots.

Friday's event is a culmination of that work in a gathering featuring tree experts, including representatives from California Urban Forests Council, CAL FIRE, the Tree Foundation of Kern, Keep Bakersfield Beautiful and the Kern River Parkway Foundation.

With an assortment of tree experts and artists already on board, the inclusion of the farmers market required organizers to get creative with space.

"The street closing is something that came later," said Cathy Butler, president of the Downtown Business Association, which organized the event with Tree Foundation of Kern.

"This is not to disrupt First Friday; it's to enhance First Friday. We're just closing the street and enhancing what is already there."

But parking might be a concern since one entrance to the city parking structure at 18th and Eye will be affected by the street closure. The structure, which allows free parking on First Friday, will only be accessible on 18th Street.

Don Martin, president of Metro Galleries and a driving force behind First Friday, said he has been reluctant to seek street closures in the five years the event has been downtown.

"My issue with closing streets is that it will create a traffic nightmare. ... (Recently) I had merchants emailing me that 'parking will hurt us.'"

One potential solution, Butler said, could come courtesy of a horse-drawn wagon.

"We may have a lot where we can shuttle people. At 19th and Eye where we're closing the street, they can catch rides there. (It goes) 19th to Chester, 20th to G Street."

The wagon will loop down 18th by In Your Wildest Dreams and the Guild House and back up 19th near Front Porch Music and the Padre Hotel's small parking lot, which will be the site of the unveiling of artist Betty Younger's latest sculpture, which is a work in progress.

"It's the tree of life with the moon and sun that gives life," Butler said.

Henley's Photo (2000 H St.) is hosting a small collection of photographs titled "Urbanitree," themed to the special event.

At the event itself, artists will be on hand embracing the tree topic.

"The artwork is related to trees or the funds they raise selling will go for more trees," according to Butler.

Finn-Chandler said he's had a good response about the event, which will include musical performances by Ernie Lewis and David Zent, Retrolux and The Fruit Tramps.

"The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. ... Who doesn't love music? Who doesn't love vegetables?"

Although the farmers market is special to the tree event, Martin and Butler said they have discussed the possibility of a monthly market. Finn-Chandler believes the market would enhance the arts-driven event.

"Someone who normally wouldn't stay for First Friday, they wind up staying for the farmers market, and they stay and see all these artists," Finn-Chandler said. "Artists expand their sphere of influence. ... It's a perfect opportunity for people to see the beauty of their work. It just makes sense."

Already beautifying downtown are the newly potted trees placed by the Tree Foundation of Kern thanks to a 2011 grant from The Bakersfield Californian Foundation. More than $9,000 funded 25 potted trees for the downtown arts district, and foundation executive director Melissa Iger stepped up planting efforts in advance of Friday's event.

"I pushed to get it done so downtown would be extra beautiful."

In all the talk of the farmers market and street closure, Iger said she hopes that people turn out thinking green.

"I'm really excited. It's a big deal for Bakersfield to participate in this program. I hope more people will be interested in participating. What we need is for people to think ahead and think green."

That might be easy if the city has its way. Butler said if Bakersfield is awarded an Invest from the Ground Up tree planting grant, there may be more growth early next year.

"In February, there could be more trees downtown, by the bike path. All of this is like the pebble in the pond, to create excitement."

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