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Friday, Jun 27 2014 11:01 PM

Nurture the artistic intent of First Fridays

By The Bakersfield Californian

Sooner or later, children must grow up and act like adults. Such is the case with downtown Bakersfield's First Friday celebrations. They are no longer in their infancy. They have grown in popularity and attendance. It is time for them to grow up.

The trick will be to keep nurturing the events, allowing them to grow and prosper, without imposing onerous rules, regulations, fees and government red tape.

An informational meeting led by the Arts Council of Kern will be held at 5 p.m. on Monday, June 30, at 1330 Truxtun Ave., Room 118, to discuss proposed regulation of the First Friday events.

Understandably, artists who have been showing and selling their work without paying fees or making other commitments are concerned that regulations and fees may prevent them from participating.

Hopefully an agreement can be reached that will keep the doors open to artists but maintain the integrity and quality of the events.

The monthly arts festival, at which sidewalk artists line downtown streets selling their wares, came into being in 2007, the brainchild of Don Martin of Metro Galleries.

Martin recently told The Californian that the festival had become a victim of its own success. In addition to attracting a growing number of arts patrons, First Fridays have attracted vendors selling knock-off items, old books and CDs, food and other merchandise, and it has created the atmosphere of a flea market. Although these vendors are told to leave, they seem to quickly return to overpower the artists and clog the sidewalks and streets.

Technically, the event's sponsors and its vendors should have been obtaining operating permits from the city. But up until now, First Friday has been given a pass as city officials opted to minimize regulation in order to bring people downtown.

That will change under a proposal to have the Arts Council of Kern help maintain a permitting system that will impose fees, ranging from $25 per month to $180 per year, and assign space along the 19th and Eye streets sidewalks to artists. The fees will be used to operate the permitting system, cover event liability, marketing, security and scholarships.

Artist Erwin Ledford, who has participated in First Friday since 2011, seemed to summarize the concerns of many First Friday participants in his email to The Californian.

"First Friday was always a positive event for artists because it offered a platform where the artist had nothing to lose by participating," he wrote. "I think that aspect brought out a number of talented artists who now show regularly who may not have initially felt secure enough to come out and share their art."

We hope a system can be implemented that will continue that nurturing atmosphere while balancing the needs of downtown merchants and patrons.

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