‘Scraggly artists’ move out of downtown Macon home to make space for apartments
Downtown art galleries only lately started calling what they do on First Friday an art crawl. But it was an art crawl of sorts that got Macon’s First Fridays going to start with.
Now, the hub of those early First Fridays — the Contemporary Arts Exchange — is closing, but not before its artists come out late one more First Friday to welcome people to their studios for a look, conversation and good time.
“We only recently slapped the ‘art crawl’ name on what the galleries as a whole do on First Fridays, but we’ve been doing it for years and the arts exchange was at the beginning,” said Melissa Macker of The 567 Center for Renewal, which helps coordinate and promote the galleries on First Fridays.
“I’m just afraid while we’re having openings, the Contemporary Arts Exchange is having its last hurrah. It definitely helped make First Fridays what they are, but it helped make downtown Macon what it is, too.”
The arts exchange got its start more than 30 years ago, according to Eric O’Dell, an assistant professor of art at Mercer University and a creative who took advantage of building owner Tony Long making the upper floors of his building at 590 Mulberry St. available for cheap as studio space.
“Yeah, for decades rent was $10, then a year or so ago it went up to $15, mainly just to keep the lights on,” O’Dell said. “For the past 30 years, it’s just been a loose affiliation of creative souls.
“There were others here before me, like photographer-artist Maryann Bates, and from early on we just opened our doors to whoever wanted to come up and talk and see our stuff. We just had a general agreement to be here and welcome people in.”
Now, the downtown-wide First Friday is operated by NewTown Macon. Long recently sold the building, and artists are having to leave.
“We’ve shed tears about leaving, but really we’re just grateful to Tony for letting us have this sanctuary for so long,” O’Dell said. “No regrets.”
Galleries open for First Friday include The 567 (456 First St., showing “Song and Dance,” photography by Kirk West and Buck Melton); Travis Jean Emporium (522 Cherry St., opening reception for Jen Worsham); Macon Arts Alliance (486 First St., reception for “Ocmulgee Monuments” by Chris Smith); Ampersand Guild (382 Cherry St., Middle Georgia State University, Wesleyan College and Mercer University student exhibit curated by Rudy Mendez); and of course the Contemporary Arts Exchange (590 Mulberry St. for the last chance to visit artists’ studios, see the art and hang with them one last time).
And if First Friday isn’t enough for downtown devotees, Open Streets/Bike Walk Macon is creating nearly two miles of car-free downtown streets Sunday afternoon on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard (from the Ocmulgee River to the industrial district) and Cherry Street (from Cherry Street Plaza to Bernd Park) for walking, skating, biking, playing and “re-imagining how we use our streets.” It’s free.
First Friday Art Crawl
Where: Historic downtown Macon galleries
When: 5 p.m. until late