I experienced a Twilight Zone shift in reality last month while walking the streets of Philadelphia. It was a working weekend such that Friday night might as well have been Monday. My unofficial tour guide and I were trudging through the streets looking for a utilitarian meal when we stumbled upon flocks of black-clad city dwellers pouring in and out of spartan glass-bound galleries.
“Yeah, it’s First Friday, that’s why everyone’s out,” he said. “It’s when all the galleries open their doors at night . . .”
I had already stopped listening and moved into my own, now upside-down, interior world in order to process this new information. Were the bright, enterprising people of Portland not the first to come up with this idea? Are there hundreds of First Friday Art Walks occurring across the United States? To be honest, it never occurred to me that Portland might not be special in throwing such a cooperative and inclusive party of city-wide proportions.
Having regained my faculties, I posit faithfully that Portland First Fridays are indeed unique. Our small size and high density in the downtown area makes for an ideal campus-like feel. If you feel ambitious, you can actually cover the entire walk in the three hours officially alloted for the celebration.
This sense of a campus contributes to a second major factor, an egalitarian attitude towards the artistic community. The Art Walk has, intentionally or not, become an opportunity for participation outside the gallery walls. As you hop from door to door, you can expect to see street performances, roving bands and unofficial gestures by anonymous artists intended to charge our urban spaces in all their nooks and crannies. The Art Walk is our Walk, and it develops further facets and folds due to our participation.
There is another cooperative, and assuredly unique option, in play this First Weekend. The Sacred & Profane festival takes place on Peaks Island once a year around the full Harvest Moon. Artists are anarchically/organically gathered months in advance to prepare for a transformation of an abandoned battery (the kind with cannons, not alkaline) in the center of the island. No electricity is available, so participants wander through the different rooms of the complex by candlelight. Site specific works intertwine with food, a parade, and musical performances.
Consider this annual event less of a folk festival and more of an initiation akin to the Mystery Schools of ancient Egypt and Greece. The boat ride, the dark catacombs of the battery, the individual artists interpretations of the spaces and the collective celebration all contribute to a ritualized event that Plato suggests is designed “to lead us back to the principles from which we descended, that is to a perfect enjoyment of intellectual [spiritual] good.”
Mircea Eliade wrote a book, also called The Sacred & Profane, in which he traces shifts in perception concerning the sacred cosmologies of earlier societies into our modern world view. He represents earlier societies with the concept of “religious man” for whom time is divided into the profane world, spent in day to day activities, and sacred time, experienced in religious festivals which occur cyclically. These festivals reenacted the mythical origins of the cosmos, providing a window for stepping out of ordinary time.