By any measure, Los Angeles is world-famous for its art, from the Getty and MOCA to Hollywood and every possible flavor of underground or off-best form of artistic expression. And yet, probably because the city is so physically spread out, there isn't one center of gravity for the kind of retail/art gallery/walk-in-off-the-street experience that can be found in places like Laguna Beach or Carmel or even SoHo in NYC.
Don't get me wrong, I was a big fan of Downtown L.A.'s Gallery Row open house nights each month. But there is so much going on on any given night in L.A. that the crowds could be a bit thin, and it was almost always the same faces.
Lucky for me, downtown Binghamton is working to style itself as a funky/artistic area that offers incredibly cheap rents on old commercial buildings that have become loft spaces and art galleries. On the first Friday night of each month, they all open their doors for what they call (appropriately) First Friday. I don't know how many galleries there are, but it was at least as many is Gallery Row and more than John and I could see in 1 1/2 hours. It took a long time to wander through because the art (and the hearty free food) was actually really good. Unlike downtown L.A.'s art scene, which can be a bit too edgy for my taste, the art in Binghamton was actually something that regular people might buy (not that it's cheap, it's just a lot more attractive and generally accessible).
First Friday in Binghamton brings people of all ages and stripes into downtown's usually-deserted nighttime streets. Where Gallery Row is spread out among many long, dark and somewhat deserted blocks, First Friday is concentrated in a very walkable area. Whereas downtown L.A.'s Gallery Row nights are a relatively homogenous crowd in that it's almost all single/funky/artist/downtown dwellers, here there are families with little kids, grown-up gay couples, government workers, the Mayor . . . all in the same mix. It is definitely the place to be that night, because it has hardly any competition. The result is a success, in my opinion.
Now we'll have to see whether Binghamton can succeed in using the downtown arts community to drive an economic resurgence in the area. So far, they are ahead of downtown L.A. in lots of ways, not the least of which is the fact that they have a vibrant, respectable, gay-friendly bar right in the middle of it all, which downtown L.A. still lacks (I'm not counting the gay Latino cowboy bars on Main Street or the gay bathhouse on 4th and L.A. Streets). I did, however, miss running into Brady Westwater, but I can always read his blog. :-)