Photo courtesy of the Brickhouse

First Fridays: Building Community Brick by Brick

With Second Saturday’s meteoric rise as a city-wide fiesta, some feel that the focus on its original intentions -- artists and community -- has gotten lost. First Fridays hopes to rectify this by providing a…

With Second Saturday’s meteoric rise as a city-wide fiesta, some feel that the focus on its original intentions — artists and community — has gotten lost. First Fridays hopes to rectify this by providing a new day for galleries to showcase artists with a more targeted focus. One of the early adopters of the First Friday model was The Brickhouse Gallery and Arts Complex in Oak Park.

First Friday
Photo courtesy of The Brickhouse Gallery

Beginning in 2003 in the old Sorarrco Sheet Metal Works location in central Oak Park, The Brickhouse Gallery provides a space for art in the Oak Park community and the surrounding area. The Brickhouse hopes to be an art safe haven, where community members and artists can express themselves and be moved. The drive of its director and curator Barbara Range is one of the biggest reasons behind its success.

Oak Park’s Art Maven:

When you first step into the Brickhouse the first thing you notice is the welcoming aura emanating off of the curator Barbara Range. She receives all who enter the gallery’s doors with open arms and a willingness to share art and community. Range has a steadfast commitment to use art as the institution to develop her community. A self-proclaimed “student for life”, Range grew up in Los Angeles and eventually moved to the Bay Area to begin her work as an early childhood educator. One of her goals as a teacher was to use art as a tool to help her students step out of the box. Even in her retirement, Range never quit teaching. Moving to Sacramento to start a new chapter in her life, she and a few friends took over Studio 7 at The Brickhouse Gallery. Soon after, she was handed the reigns of gallery director and began working on her largest art project ever, the Oak Park community.

Barbara Range
Photo courtesy of Barbara Range

Range hopes to build a healthy and wealthy community through the Brickhouse’s ingrained connection to the community through art: “Collaboration through art can bring my neighbors together and show off Oak Park’s beauty.” Not only does the gallery hold monthly exhibits, it also offers opportunities for youth education and local nonprofit development. Range says her goal is to, “enrich, empower and build community one brick at a time.” Even with all of the gallery’s generosity, they still haven’t lost focus on creating and sharing great art. This is one of the reasons they became involved with the First Friday movement.

Surging Social Society:

The First Friday movement first gained traction in Oak Park from Range’s friend, Jimmy Gayaldo of Broadway Coffee. Gayaldo saw First Friday as a new way to help promote businesses and create a sense of unity in the community. Range agreed because she thinks, “art is our culture’s main institution of change,” and vowed to help bring art and music to the table, so The Brickhouse moved its artist receptions up to the first Friday of each month. The result? Range has noticed that its First Friday receptions have more of a communal aspect than its Second Saturday events: “First Fridays have been more of a family affair, complete with food from our brick oven, open studios tours, and arts program demonstrations. This atmosphere is electric and draws tons of new people to The Brickhouse.”

The joint First Friday movement in Oak Park is changing the impression of the neighborhood through the hard work of community businesses. Poke A Dotz, Grounded, Oak Park Brewery, Keys Plus, Old Soul, Naked Coffee, Make/Do, and a few other businesses all jumped at the opportunity to help with making it a success.

First Friday at Oak Park Brewery
Photo courtesy of Oak Park Brewery

A venture as big as First Friday is a tough one to take on. People are creatures of habit and getting them to try out something new can be tough. A lot goes into planning an event — booking an artist months in advance, setting up the exhibit, getting entertainment, plus bringing some food and wine — and every reception must be fun, welcoming, and engaging for visitors of all walks of life. Luckily for The Brickhouse, they have Range’s welcoming, innovative spirit.

Future Fridays:

This month, Unseen Heroes (the folks behind the neighborhood’s Gather: Oak Park and Display: California) are stepping in to help plan the next evolution of First Fridays in Oak Park. This group plans to transform Broadway into an open space of fun, full of shopping, dinning, arts installations, a pop up park, and festive community celebrations.

Gather: Oak Park
Photo courtesy of Unseen Heroes

While First Friday is already becoming a staple of the Oak Park community, Range has big aspirations for what this event can do for Oak Park, “I believe [First Fridays] can change the impression of the community.” It’s already a great way for the community to get together, but Range hopes that it becomes a way for the community to work for one another. While more and more businesses join in on the First Friday fun, the exposure each participant receives will grow. Range also hopes that First Friday can take Oak Park’s bad impressions and turn them into good ones; showcasing the neighborhood’s history and community to a new group of the population.

Jazzing up the Brickhouse:

This month’s First Friday in Oak Park is going to be the biggest one ever. The Brickhouse will be hosting a jazz party in honor of their featured artist, Rudy Browne. Browne’s skillfully recreates some of jazz’s most passionate moments with his dynamic oil paintings.

Photo courtesy of Rudy Browne

For more information about this month’s First Friday event and Rudy Browne’s exhibit, click here.

Get to Know Barbara Range:

Range is a fountain of great stories and interesting tidbits. Here are some of our favorites that we just had to squeeze in this story.

-Range’s first foray into the art world was crafting poems at age 10
-The earliest piece of public art to make an impression on Range was the Watts Towers
-Constant movement and change is a defining characteristic of a good artist according to Range
-One of The Brickhouse’s goals is to provide free arts programs for hundreds of kids each year
-Before teaching, Range worked in corporate finance
-The Brickhouse Gallery houses nine studios with a wide assortment of artists (graphic design by Anthony and Sandra VanHook; photography by Quinn Ung; paintings/murals by Demetris “BAMR” Washington; painter, installations, and sculpture by Rita Szuszkiewicz; quilter, abstract collage, and  community organizer Barbara Range; poetry by Tajiye Antwine; works from Dea Montelongo; paintings, collage, ceramics, and illustrations by Daphne Burgess and Marissa; ceramics and composing by Deborah Pittman)

Keep Up with The Brickhouse Gallery:

(916) 475-1240

Stay tuned for our next First Friday feature in October.