Back in October 2012, I was trying to gain traction for the seed of an idea that I had for a monthly first Friday art and culture event to take place in downtown Geneva. I found myself hearing some downright negative feedback after I had shared the concept with a few local folks that I had met since moving to the city in May of that year. “This kind of thing will never work in Geneva.” “Nobody wants to walk around downtown after dark unless they’re drinking.” Two years later, I hope those naysayers have had the opportunity to attend a few Geneva Night Outs and have maybe even changed their outlook about what is possible regarding the present and future of Geneva’s downtown.
An unusual sequence of events had brought me to this small city in the Finger Lakes, after having spent the previous twenty years of my life in the Albany, NY area. My sister and my niece had started a business at the corner of Castle and Exchange, and in November of 2011, my sister was facing a health crisis. After I had visited the city for a couple of weeks, my sister asked me to relocate to the area and help keep the family business afloat while she recovered, so I took a chance, packed up my car and a U-Haul trailer and and moved to G-town.
I’ve often said that one of the things I love most about Geneva is that when the wind is right, I can simultaneously stand in the busy, urban center of downtown, watch the waves on Seneca Lake, and catch a whiff of the manure being spread across the farmland on the outskirts of the city limits. Having been raised in a tiny (population approximately 100) village in Central New York and later having spent my adulthood in New York’s Capital District (population approximately 1,000,000), I’m a country boy at heart who also craves the bustle of city life, and Geneva is truly the best of both worlds. Plus, when I moved to Geneva, there was a sense of newness and rebirth taking place in the lakeside city’s downtown, thanks to a collection of one-of-a-kind, funky new businesses popping up alongside an assemblage of established spots, and I felt strongly that I wanted and needed to be a part of this town’s ongoing rejuvenation.
Once I moved to Geneva and began to get a feel for the pulse of the place, I wanted to help create something that would bring people downtown to discover the same vibe that inspired me to relocate to the city. I felt instinctively that the way to do this was by spotlighting the somewhat underappreciated yet lively and sparkling local arts community. Taking a cue from other first Friday events, the idea for Geneva Night Out was born.
As the concept began to take shape, I found that for every local who thought it would never work, there were two Genevans who believed in the idea as much as I did. Once a solid nucleus of like-minded folks found their way into my life, things moved quickly, and after a few months of planning, the first ever Geneva Night Out took place on the first Friday of February 2013.
Because Geneva is a city unlike any other in the world, Geneva Night Out would have to be a first Friday event unlike any other in the world.
Nearly all cities that host monthly ‘art walks’ are large metropolitan areas that may have dozens of art galleries and studios for attendees to visit. These larger cities often have events taking place city blocks or even miles apart, and visitors rely on public transportation to take them between locations. Many times, there are existing departments within those cities’ governments that possess the personnel and funding to initiate these types of first Friday art walks.
What Geneva does have is a highly walkable, clean, and compact downtown with an array of widely varying businesses and organizations led by forward-thinking people who are willing to envision the future of the city in novel and unique ways. Geneva Night Out enlists these diverse businesses to open their doors and share their floor spaces with local artists from the city and surrounding region on one night per month for three hours, creating multiple ‘instant art galleries’ across downtown. The commitment and passion shown by these participating venues, who generously give their time and resources to make Geneva Night Out happen year-round, reflects a common vision, cooperative spirit, and love for community that is the driving force behind the downtown renaissance that began years before Geneva Night Out’s inception.
In addition, Geneva Night Out’s interpretation of the word ‘artist’ allows for an incredibly broad scope of creative pursuits to be on display, from crafters to authors to food artisans to performers and beyond. It’s unlikely that even in the largest cities one would find such an array of talented artists of all skill levels and from all walks of life taking center stage at the same monthly event.
Since that initial first Friday two years ago, Geneva Night Out has experienced a consistent and steady organic growth. We don’t actively seek out participating venues, so any locations that are willing to participate have done so because they’ve chosen to step up and get involved. These venues need not host an artist to be able to participate, either; they only need to agree to remain open during the three hours that Geneva Night Out takes place. Some months have lower attendance than others and some months have fewer available artists, but regardless, we’ve managed to pull off twenty-four consecutive events, thanks to the efforts of the entire community.
242 total artists:
– 160 individual visual artists and authors
– 50 solo musicians and musical groups
– 25 artist groups (visual arts, spoken word, theater and dance)
– 7 food and wine artisans
27 total venues (with a minimum of a 3-month participation)
Taking into account the number of participants represented by each artist group (at least 10 per group, times 25 groups), there have been at least 500 (and most likely far more) people of all ages who have been part of the lineup of Geneva Night Out artists. All of the planning in the world wouldn’t have made Geneva Night Out a success without these local and regional collectives and individuals who’ve been willing to show up and share their skills. Additionally, the participation level of our downtown business community has easily surpassed our early expectations, and we’re deeply grateful for all of our sponsors who have helped make Geneva Night Out a success.
A number of existing local events have decided to collaborate with Geneva Night Out over the past two years, including the Seneca Lake Plein Air Painting Festival and the Lakeview Mental Health Services Annual Art Show. Hobart and William Smith Colleges, the Geneva City School District, the Geneva Boys and Girls Club, Girl Scout Troop 40866, and others have also lent their support for what has become a truly locally-grown, farm-to-table celebration of hometown creativity. The Geneva Night Out: Holiday Edition brought hundreds of holiday revelers downtown for the Mayor’s Tree Lighting Ceremony at City Hall, free horse-drawn wagon rides, and other seasonal fun. Jazz fans from around the world sent their regards to Geneva via the internet in response to the Scott LaFaro Day Celebration and street renaming ceremony, which was perhaps the most significant long-term accomplishment of Geneva Night Out thus far. Through it all, we’ve given folks a reason to travel the sidewalks of downtown and to stop in to check out a variety of businesses that they may not otherwise visit.
It turns out that, in fact, this ‘kind of thing’ CAN work in Geneva.
And we’re just getting started.
In December 2014, we unveiled our new logo, and we’re currently exploring new ways to streamline the organizing process and to recruit new artists from across the region. In 2015, each month will have a specific ‘theme,’ making every Geneva Night Out a singular ‘happening.’ These monthly themes will often draw attention to history and people who make Geneva ‘uniquely urban.’ This March, we’re collaborating with the North Seneca Rail Jam (thanks to Joe’s Hots), and our April Scott LaFaro Day Celebration has some great surprises in store. As always, we’ll provide a vehicle for local creative minds to show off their wares, and you never know if you’ll be seeing the next Arthur Dove, Scott LaFaro, Christine Lavin, Gym Class Heroes or Lauren Holly at five o’clock on a Friday night in one of our downtown venues.
If you’re reading this and you’d like to be a part of the team that has made Geneva Night Out a new downtown tradition, then welcome aboard! We still continue to rely on the grassroots, independent spirit that has made this event viable and successful, so please, spread the word! Tell your friends and family, share the news via social media, and come downtown as often as you can and visit as many locations as you are able to squeeze into a three hour time frame. If you know someone who creates anything…crafts, music, food, performance, architecture, horticulture, painting, sculpture, poetry, writing, anything…send them to the Geneva Night Out website’s Artists page to participate. If you have any ideas on how to improve the event or any other feedback, please visit our Contact page and let us know!
Thank you, and I’ll see you around downtown!
Director – Geneva Night Out
HUGE THANKS to the following list of artists and artist groups that have been on the Geneva Night Out roster, as well as every venue that has participated for a minimum of three months, from February 2013 through January 2015.
(With apologies to anyone who has participated but was overlooked for this list).
Absolute Dance Company
Art14456/Geneva Public Art
Denise Stone Baldwin
Bill Ring and Lara Pendleton
Boys & Girls Club of Geneva
Tina Yannotti Burgess
Cool Club Quartet
Da Prof N Starr
Dimensions in Dance
Laura Winter Falk
Finger Lakes Institute
Jamie Lee Fultz
Geneva Light Opera
Geneva Middle School
Geneva City School District
Girl Scout Troop 40866
Leah and Susan Hawley
Andrew C. Hellmund
HWS Architecture Students
HWS Music and Dance Composers
HWS Students (various exhibits and performances)
HWS Women’s Studies Students
Joan E. Johnson
Lake Drum Brewing
Lakeview Mental Health Services
Lynn Wiles/Angie Beeler Duo feat. Paul Kimball
Kerry Reynolds Meyer
Meyer & McGuire
Marissa Kay Newland
North Street School 5th Grade Jazz Band
North Street School Marching Band and Color Guard
Ravines Wine Cellars
Michael C. Ryan
Sebastian Bersani, Chuck Leo, Steve Palumbo & Bryan Flood
Seneca Community Players
Seneca Sweets Bakery
Shari’s Derma Technologies Staff
Silvery Moon Designs
Abby Jo Simmons
Skylarc Studio – ARC of Yates County
Soul to Sole
Studio for the Performing Arts
St. Francis-St. Stephen School
Technicolor Trailer Park
Threads of Gold
Three Miles Lost
Toeprints Dance and Music Studio
Wesley & Diana
Amazing Grace Body Arts
Beef & Brew Restaurant
Bl.ink Permanent Cosmetics
Center for Disability Rights
Don’s Own Flower Shop
Finger Lakes Federal Credit Union
Finger Lakes Gifts & Lounge
Geneva Historical Society
Geneva Neighborhood Resource Center
Geneva Public Library
Headless Sullivan Theater
Lake City Hobbies
Microclimate [a wine bar]
Mother Earth Natural Foods
Red Dove Tavern
Shari’s Derma Technologies
Smith Opera House
Stomping Grounds Art :: Books :: Gifts
Studio Renew Yoga