A group of artists, Ricki Moler, Jeane Ryersbach, Lynne Maietta and Judy Olinsky met at a downtown coffee shop and each decided that they wanted more art in the downtown. And so began the First Friday Committee. The book, The 100 Best Little Art Towns in America, used by Judy Olinsky as part of the volunteer Main Street Committee, along with the desire for more art in the downtown evolved the concept of the First Friday event. Institutional support came from Laura Flynn of Our Towns: 2010 and we collaborated with Bonnie and Bernie Katz of the Williamsport Merchants and Businessmen Association. Seed money was provided by grants from the Williamsport-Lycoming Arts Council through the PA Partners in the Arts Program. The Coffee and Tea Room was already supporting the cause by showing art, Laura Flynn and Judy Olinsky opened Gallery 152, and the grant money put musicians, and performers and artists on the street. By 2000, First Friday had begun. The Sun Gazette Showcase and First Friday worked together to promote each other and the Williamsport-Lycoming Chamber came on board with marketing support by putting out the Ffat City Flyer and First Friday Gallery maps. Local businesses started to join in by providing art related activities and merchants opened shops built around the arts.
The First Friday Committee worked with merchants and schools to open three student galleries: CH’art, an elementary school gallery at Plankenhorn’s, St’art, a high school gallery at the Genetti Hotel, and Collegetown, a gallery held at the Community Arts Center. The committee also ran a public art program called AIR/Scape (Artist In Residence/Small City Public Art Program). Artists created small pieces of art that became public art in the downtown. One example is the sculpture The Heart of Downtown by Jason Burgess in the parking lot across from Otto’s Bookstore.
Through art forums we brought artists such as Cindi Harper and Michael Pilato to town to talk about Public art and murals. The mural artist Michael Pilato stayed in Williamsport to paint the Mural Inspiration: Lycoming County and started The Public Art Academy. By now, galleries were coming and going, more artists were appearing and two developers from New York City bought our old Raytown factory, renamed it The Pajama Factory. The Pajama Factory created studios to rent out to local artists. Although we have always a great and visible music and theater scene, First Friday provided a forum to bring together the visual arts. When Williamsport was the site for the 2008 Governors Awards, the arts went wild. The arts in Williamsport did what we always have done except we did it all at one time.