On the first Friday of the month, residents and visitors can attend a whole slew of exciting activities happening in Newark. They can attend a lawn market and art walk, wine tastings at CoolVines at the Hahne & Co. Building on Halsey Street, the Brick City Comedy Revue hosted by Justin Williams at Kilkenny Alehouse with a rotating cast of comedians, opportunities to engage in art therapy, and a lot of other fun cultural happenings.
They are all occurring under the auspices of Newark First Fridays, a city-wide open doors event of arts and culture that happens every first Friday of the month. Isaiah “Zay” Little, the person behind Newark First Fridays, modeled it after other First Fridays in cities like Philadelphia and Oakland. He kickstarted this event five years ago.
Little was recently featured in a virtual event about “Newark Creators” by the New Jersey Performing Arts Center.
We interviewed him about his inspiration for First Fridays and why it’s an important venue for the city.
Why did you decide to start Newark First Fridays?
I started it because I spent several years down in Philadelphia for school. And when I ultimately moved back to New Jersey, I realized or noticed there wasn't any connectivity between any happenings and the art scene, compared to Philly. Things were kind of sporadic at best. And there really wasn't an ecosystem that was visible throughout the year. There were events that happened suddenly, and then some annual festivals, but not really with the cadence as I had become accustomed to in other cities such as Philly, which has a First Fridays.
What’s your background?
I went to school for entrepreneurship at Temple University in Philadelphia. And since being back in New Jersey, I've had a few different roles. My first real job out of school was at Newark City Hall, but as an independent contractor. But ultimately, I was the second hire for their Office of Information and Technology. I was there for three and a half years helping to set up that new office. It was a great experience. And then I went onto Newark Celebration 350 for half of that year as the director of administration and outreach.
What was the response when you first started Newark First Fridays?
I think it was not necessarily a hesitance - I think it was definitely, you know, “show me and then I'll follow” sort of perspective. You know, many people knew me just as the tech guy or the guy who would ride a bicycle every day. But people did not necessarily know me as an arts and culture person.
There are many people doing their own thing in Newark - I think it took a bit of showing this model, showing this concept to folks so they can understand what we are trying to do and that we are not trying to take over Friday, for example.
We were trying to amplify what is already here and build this hyper local marketing. And I think in the five years, there's been a great reception and momentum every year except for 2020, of course.
So, you basically had to stop Newark First Fridays in 2020 during the pandemic?
For the most part, I would say we had to postpone or cancel maybe 60 plus percent of our programing and some of it we were able to salvage and move to the virtual space there. So, we were able to keep some momentum. And with everyone getting more confident about being outside, there is a big rekindling of this momentum. There's definitely been also a great thirst to get outside as well.
Why is it important to have a First Friday in Newark?
They are important because they serve as pivotal moments where we can share in the culture of our city. Not only do they provide a place for people to be exposed to culture and connect, but many these events also provide an opportunity for people to sell their wares, whether you are a start-up or an established business.
This opportunity to incubate businesses is a proven benefit from First Fridays. We drew inspiration from the Brooklyn Flea, First Fridays in Philly, and small towns like Lancaster, PA., which are super, super impactful.
What do you hope people get from Newark First Fridays when they attend?
I would hope that they get an opportunity to see a different side of the city.