By Emily Harrington
My brother and his family are true Urbanites. Or is it Urbanians? Comment below if you know the answer to that! Anyway, they live and breathe all things Urbana, and they keep me in the loop of the goings on in their community.
For months, I’ve heard them talk about Urbana First Fridays. I didn’t think much of it. They got my attention, however, when my nephew told me excitedly about fire dancers. Finally, one Friday night, my Champaign-centric family literally ran into the event.
My sons and I arrived at the once Spark Museum + Play Café. Editor’s Note: Spark Museum + Play Café closed in March of 2018. I was surprised to see all the people there. There were dozens of parents drinking and chatting, and there were dozens of little ones playing around them. There were very few people there the last time I visited, so I was wondering where everyone was coming from?
When we walked in, the greeter said it was FREE. And handed me a map. Ahhh, First Fridays in Urbana! Thanks to the Imbibe Urbana organization, First Fridays offers free activities—for adults, kids and families alike. Basically, different businesses around downtown Urbana host (primarily free) specials, attractions and activities they may not feature on a normal business day.
Each month, on the First Friday evenings, a new map of participating shops/restaurants are distributed throughout the participating Urbana businesses, and they are posted on Imbibe-connected websites. You can consistently expect to see Champaign-Urbana made goods as part of Makers on Main [Street] artisans, the aforementioned fire dancers from Main Street Carnival and lots of musical vignettes throughout. My nephews have been to all the First Fridays events. They’ve played on rustic toys from Kid Owned & Operated Play, strummed a mandolin at the Community Center for the Arts and participated in a ping pong game at the bar Blackbird Urbana.
According to Kristin Walters, the Founder of Imbibe Urbana, First Fridays has been around for about a year.
Walters solidified the idea of a larger scale community series after a successful downtown Urbana scavenger hunt in July 2016.
“We knew there were a lot of people in town interested in exploring the city and learning more about its cultural assets. The First Fridays series was a reaction to that desire from people wanting to engage more in the community. We have so many great cultural assets (restaurants, galleries, artists, etc.). On ANY day of the week you can come to downtown Urbana for a ton of activities that will feed your body and soul, but it’s extra fun to celebrate once a month all together,” Walters said.
She wanted to create something as fun and inclusive as Urbana’s Market at the Square (Lincoln Square Mall parking lot at 301 S. Vine St.). She wanted to create something as popular and well received, something people count on and look forward to—and she did. And, year-round at that!
“Its rate of growth in the first year did surprise us given our nonexistent budget and all the learning and experimenting any team has to do to connect with an audience and learn from its collaborators,” Walters said.
Walters explained that Urbana has a lot of talented, creative, passionate people, and Imbibe Urbana works together with the participants to create an identity and culture that represents and fulfills everyone involved.
“The goal of the Urbana First Fridays events is to engage our diverse community, strengthen the identity of Urbana and amplify the cultural vibrancy and commercial viability of the downtown Urbana district,” she added.
The organization Imbibe Urbana supports the community and economic development of Urbana by utilizing creative placemaking strategies to amplify the cultural vibrancy and commercial viability of the city, Walters said.
When the weather turns chilly, you can expect the First Friday events to continue. Make sure to mark your calendar for Imbibe’s Mistletoe Market at the Urbana Civic Center (108 E. Water St.) on December 1, 2017 and the Love for All Poetry Crawl on February 2, 2018.
For Monthly First Friday events, see the Chambanamoms Event Calendar, Sponsored by Busey.
Emily Harrington is a Chambana townie. She left her 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. job in communications so that she could be a 24/7 mom to two busy boys. Still interested in writing, Emily uses some of naptime to practice her passion and keep her mind right. Emily is a happy wife with a happy life because she fell for a fellow townie. Emily usually finds herself engulfed in balls, blue and belly laughs.