On December 4 of last year, the day after the last Fondren’s First Thursday for 2015, artist and entrepreneur Ron Chane posted a message to his personal Facebook page leaving some to wonder, “is FFT a thing of the past?”
Rightfully so. Chane, the creative director and owner of the monthly event, wrote of his “transition back to Brooklyn, New York” and that “fft as you know it” had taken its final bow.
In a decision cemented just last week, Chane says Fondren’s First Thursday will return for 2016.
“It was all intentional, all strategy, to leave it as a cliffhanger, and, to let people know, ‘We don’t know.’ It could have come back or not come back,” he said on Tuesday.
Explaining his plan for the next twelve months, Chane says one thing is true: the event as he knew it would change. “Behind the scenes in that form — that FFT — it’ll never happen that way again.”
Chane talks of the grueling amount of time (“75 percent of me”) he was putting in each month to bring forth an out-of-the-box gathering like FFT. With a growing pull toward family responsibilities and his splitting time between here and New York City, the Chane of 2016 thinks of first Thursdays in terms of shared responsibility. The challenge, he says, is how community ideas and creativity can help grow this event.
Meeting with business leaders and volunteers over the last couple of weeks, Chane has divided the neighborhood into four zones for FFT, each with their own flavor and flair, each managed, booked and planned by their respective merchants.
Zone one stretches from Jackson Shoe Rebuilders to The Pig & Pint. Zone two includes Fondren Art Gallery down to Fondren Guitars. Zone three is from Cups to the patio of William Wallace and zone four is Duling Avenue.
In each area, activities, music and food options will rotate. For now, non-profits will locate inside Fondren Corner at zone two. Zone three will be music heavy with Elegant Trainwreck’s Cody Cox at the helm, and see the inclusion of more food trucks. It’s a move Chane says relieves the pressure of long lines at our brick and mortar neighborhood eateries. Zone four has the four “hill churches” – St. Luke’s UMC, Fondren Presbyterian, Fondren Church and Woodland Hills Baptist — managing kids activities. Throw in a fundraiser or car show, cooking demo or “poker run-esque” flavored event and look for rotation, meaning variety and less predictability.
Vendors, while still a part of the event, will be more limited and swapped out on a rotating basis. Chane says he’s not turning his back on these “spirited promoters” but trying to work on a new system that is less stressful to manage logistically.
Speaking of structure, the “backbone” of first Thursday remains under Chane’s creative control. The event website, fft.city, will get a refresh that will include contact names in specific zones and how to participate (Chane says any inquiries prior to February 5 may go unanswered for the time being). “We (are still) the event owners and ultimate creators of big picture ideas and managing logistics,” he says, hopeful the hiring of part time staff will take some pressure off his plate.
In all of this wrestling with “do” or “don’t,” Chane sought ways to bring his own focus back to creativity, shaping and defining the “out-of-the-box” nature of the night.Â He hopes the pairing down of responsibilities helps clarify for him what he always wants to the evening to be about. “It’s about Fondren, the arts, and the community. I never want to be classified as a festival, carnival or street fair. It should be about forward thinking, seeing what you haven’t seen, something that makes you want to come back next month. I’m taking an event that’s working and making it work better. I know, not every idea or challenge comes out triumphantly. But the ultimate success is going forward.”
Fondren’s First Thursday will host TEN events in 2016 (with the addition of a July 7 date). Early season spotlights include April 7th’s Walk Against Traffick fundraiser and a special May musical event at Duling Hall.