At the start of the 2000s, Muncie businesses and residents were concerned about the heart of the city.
It was a place that looked empty. To Cheryl Crowder, it was ugly, dirty and a place no one wanted to visit. With no traffic, businesses took a hit, especially the art galleries.
Businesses didn’t have an audience to show their work to. After the Horizon Convention Center started to have issues bringing new and different events to Muncie, something had to be done.
Then, the mayor’s Downtown Development Group was created. The goal was to create marketing ideas to bring revenue to downtown Muncie, and on Dec. 1, 2001, First Thursday was born.
“We had a pretty good reaction the first year,” Cheryl Crowder, director of Muncie Downtown Department Partnership, said. “We were also involved with Minnetrista and what they still do with their Christmas luminary walk. We kind of created an extension of it.”
First Thursday is still a Muncie staple and continues to grow, 21 years later. Natalie Phillips, coordinator of First Thursday, has helped the program grow since joining seven years ago.
The event is community run, and businesses decide how to display their work. Phillips' job is to communicate with the businesses to make sure everything is going smoothly.
For example, if someone contacts her and wants to do something specific, she helps set them up with someone that has similar interests.
However, Phillips does not force anything into the monthly program. Most of the displays or booths are community-led.
“Everyone decides on their own what to do each month for their particular gallery or venue,” Phillips said. “Sometimes they'll work together on it, but then they just report it to me. Sometimes, I'll have people that will say, ‘Hey, I want to show my work,’ or, ‘I want to sell my work.’”
One business that helped get the event off its feet was Gordy Fine Art and Framing. They specialize in designing and displaying pieces of art and items, like family possessions. They also promote artists and offer advanced photo printing services.
The original owners, Brian and Genny Gordy, used the opportunity to display their business's work. After the store changed owners, the tradition continued..
“The first Thursday of each month, we open a gallery show featuring an artist that we represent,” Carl Schafer, co-owner of Gordy Fine Art, said. “All artists have some connection to Muncie, Ball State or East Central Indiana. We do this to promote our area artists and give people an occasion to come downtown and see us.”
The crowds for the event are large during October and June.Crowder believes the positive turnout is due to the nice weather, especially in the fall.
“We have lots of different partners in that [fall] event,” Crowder said. “So each and every group brings their own theme to the event. We put a lot of money into promotion for that one, so I would say the ArtsWalk in the fall is probably the biggest one.”
One of the most important First Thursday events of each calendar year, the December events consistently draws out Muncie residents, Crowder said.
“It's not just a regular First Thursday,” Crowder said. “It's a kickoff to the holiday shopping season downtown. We light the community Christmas tree, which is very cool.”
Schafer added what Muncie residents should expect from his business at the upcoming event.
“We are opening an exhibit of work by Hugh Syme,” Schafer said. “He is an artist with a long career designing album covers for bands such as Rush, Def Leppard, Dream Theatre, Styx, Supertramp and many others.”
The December 2022 event will have a variety to showcase, including musical acts, such as the Muncie Community Schools elementary choir. Schafer also said they are opening an exhibit of work by Hugh Syme who has covered for different bands, including Supertramp, Def Leppard and Rush.