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The Art Pedalers

Gwendolyn Alley leads ArtRide cohorts on monthly First Friday Ventura arts outings.

Except for those living the veritable monk’s life, most by now are well acquainted with the monthly arts open house in Ventura that’s come to simply be known as First Friday. Each month, on the — yep, that’s right — first Friday of the month, the city’s galleries and studios throw open their doors to the public, celebrating all the facets of the what and why that led Ventura to adopt the New Art City moniker. Along with ArtWalk, First Fridays have come to comprise the major beats on Ventura’s arts calendar, the veritable systole and diastole of the beating heart that is Ventura’s ArtScene.

One of the most creative and sustained ways that community has met the First Friday initiative is with the First Friday Art Rides, the brainchild of Ventura writer, artist, college instructor and arts advocate Gwendolyn Lawrence Alley. For the last three years, Alley has gathered a small community of arts advocates and aficionados to tour the First Friday scene on bicycle- doing so in a festive and ever-changing array of themed costumes that have come to be widely known as the ArtRides.

TLVC recently spoke to Alley about the Art Rides and about this month’s event — the Summer Solstice SantaCon and Seersucker Social.

TLVC: We know that community is participatory — I haven’t heard of a better way to come to first friday and appreciate it, intentionally, than you’ve been doing in community, on bicycles.

GA: You don’t have to be a committed cyclist to do the ride — lots of times people will excuse themselves, saying “I’m not in shape,” “My bike needs work,” No! We don’t leave anybody behind, there are lots of experienced cyclists there for you to help you. If you get a flat tire, whatever, you’re going to have help.

TLVC: You’ve become not just an advocate of First Fridays, but with some 36 rides to your credit, a bona fide facet of the First Friday experience. Brilliant.

GA: I’m frequently amazed to find people who don’t really know much about First Friday. They might know about ArtWalk, but don’t understand the kind of arts resources that are available all the time. On First Friday all these places that are so familiar to me, well, lots of people still don’t know about them.

TLVC: Well, let’s tell people about them. Where will you ride this month?

GA: One place we always spend a good amount of time is the Bell Arts Factory. Different people have their studios open each month, each month there are different shows up in different galleries; different spaces have spontaneous parties going on- there’s always a lot to see and do there. It’s also a great place for us to put all of our bikes! The WAV is also an obvious place for us, a great, vibrant scene where lots is happening, and there’s an interaction there — we’re not just spectating, going and looking at the art, we’re also interacting with people. And dressing up also helps with that, with our monthly theme.

TLVC: It seems like there’s the potential to see so much along the way — like, in heading to Bell Arts, along the way there’s StoneWorks Gallery, or very nearby you have the 643 Project Space… Do you build in some latitude for detours in the route?

GA: It seems like it would be simple, but in truth sometimes it’s not so easy to detour. I plan the stops I think we can do and the amount of time we have. It’s good to be flexible, sure- sometimes there’ll be a performance some place, like when the Sylvia White Gallery does the 5×5 performance pieces, we organize the ride to be sure to be on time.

TLVC: You’re riding in a relatively small community, and the potential stops are pretty well known…

GA: Sometimes well known… There are places like Kevin Eckert-Smith’s Image In Light Gallery- it took us a couple of rides to find it! Project 643 isn’t always open, but they always have interesting art; what happens sometimes is that there are many places that would be interesting, but we have to be intentional about what we can reasonably do and see. One thing, maybe because I’m a college teacher, but when there are student shows up, we try to make sure and support them.

So there are usual stops, but where we go in between those places has to do with an intuitive sense, and the time — we’ve been going to Art City a lot, people really like going there; in fact, we found that if we go there too early, people would just stay, and we’d lose them from the ride! So now we just end at Art City; I actually had a studio there for a number of years, so I really like to support them.

TLVC: And each month offers a theme — this month’s theme is pretty wild.

GA: Yes! It’s an odd one — it’s A Summer Solstice Seersucker Social. We’ve played around with the idea of a Daisy Dukes ride, we’ve done SantaCon rides, we have a Brides Ride — in March we’ve done The Brides Of March — and learned how much bridal gowns like chains and the moving parts of the bicycle! We’ve had a prom ride…

TLVC: should people show up?

GA: meet at 5:30 on the Ventura Promenade, by the Artist’s Union Gallery, and the ride starts at six.

TLVC: What’s required?

GA: We ask only that all bikes have lights; by the time we’re done, it’s getting pretty dark, and we want to make sure everybody gets home safe!

For more information on the ArtRides, check out bikergogal.wordpress.com, or look for Gwendolyn online at thewritealley.com, artpredator.wordpress.com, and twitter.com/artpredator. (Yes, she’s that prolific!)
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