Knoxville is a nature-loving-adventure-seeking-ARTSY-kinda town, and at no time is that more evident than on First Friday. First Friday is a monthly event, taking place – you guessed it – the first Friday of every month, where galleries and other venues throughout the city feature various artists’ works, live music, and perhaps some beverages and snacks along the way.
There is no one way to experience First Friday, but if you’re a newbie, this post will hopefully serve as a helpful guide. Downtown venues will have a brightly colored ArtWalk flag outside – an easy indicator that art is nearby!
Where to start: Again, no wrong answer, but we’d recommend starting at our very own Visitors Center at 301 S. Gay Street. We might be biased, but honestly, our friendly staff can answer any question you might have about this event. And it’s not just informational – our Visitors Center Gift Shop carries items from 70+ local makers, so you can support artists and take home a piece of Knoxville with you! A maker is on site monthly so be sure to stop in and say hello. The Visitors Center also hosts live music on First Fridays – Taps & Tunes with in-house radio station WDVX. Host Evie Andrus serves up a hootenanny of a good time, so c’mon down at 6PM for a free live show!
From here, cross Summitt Hill Drive and head north to the 100 Block of Gay Street. You’ll come across several galleries and First Friday host venues in this one stretch. Jacks of Knoxville and Paris Woodhull Illustrations will be on the left. Jacks carries in-house made items, local and regional made items, and plants alongside their coffee shop – and sometimes has live music on First Fridays. Paris’ own illustrations are featured on various tees, totes, stickers, prints, and more. Pop into Culture Hair Studio to check out the featured artist, then backtrack slightly on the other side of the 100 Block. Addison’s Bookstore is an independent used bookstore specializing in rare and old books. Stop by their Tea Bar inside before going back up the street.
The anchor of the 100 Block is the Emporium. This statuesque building houses administrative offices for the Arts & Culture Alliance, several other arts and cultural organizations, five galleries that rotate monthly, and studios for 15 individual artists. You’ll find HolaHora Latina’s gallery inside along with Gallery 1010 (University of Tennessee’s contemporary art exhibition space that is fully student-run). Needless to say, it’s a must-stop for First Friday! Adjacent to the Emporium is the UT Downtown Gallery (UT’s contemporary art gallery exhibiting professional work), and the Arrowmont Gallery (the first permanent off-campus exhibition space for the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg).
From the Emporium, go down the mural stairs and enter the Old City. The Jackson Terminal looms large on the left once you reach the bottom of the stairs. Check out the artists’ open studios at Able Trade, a more industrial-style space focused on wood and metal shops. Further down the Jackson Terminal is Pour Taproom (a pour-your-own beer bar) and PostModern Spirits (one of three stops in Knoxville on the Tennessee Whiskey Trail). Both feature artists’ work, so take a break, grab a drink, and enjoy. If you’d rather a caffeine break, Awaken Coffee is in the next block. Next to Awaken is Dogwood Arts Gallery, host to their administrative offices, gallery, and typically live music on First Friday!
Across Jackson Avenue you’ll find a gallery typically only open on First Fridays: RED Gallery. On this same side is another shop often considered an anchor to First Fridays: Rala (Regional and Local Artisans). This shop carries curated goods and gifts and features a monthly maker on their gallery wall. Before turning the corner on to Central Avenue, pop into the Lox Salon on the opposite corner – you can’t miss their colorful doorway!
Headed south on Central, make a stop in Honeymouth, known for their “dopamine rich” leather handbags and featured in Paris Fashion Week 2022. A few steps further and you’ll find yourself at Pretentious Glass Co., a glassblowing studio dedicated to glassware designed specifically for craft beer, wine, cocktails, and whiskey. Stop by Pretentious Beer Co. next door to drink a made-in-house beer out of a made-in-house glass!
With that, you’ve made it through the Old City rounds, time to work your way back from whence you came. Turn right on Summit Hill Drive and head up towards Gay Street. Cross Summit and you’ll soon come to Maple Hall, a boutique bowling alley. Go upstairs to The Maple Room to see their featured artist, then venture next door. Enjoy the hallway in between the Phoenix Pharmacy and Status Dough to Christopher Robin Arts in the back featuring their own art of oil paintings and photography.
You’ll next come upon the Art Market Gallery, perhaps another First Friday anchor on Gay Street. This co-op showcases the work of 60+ area artists, and on First Fridays they feature one 2D and one 3D artist. Across the street is Bliss + Tori Mason Shoes. Further down Gay is Knoxville Soap Candle and Gifts, and just a hair further is the gallery inside the Bijou Theatre. All three typically feature an artist for First Friday. End your adventures with one more featured artist (and a beer!) at Knox Brew Hub on Union Avenue. Rest up and do it all again next month!