It began as a one-time street party and has grown into an official nonprofit that’s making a difference in the culture of its community and the lives of the artists it touches.
Benson First Friday (BFF), founded in 2012 by Jamie Hardy and Alex Jochim, will celebrate its fifth anniversary Friday, June 2. “It started as a dream,” Hardy said. “It was a time when our artist community needed an outlet, and our neighborhood had the kind of open spirit to help make it come true. Five years later, we’re not only still here, we’re moving forward as an organization.”
Mud wrestling, a bicycle flash mob, a fashion week for dogs - you name it, and BFF has pulled it off. On the first Friday of each month (except January), Maple Street in downtown Benson takes on a carnival-type atmosphere. Shops that show and sell art hold opening receptions for new exhibits, and other businesses are encouraged to host events that add to the atmosphere. Most months have a theme, and the accompanying activities are as creative and original as the organization’s staff and extensive volunteer base. “All are welcome, and we’re up for just about anything,” said Jochim, who currently serves as BFF’s executive director.
In recent years, the organization has launched a number of projects that mirror the goals of each first Friday event – celebration, inclusion, and exposure to other cultures and new ways of thinking:
The June 2 anniversary celebration will include:
Jochim said a few longer-term goals for the organization are to grow its volunteer staff into paid positions and launch a mobile gallery that will bring BFF’s independent spirit and celebration of the arts to other Omaha neighborhoods and communities throughout the region.
“This moment would never have been possible if it wasn't for the openhearted and encouraging nature of our friends, neighbors and business owners in Benson,” Hardy said. “I feel like this five-year celebration is not only for us and the artists involved but for the neighborhood itself - thank you for being such a rad place to live, love and create!”