Features & Columns

Silicon Alleys: South First Friday Strolls Showcase San Jose's Ever-Changing SoFA District

MEME WORTHY: Artist Krista Fay will showcase some of her work at South First Fridays, including a series of paintings that satirize Instagram and selfie culture.

As South First Fridays kicked off its 15th year last week, the anti-man-about-town received cosmic instructions from the muses to contemplate the inseparability of this event from his own moody life, plus the ways in which the South First Area (SoFA) has evolved since 2006.

When South First Fridays began, there were no Lyft scooters, no Facebook event pages and no smartphones for everyone to post the artwork on Instagram. At the time, SoFA was coming out of the rock 'n' roll era and into a bardo state of transition. The first art walk only included four venues—Anno Domini, MACLA, The San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles, and SJICA, which was then a block up the street.

Nowadays, as every year goes by, there seems to be another generation of troublemakers to draw, paint, sculpt or vent their take on the San Jose condition, with the art walk adding more components even while others fall by the wayside. Even as killer art spaces disappear—as is the norm in a perpetually gentrifying downtown—new venues continue to enter the fray. Pizza Flora, for example. Who can even remember what the Pizza Flora space was in 2006? Even before that, though, it was the Flying Pig Pub, home of $5 chili and beefcake frat boys relieving themselves in the back hallway. Now you'll see work by Emonic, a fantastic illustrator.

With the new comes the old, of course. As of last week, the Citadel Gallery also officially joined in the fray. Its main room is still one of the best wide-open rooms in San Jose for an art exhibit. I hope no one destroys the place.

Perhaps the most noticeable addition to the environment is the hideous former Valley Title Building, the decades-long eyesore on the corner directly across First Street from Original Joe's. Ghosts of living, breathing people might be stalking the building. In 2006, it was lawyer central, for example. When Sam Liccardo first ran for City Council District 3 that year, he kept a campaign office upstairs. During that same era, Jenny Do ran a Viet-themed space on the second floor called The Green Rice Gallery—a precursor to all the ways in which the Viet arts community is now emerging. The San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce occupied the ground level, back when Pat Dando ran the show. Every day I'd walk by and see a homeless drunk passed out in the alcove in front of the building, directly on the other side of the window from Pat Dando sitting at her desk. What a juxtaposition.

Today the building is much different. Inside one finds the San Jose Jazz offices, which are now an official South First Fridays venue, meaning you can walk in off the street and watch a high school jazz band in the corner. In the same building but right next door, the new Kaleid Gallery location was jammed last week and the art was selling, especially Kyle Harter's whimsical exhibit of line-art works, Stay for Tea. So I did.

And then there's The Pierce Apartments, a venue added to South First Fridays over the last few years. Who can forget the shuttered Rock Gardens building that used to be there? A dumpy condemned masterpiece with at least 30 rooms, The Rock Gardens were the quintessential practice spaces where hundreds of bands partied for 20 years before it was shut down in the '90s. In retrospect, long-haired rock 'n' rollers relieving themselves in the hallway were much, much better for San Jose than frat-boy slobs relieving themselves in the hallway.

Finally, on a cleaner note, at the southern end of the art walk, one finds the Art Ark Gallery, where Krista Fay has some wondrous paintings that satirize Instagram, selfie culture and Internet memes in general. When South First Fridays started, Art Ark did not exist. Neither did Instagram. And back then, no one fathomed a future enabling some lonely outcast to jump on a Lyft bike from Art Ark all the way to SoFA in five minutes. And then back again.

As such, South First Fridays events bring everyone together. Here's to another 15 years!