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After Fatal Shooting, A Quieter First Friday In The Crossroads Might Be A Permanent Change

Crossroads Community Association
A crowd filing past a gallery on a recent First Friday

After last month's fatal shooting of 25-year-old Erin Langhofer at the Crossroads' First Friday event, the Crossroads Community Association lost its liability insurance coverage for the monthly street festival.

Langhoferwas in line at a food truck when she was hit by a stray bullet. That level of violence had not been an issue, even after First Friday began to draw crowds of 20,000 to 30,000 people a few years ago.

Changes that visitors will see this month are not only a result of the lost insurance coverage, but may have been a long time coming according to some community leaders.

"One of the things we want to do is close sooner. Most of the galleries were open from six to nine, and now we want to try to get everything to close at nine and maybe everything gone by 10, which would be a couple hours sooner than we had been doing," Jeff Owens said.

Owens is the chair of First Fridays and Vice President of the Crossroads Community Association.

Credit Crossroads Community Association
Families enjoying a First Friday earlier this year

Those who flock to the Crossroads for September's First Friday will find a much different scene than last month: the streets will no longer be barricaded for pedestrians and open carry of alcohol will not be permitted.

Food trucks can set up on the outskirts under their own insurance policies.

Owens was part of a recent community discussion about changes people were already hoping to see.

He said that some Crossroads residents and business owners cited concerns such as road closures disturbing the regular flow of traffic, vendors and crowds blocking the sidewalks and causing an extra shortage of parking, and sometimes feeling disturbed by extreme noise.

"The goal is to try to make it as less hectic as possible," Owens said.

Blue Gallery artist Lisa Lala said she’s seen three iterations of First Friday in the nearly 20 years she's been an artist in the area. At first the events were quiet, small and low-key; people interested in art would go from one gallery to the next to, well, look at the art. Then the crowds grew slightly larger but still centered around the galleries.

Then came the boom.

Lala said for a few years now people have seemed less interested in the art and more interested in socializing; visitors to the gallery where she shows are focused on each other rather than the art or the artists.

She said the middle version was the sweet spot.

"People who had never seen my work but that knew me felt comfortable to come down on First Friday," Lala said. "I'd see my neighbors and friends and coworkers, and all these people who had never been to an art gallery before … they were coming in with the masses, they were stopping in to say hello."

If an art event is no longer about the art, some pretty big changes must have already occurred long before gun violence prompted a reconfiguring.

Former Kansas City Star arts editor Steve Paul said that it's important to remember that First Friday began as a commercial activity, not a city or neighborhood-run event. Also, he said that Crossroads hasn't been the only area hosting First Friday, it's only the largest now.

Successfully and consistently drawing a large crowd to the Crossroads has changed the initial intention gallerists and artists had when the evenings began.

"First Friday became this lively street scene that everybody who wants a vibrant city wants to see and wants to have," Paul said. "And so, this nice art-oriented community now has to deal with the fact that it's much bigger than that, and art really took a second chair to the event."

Jeff Owens, Lisa Lala, and Steve Paul spoke with KCUR 89.3 on a recent edition of Central Standard. Listen to the full conversation here.

Follow KCUR contributor AnneKniggendorf on Twitter @annekniggendorf.

Anne Kniggendorf is a staff writer/editor at the Kansas City Public Library and freelance contributor to KCUR. She is the author of "Secret Kansas City."
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