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First Person First Thursday

5:00 PM

I see Meg van Rosendaal as soon as I walk through the doors of Art Central. Meg organizes First Thursdays—festival-like evenings of art openings, lectures and great deals on food, wine and entertainment in the Olympic Plaza Cultural District that occur on the first Thursday of every month (hence the name). Meg is the General Manager of the OPCD and a good friend who has offered to show me a true First Thursday experience.

Our first stop is Uppercase Gallery on the top floor. Run by graphic designer Janine Vangool, known for her preoccupations with typography and William Shatner, Vangool’s featured artists are usually inspired by pop culture. Tonight’s opening is for Doug Fraser’s Banal Drama, an exhibition of illustrations of everything from people on airplanes to lava lamps. I’m barely able to sneak a second tiny ham sandwich before Meg whisks me away into the night.

6:00 PM

A new endeavour for Theatre Junction, the GRAND Ideas lecture series is a fabulous way to learn about theatre and the arts from the incredibly intelligent individuals who create it. The first lecture, by University of Calgary Drama Department’s Brian Smith, delves into controversial theatre and film director Peter Brook.

The upstairs rehearsal space is packed as I sit down with a dirt-cheap glass (plastic beer cup, $3) of Italian red and learn about Brooks’ 60-year career. The lecture is so well researched and thoughtful, I consider going back to school.

7:30 PM

After all that learning, I’m starved. Meg and I opt for a Latino fusion tapas place promising live music. The musician doesn’t show and the service is on island time, but our conversation is lively. “The First Thursday events create an experimental zone of urban vitality,” says Meg between mouthfuls of stuffed peppers (delicious) and yuca frita (yucka). “It’s a way of discovering everything there is to do without a lot of risk.”

8:30 PM

This diminutive gallery space is tucked just outside of Art Central and comfortably fits about three people. I sit literally at artist John Will’s feet as he gossips wildly about other local artists while smoking strong cigarettes. I love it (even though the cheese plate has been pillaged).

9:00 PM

Nibblies and Swedish design solutions galore including modular tables and high-tech diving gear. Meg chats with a white-haired woman with incredible blue eyes. It’s Katie Ohe, one of Alberta’s most celebrated sculptors. She says she’d like to sculpt my head. I’m flattered.

9:30 PM

Juilliard is a new restaurant owned by Jesse Glasnovic of the Auburn Saloon, Calgary’s unofficial theatre bar. Tonight is Juilliard’s sneak preview opening, and Jesse and I chat over a glass of dusty Spanish red while a flamenco guitarist sets up in the corner and the room fills with writers, directors and artists.

First Thursdays offer a new palette of colourful artsy options every month, with shifting themes that follow the seasons. November’s theme is Day of the Dead, and December is a district-wide Christmas Market, with special holiday events and discounts. Check www.firstthursdays.ca and sketch out your own itinerary beforehand.—Melanie Jones

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