HONOLULU, U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii -- Find the perfect match of artistry and community every month at First Fridays in the heart of Downtown Honolulu.

"First Fridays have been the cornerstone of the arts district, back when there were only a few art galleries in the neighborhood," said Sandy Pohl, who manages the Louis Pohl Gallery named for her late husband. "It's gotten harder to do as rents are going up."

Clubs, restaurants and art

Although the event began in 2003 with Chinatown art galleries staying open later for the public, surrounding restaurants and clubs have also opened up at night to offer specials to the gathered crowds. Yet the soul of the event is still the art and artists, with different exhibits featured every month.

Many local artists said the monthly activity helps connect the public to new art and to local supporting institutions. For some, First Fridays are their first date with the Hawaii State Art Museum, said Scott Young, the visitor services manager at HISAM. Young said HISAM ensures their first impression is a good one, with a free concert while the gallery is open in the evening.

"Our hope is people come for the musical entertainment, but realize there's this treasure trove of art," Young said. "This is their art, a collection for the people of Hawaii. You can come hear the music, come see the art then come back later and bring friends."

All of the artwork featured at HISAM has a connection to Hawaii, featuring modern art whose artists and subjects are tied to the islands.

The galleries feature local artists in a friendly setting during First Friday. Visitors to the Chinatown Artists Lofts can meet artists in the very spaces where they live and create their work. Artists and the public can share each gallery's free refreshments and their love of art.

"The receptions (on First Friday) give people the opportunity to meet artists as real people, who tell their story in paintings and pottery," Pohl said. "My husband used to say in every person, there is an artist inside them."

Spirit of community

The showcased artwork is in a variety of shapes and styles, emerging in pottery, paintings, photographs and other media. Pohl said the artists featured at the Louis Pohl Gallery are passionate teachers, giving back to Hawaii. She said the spirit of community at First Fridays is something her husband would love. Louis Pohl, a World War II Navy veteran, would spend hours teaching and chatting with fellow art enthusiasts.

The galleries often share a monthly theme, with February's First Friday showcasing many creations inspired by Chinese New Year and celebrating the year of the monkey. Several local traditional Chinese performance arts groups were also on the street, lighting fireworks, playing music and celebrating with traditional lion dancing.

"First Friday is a good way to run into a lot of local diversity," said Rich Richardson, executive director of the Hawaii Academy of Performing Arts who hosts exhibits at The ARTS at Mark's Garage. "(We're in a) pedestrian neighborhood, so you can abandon the car and walk to enjoy the art and new boutiques. This is a unique urban celebration."

Several of the First Friday gallery managers said although First Friday provides an initial spark of interest and it can blossom into a lifelong love of other art programs that can be found in Downtown Honolulu. Pohl said the pulse of First Fridays is having the chance to spend time with friends enjoying art and catching up on life.

"My husband was a great listener who shared his life through art," Pohl said. "Life is art."

Learn More

Find art you adore at First Fridays

Every month art galleries, museums and surrounding businesses in Downtown Honolulu stay open late on First Friday. A complete list of events and an interactive map is available at http://www.firstfridayhawaii.com/.

First Friday Galleries

Galleries will have extended hours from 6 to 9 p.m. and feature special events including:

• Hawaii State Art Museum, 250 S. Hotel Street
James McCarthy, who will play Irish folk and rock music in a free concert

• Louis Pohl Gallery, 1142 Bethel Street
The gallery will feature Japanese ikebana pottery in both traditional and modern avante garde styles. Several artists will be featured, including Ken Kang.

• Chinatown Artists Lofts, 1126 Smith Street
Individual artists living and working at the lofts, will open their studios to visitors. Among the artists currently featured in the lofts are Professor Pandemonium, Eric West, and photographer Jen May Pastores.

• The ARTS at Mark's Garage, 1159 Nuuanu Avenue
Check out mosaics in their March exhibit "Strata- Layers of Earth and Time"