First Friday of April at the Banana Factory

Last Friday, I was able to attend the Banana Factory’s First Friday, for my art experience in the Bethlehem community. It was the first time I had been to the Banana Factory in my almost three years at Lehigh, and I wish I had gone before that since it was a great and fun experience. I chose to go to First Friday because it was an extremely interesting event that I wanted to attend but was unable to previously because of my prior commitments to the tennis team at Lehigh. I wanted to take a trip to the Banana Factory as I was an active art student in high school and attended many local art galleries as well as larger museums in New York City. However, since I have been at Lehigh, I have not been involved with creating or going to see other artwork, so this was the perfect opportunity. I also was interested in the all-encompassing event of First Friday, including the presence of some of the featured artists, activities, community engagement, and hors d’oeuvres.

I attended First Friday with two of my teammates, Kirstin and Nina. Kirstin and I walked to the Banana Factory from Polk Street. Nina’s parents were visiting from Texas, so they drove to meet us there a few minutes little later. Kirstin and I arrived at the Banana Factory at approximately 6:15 pm, however since neither of us had ever been inside, we had to take a lap around the building before discovering the entrance. While walking around the back of the building, we witnessed people doing the Hot Glass Experience. When researching April’s First Friday, I noticed that the glass blowing artwork was to make a Hummingbird Feeder, which looked like an interesting and creative item to create. In the future, I definitely want to experience creating my own glass artwork at the Banana Factory.

We entered the building through the side door near the parking lot, and the walls of the Banana Factory were already a work of art, as well as the various sculptures outside surrounding the factory. Once I stepped inside, there were various pieces of art displayed on the walls of the hallway, all by the same artist: Arthur Nicholas Buroff. I recognized a lot of the pieces, since I looked up the work he has done in anticipation of seeing his Hallway to the Arts exhibition and Buroff himself at the venue. He was there talking to multiple people about his work and many other art patrons were asking questions, so I was able to listen to how he picked the artwork to be displayed in the Banana Factory, and how he chose to price his work.

In the Banana Factory, there was a room with about a dozen hand sculptures, some just the hand itself, and others were painted in extremely different fashions in different types of paint. In the next room over, there was a studio type room where some people were painting these hand sculptures. I was curious as to what exactly was going on since I read about a “surprising and fun community art project” online, so I inquired about this. A Banana Factory employee explained to me that it was a community art project, and all members of the community were invited to paint a hand sculpture, and it would be displayed in the gallery. They wanted the entire room filled with these painted hands, and come the end of the exhibit, each person was invited to take their hand home with them. I wish I had been able to paint one of these hands, and feel more connected and involved in the Southside Bethlehem community. However, we had dinner reservations at 7 pm at Edge Restaurant on the North side, so we were restricted on time. I also wish I was able to see the end result of the hand sculpture gallery, at the end of the evening when each hand was painted and displayed.

In the Crayola Gallery, the National Association of Woman Artists (NAWA): Creative Muse exhibit was on display. I spoke to Stacie Brennen, the Senior Director of Visual Arts at the Banana Factory and a representative from NAWA after walking around the room and looking at each piece of artwork. The woman from NAWA explained who their association is and what they do for female artists across the U.S. I enjoyed learning and hearing about how the organization chose each artist and each piece to be displayed in the gallery, and how this tied into the Create Muse exhibition.

Another part of the First Friday experience was the hors d’oeuvres provided by Wegman’s, as well as a mini bar to purchase beverages. When I first arrived at the Banana Factory, I grabbed a few hors d’oeuvres and continued to explore the venue and admire the artwork displayed there. During my time at the event, I noticed that the majority of people in attendance were of an older crowd; I did not see any Lehigh students, besides my two friends.

After visiting the Banana Factory, and not having the opportunity to explore every aspect of the building, I was curious to see what else it has to offer. I was surprised to find out that there are 30 different galleries in which artists can display their art. I only experienced the different exhibitions on the first floor, so I was unaware of how large and how much space the Banana Factory has.

My first First Friday experience was a great one, and in the future, I will definitely attend each event that I am able to and for a longer time. It was not only fun, but also an eye opening experience since I have never done anything like this in Bethlehem. It was a nice way to get off Lehigh’s campus on a Friday evening, and I will recommend to my friends and peers to go in May and next year when we return to campus.

-Cassidy Cruz