First Thursdays in Cape Town
A Night Out For the Art Aesthetes
The sun has just sunk behind the mountain, but town is already bustling. Armed with the detailed paper map which outlines just what is on offer and where, I head to my first destination: Doodle Night at Friends of Design.
On the first Thursday of every month Bree Street and Loop Street, forming part of the central vein of cultural appeal which runs through Cape Town city centre, are invaded by a heaving mass of art lovers. First Thursdays (which also takes place in Johannesburg) was conceived in 2012 and is a free, public event which allows all and sundry to browse the local art galleries and cultural attractions of Cape Town until late into the evening.
Long Street takes a well needed break while the attention is focussed on its neighbours, as the many galleries which cluster within the 1km stretch of paved cultural diversity, fling open their doors. For the most part the artworks on display are a variety of local artists’ work, each chosen for the particular theme exhibited by that gallery in that month. The idea is to peruse the venues on foot, aided by a map and the perpetual flow of people moving methodically through the streets.
The philosophy behind First Thursday is that it’s a mass showcase of local talent and artistic work, as well as being a wholly entertaining evening – hence the doodle night I have discovered. This is hosted by Friends of Design, an academy of digital arts, and comprises of two long tables strewn with drawing materials around which you may cluster with a complimentary glass of wine and create your very own work of art. Art and wine! It’s like a perfect storm.
A few blocks down the way is where the artisanal fun really begins. 99 on Loop is a brightly lit, white-walled gallery; a gleaming modernised beacon on the corner of the chilly, dimly lit streets: two stories high and packed to the rafters with patiently milling aesthetes.
Wander a little further down the road and Church Street becomes a cosily bustling cobbled square. You’ll have to squeeze past a bulging rack of vintage clothes to get to the Jan Royce gallery. Small and overcrowded, there is a live cellist working away at his strings in the corner and a number of more intriguing pieces of art making their bold statements. Every letter of a chapter of a novel laser-cut and piled into a glass box; and the exact positions of the stars in the sky at the time and place Ernest Hemingway shot himself have been mapped.
Opposite is the AVA Gallery, a two story building whose upper half was dedicated to artisanal wine tastings. Although a little less crowded on the night I attended, but perhaps it was just the sudden increase in space. There is chatter and laughter and hushed musings of the hidden meanings of artworks. I eavesdrop. “It’s layered, built up from the back; I think that’s a shadow,” says a man to my left. I squint at the painting in question, which is gorgeous, but simplistic, but I can’t make out the shadow.
A number of cafes and boutiques remain open long after their usual closing time on First Thursdays. A spot of late night vintage shopping may be on the cards or if you are in the mood for a groovier night, Bree Street’s numerous restaurant-bars are generally thumping. There is something catering to almost all tastes on this stretch, allowing for a culturally-rich night out for anyone desiring to look a little deeper into what makes Cape Town tick.