First Friday gets interactive

Gigi Naglak and Jennifer Dionisio talking about the chemistry of cupcakes during a First Friday event

Art often takes a backseat to socializing at First Friday events, but Chemical Heritage Foundation, a chemistry museum located in Old City, has developed an engaging alternative.  “We exist at the intersection of art, science, and history, so we make use of different types [of] practices across those subject areas,” Gigi Naglak, manager of museum programs explains.  Naglak and program associate Jennifer Dionisio brainstorm ideas for the program, drawing inspiration from the museum’s collection, its rotating cast of research fellows, and local happenings.  Past First Fridays have included a Jell-O-themed baking event, a demonstration on using natural dyes, and a craft beer discussion and tasting.

Because science museums often have demonstrations and hands-on activities, Naglak sees these types of programs as a natural fit.”  At many other institutions these participatory activities are targeted towards kids, [but] we’re able to tweak that as well because our programs focus on adults.”

“When we started our First Friday programming our activities were in part designed to lure people who had likely never heard of us, or who might hear our name and think it was not a place where they’d be welcomed,”Dionisio says.  When the program started in 2009, attendance peaked at 75.  Now the programming draws an average of 175 people every First Friday.  This increase in attendance has been attributed to the museum’s extended hours for the program.  With the museum operating outside of normal business hours, they are able to reach a different audience, which often includes locals who wouldn’t ordinarily be able to visit.

While Gigi and Jennifer do not think that the concept of First Friday needs to change to become more participatory, they think there are ways to expand on the idea.  “I think that First Friday and similar neighborhood strolls have tremendous value for new museums, galleries, and even shops in the area to get attention from people who come down to check out more established spots,” Dionisio says.  Naglak believes that “businesses and organizations that have a mission similar to that of First Friday might want to think about how they can get involved in their city [and], what they can add to a robust and exciting program already in existence.”

On First Friday, November 2, 5 – 8 pm, Chemical Heritage Foundation will host Ars Distillandi, a celebration of the 500th anniversary of Hieronymus Brunschwig’s book Liber de arte distillandi de compositis with a discussion of the history and science of distillation and tastings of local liquors.


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