A family walks down Main Street in Rockland, past the Farnsworth Art Museum and Strand Theater, two of the arts-related institutions helping to cement Rockland's reputation as an art destination. Credit: Lauren Abbate / BDN

After being suspended last summer due to the pandemic, the monthly First Friday art walk event is returning to downtown Rockland this week.

Given the city’s growing status as the “Arts Capital of Maine,” the summertime ritual of downtown galleries and museums opening their doors to the public on the first Friday of every month has become a beloved event in Rockland for more than a decade. Folks in the arts and downtown community feel the return of the tradition will be a great way to bring people together as the pandemic wanes.

“Last year it went quiet like it did everywhere,” Farnsworth Art Museum Director Chris Brownawell said. “[The return of the art walk] is an opportunity to bring a community together that has been pretty much separated for the last year, year and half, to celebrate the arts, because the arts play a very vital role in the community,”

The art walks are a collaborative effort between multiple organizations, including the Farnsworth, the Center for Maine Contemporary Art, the Strand Theater, multiple independent art galleries as well as the downtown group, Rockland Main Street, Inc.. Friday evening will mark the first Friday art walk of 2021, with others planned for Aug. 6, Sept. 3 and Oct. 1.

The city’s two art museums, the Farnsworth and the Center for Maine Contemporary Art will offer free admission in tandem with the event. The Farnsworth will be free from 5 to 8 p.m. and the Center for Maine Contemporary Art will be free all day, according to director Tim Peterson.

Brownawell, who typically stands at the front door of the Farnsworth greeting guests during the art walk, said he’s excited to have the celebration atmosphere return this summer.

“The community comes out, people are on the street, it’s a very celebratory evening. People enjoy seeing each other, greeting people, going into the galleries and seeing new art,” Brownawell said. “It truly is a celebration.”

This Friday’s art walk will be slightly different than in years past, as the city will be closing down Main Street — which doubles as U.S. Route 1 — for the evening. Brownawell said they are anticipating a large turnout and the street closure will allow people to safely sprawl. Based on how this Friday’s art walk goes, Brownawell said they may seek to close the street for future art walks this summer.

Experiencing Rockland’s artistic offerings is only one part of the First Friday tradition. Downtown restaurants are typically hopping during the art walks, and a number of shops along Main Street will be open for extended hours, Rockland Main Street Executive Director David Gogel said.

“Events like this absolutely contribute to the vibrancy and the economic vitality of our downtown,” Gogel said. “The interest among downtown businesses to have this come back was very very high.”

In addition to the return of the art walk this Friday, the city will also be hosting a pandemic-delayed bicentennial celebration. Windjammers from both Rockland and Camden will be parading through Rockland Harbor, a free concert will take place in Harbor Park and fireworks will close out the evening.

“It’s going to be a really special night in Rockland and everyone is excited about it,” Gogel said.