People milling about at First Thursday June 1, which took place at the Keyes Art Mile in Rosebank. Photo: Nhlanhla Phillips

The concept of First Thursdays is simple. On every first Thursday of the month - in Johannesburg and Capetown -  galleries;  restaurants;  bars; clothing stores and music spaces are encouraged to stay open till later in the evening to attract young and old to inner city art spaces. In Johannesburg, First Thursday takes place at the Maboneng Precinct, Braamfontein, Norwood and Keyes Art Mile in Rosebank.


Art galleries are normally not my thing. I’m more of a live music and theatre person. With that said, as I was walking around Everard Read in Rosebank it was something that appealed to me greatly. I have always wanted to experience the pristine white walls of the art gallery, with images of people who look like me.


Walking around Everard Read set the tone for what would be my first experience of First Thursday Johannesburg, outside Braamfontein where I used to attend as a student living in the area.  


In Pleated  Gary Stephens uses folded paper and chalk pastel, charcoal and full colour archival photographs to produce  portraits of young Black men and women. My favourite was the "Braids with a fan palm and drop earrings", that was created with charcoal. I also loved the installation at the entrance of the gallery, of spotis  or bucket hats called “Raining Hats”.

"Braids with a fan palm and drop earrings" made with pleated paper and charcoal. Photo: http://www.everard-read.co.za/exhibition/9/exhibition_works/580


Outside the gallery, I was greeted by a combination of delicious smells and the vocals of a live performer, who at that point was crooning about the loss of love. The make-shift performance stage was positioned in the corner of Keyes Avenue,with a collection of wooden tables and chairs for people to sit and enjoy their food while listening to music.


On one side of the road is a variety of food trucks where you can find anything from seafood to sandwiches, on the neighbouring end, is a set of restaurant, bars and retail stores to enhance the experience. One of the stores I chose to walk into was Okapi, a high end yet trendy store which produces and sells artisanal handbags and accessories. The store has a cool and sophisticated feel, with the accessories something that I’m certain would without too much drama force you to part with your hard earned money.


One of the chefs from the Tutto Food Truck making a seafood dish while hungry revellers looked on. Photo: Nhlanhla Phillips


While my colleague and I were browsing in the store and taking pictures, I realised out of all the other patrons, the security guard was keeping “an eye” on us. Perhaps due to the fact that we were the only two Black people in the store. As we walked out- all three of us - the sweet shopkeeper, a young white woman “thanked” the guard.

The Okapi Store on the Keyes Art Mile. Photo: Nhlanhla Phillips.


With that experience still lingering somewhere in my mind, I saw the potential that spaces like the First Thursday provide;  to meet in the middle of the melting pot that is Johannesburg, in a cultural setting would do us a world of good particularly with the festering  racial tensions in the country at the moment.


I did not try any of the food items on offer because I was not hungry but the aromas were tempting enough. And the queues at the trucks that offered drinks and the bars were long so I chose to go without eating or drinking. Understandably, we’d arrived at around 7pm when the event was in full swing, and there were a few hundred people milling about.


The atmosphere was lively, and it provided for the ideal night out in the town.With our jackets and coats of course - because Johannesburg winter can be treacherous.