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January 10, 2012

At MCA's First Friday, hob nob with the young and fashionable

The problem with First Fridays at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) is that they only happen once a month. I’ve been trying to go for the past year or so, and have, quite honestly, never been able to go—maybe because, until now, I wasn’t old enough. I persuaded a friend to accompany me last Friday to the MCA and we happily jumped on the 6 bus, headed downtown. The event runs from 6-10 p.m., but plan to arrive earlier rather than later as people pack the gallery halls pretty quickly. Word to the wise, life is much easier if you buy your tickets ahead of time. You can get a discounted ticket and sidestep the purchasing lines upon arrival.

Before delving into the event itself, can I just take a moment to comment on the magical mystery that surrounds a museum at night? The doors lock at closing time and the night guards begin their shifts, watching over sleeping giants of artistic works. It’s an intriguing feeling, one borne out of an attraction towards the forbidden. I think there are a couple of movies starring Ben Stiller that center around similar themes.

Moment of romanticism aside, walking up though the gift shop stairs we found ourselves in the main entry hall, with a bar to our right, a live jazz band to our left (Isaiah Spencer and the New Orleans Jazz Band) and a ton of happy, mingling twenty-and thirty-somethings in between. We decided to find the coat check, but it took a little longer than expected. Regardless, coats checked, we made our way through the bubbly, chatty crowd, past the jazz band. A seated woman with tickets of the make of a carnival fair, asked us if we would like to buy drink tickets. The ticket attendant’s sign offered a variety of fairly priced drinks for a cocktail hour (the money is going back to the museum, right?).

As we meandered through the crowd, we found the jazz band the most entertaining, energy-infusing aspect of the main floor. These guys were clearly having a ton of fun. Even people just chatting with their backs turned to the band had their heads bopping and feet tapping. Watch out, though: Unless you’ve always dreamed of being a tambourine player, don’t walk by them too closely, because one of the band members might toss you a tambourine and invite you to play. A little later, we walked passed Wolfgang Puck’s complimentary hors d’oeuvres and into the galleries on the main floor. We could hear echoes of the music and conversation, two sounds not heard often enough in a museum and pleasantly welcomed.

Walking through the galleries alongside more fellow visitors than normal was surprisingly enjoyable. Accompanied by the giddy music, their comments were interesting and their enthusiasm clearly heightened.  The whole experience felt more like a tasting of the museum than a full meal, making me want to come back to spend some time with the exhibits I admired at first glance.

Patrons were offered a couple of chances to become participants in the evening’s festivities,  with the chance to engage in a dance and movement workshop offered on the top floor by Hubbard Street 2 or to take advantage of the massage therapists located on the second floor. Sadly though, a live DJ eventually replaced both patron tambourine players and jazz band. Personally, I preferred the live music, but perhaps that’s just my personal reluctance to think of the MCA as a nightclub.

If you’re 21 or older, First Fridays at the Museum of Contemporary Art is one great way to experience the cocktail hour before dinner or a night out on the town. You’ll come out of curiosity and return for more. If you’re heading to dinner after stopping by, you might want to make your reservations a little later than you ordinarily. You’re going to want to stick around and wander, embracing the energy that fills the museum with the laughter, conversation, and music that makes the experience of the current exhibits all the more enjoyable.

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