Quincy Rast and Adriana Macias
Many Kansas Citians look forward to First Fridays each month. The event is known as a place for artists to display and sell art, food trucks to serve delicious food and locals to enjoy a night of activities in the Crossroads.
This August, the event wasn’t the typical First Fridays art-lovers are used to. Erin Langhofer, a 25-year-old art enthusiast, was killed by a stray bullet following a nearby fight. She was in line at The Mad Greek food truck when the fight broke out.
Kansas City has hosted this beloved community each month for many successful years, with over 10,000 festival goers occupying the entirety of the Crossroad’s district. But with this recent shooting, the Crossroads Community Association lost its liability insurance coverage.
The loss of insurance brought changes, creating a different experience for festival-goers: food trucks are now set up outside of the festival, the streets are not barricaded and there is no open carry of alcohol.
Despite these changes, many residents chose not to attend September’s event due to concerns for their safety.
UMKC student Joshua Koni looks forward to attending each First Fridays.
“I like bringing someone new every month, each time they appreciate and enjoy it differently.”
Koni and a group of friends attended the event in August, expecting another night filled with art and fun. His group went to the usual places—food trucks, performances, galleries, artists. As the night wound down, the group ended up at 18th and Baltimore, a street filled with people dancing to a DJ.
While waiting to meet up with people, Koni and his friends heard what they thought was a firework.
“I have come to a point of not knowing whether it’s fireworks or gunshots that I hear in the city,” Koni said. “It didn’t really hit me until I saw a flood of people running towards us.”
As they moved with the crowd, Koni saw the friends he was waiting for, running towards him yelling, “RUN, RUN. There was a shooting,” as they ran to a building for safety.
“I could see the fear in that instant,” Koni said. “It was very scary.”
Koni still planned on going to the following First Fridays in September and tried to invite some friends.
“[The shooting] changed a lot of things,” Koni said. “When I tried to get people to come with me, everybody backed out. I hear about an event now and ask myself, should I even get people together to see new things? How safe is it going to be? That’s never a question I used to think about.”
Koni described the streets of the following month’s event as a ghost town, empty and quieter than usual.
“It was weird to see the streets not be crowded, especially the street with everyone dancing,” he said. “I wasn’t able to look down on a sea of people having fun; that’s typically something I marvel at.”
Despite the shooting and the changes made to First Fridays, Koni still plans on attending.
Past First Fridays attracted heavy outdoor traffic with artists, entertainers and performers set up along the streets. But due to the changes, September’s festival was focused on indoor galleries.
Artists had to find different ways to keep attendees interested and entertained.
Jenny Hahn, a local KC artist and definite stop for Koni each First Fridays, livened up her gallery show with a live painting for the audience to watch. This was her first time doing this at her show, an attempt to make the experience more interactive and entertaining.
Shafer Jonas, a First Friday’s regular, was disappointed with September’s turnout.
“The street closure really affects it, makes it feel less of an experience,” said Jonas. “Especially for me, considering I’ve been coming since I was a child.”
Jonas said it’s almost unrecognizable and difficult for him to digest. He explained how disheartening it was to see how afraid and reluctant people are to come back.
“I understand the perspective of a lot of people, but I also feel like it’s important to continue everything that you do,” said Jonas. “I understand the violent nature of what happened, but personally I think we need to acknowledge that we should still go about living our everyday lives, despite that risk.”