Legend says, great ideas are born on a bar napkin, and Benson First Friday (BFF) just might be one of those.

For Alex Jochim and his business partner Jamie Hardy, what started as a discussion over drinks, became an official decision to revitalize the local art scene. The pair organized the very first Benson First Friday event in June 2012.

“Jamie and I were both bartenders at Jake’s… Working in bars was our secret weapon when we were first starting. People were sitting at the bar… and then they have a drink and offer to get involved, and we hold them to that. I think the bars have become a centerpiece for conversation and rallying people face-to-face,” says Jochim.

With Alex’s photography and Jamie’s installation art, they realized the dire need for gallery space in the area once the Bemis Underground closed.

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Along with regional research, Alex and Jamie also conducted a local survey. “Within those few months we canvassed the neighborhood, talked to all the business owners. We just wanted to get everybody onboard and originally, we thought we would just organize the first one… That wasn’t the case,” Jochim says.

During their canvassing, they discovered what would soon be their storefront location, just down the street from the Barley Street Tavern in the heart of Benson.

The first BFF included a milieu of visual arts, interactive elements and fashion. Benson First Friday founders even closed the streets to showcase a pop-up vintage fashion show that included pieces from multiple stores in the area. “We definitely wanted it to be interdisciplinary,” said Alex, “so we worked with all the music venues, had street DJs at the first one. There was music up and down the block and around the neighborhood.”

The rest, as they say, is history. Today, one of the most significant developments of BFF since 2012 is its vast growth. In fact, BFF has transformed into a full-blown organization, with a staff comprised of 85 percent volunteers.

The key to their success? Alex says,

“I think the biggest factor is that a lot of people have jumped on board, not just volunteering but adding their own contribution to the walk.”

With such a large group of dedicated volunteers, BFF has kept the ball rolling thanks to the dedication of its organizers. Over time, additional art galleries and creative spaces have been added to the neighborhood, making the events at BFF all the more stimulating to the senses of sound, sight and even smell.

BFF has even featured food artists in the past for attendees to sample delicious bites that look (almost) too good to eat. With an open approach, Jochim is always willing to listen to a new idea to enhance Benson’s atmosphere.

“We’re a bunch of rag-tag community members, volunteers that just want to pitch in. We call each other our ‘crew.’ We’re all about inclusivity, maybe doing non-traditional things and taking chances. The more we add, the more vibrant it becomes.”

Overall, Benson First Friday has sparked an interest in the art community and provided a space for talented local artists to showcase their skills, Jochim notes. As an artist, Jochim can also appreciate the growth of the art community in such a short time.

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“Since we’ve opened,” he said, “I’ve seen so many DIY spaces opened up and creative nonprofits,” developing around town. “So much has happened in the past five or six years, so that’s really exciting to be around.”

With Omaha Gives! right around the corner, Jochim and his team look forward to having fun and getting creative with their marketing strategy.

“I love to see this neighborhood rally behind it and really embrace it. I love to work with all the artists, I love to feel like we’re a part of something that’s for progressive change,” Jochim says.

To volunteer, attend, or inquire about Benson First Friday, check out their webpage at www.bensonfirstfriday.com for information about the next big event!

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