Artist Don Lobner views and discusses his work displayed in Artisan’s Gallery.

Early Friday evening, Twist, a local jewelry and clothing store, bustles with people surrounding the brightly-lit counter lined with marigolds. Behind where owner Lara Marotta stands is a large display of skeleton dolls and an ofrenda, an altar for the dead used during Día de los Muertos. The art is the work of students from Gateway School, a local private school.

The display is vibrant and eye-catching. Marotta sais she was drawn to the “honesty” of the children’s artwork. She said it is “very real, and very sweet.” Enthusiasm is also in the students’ repertoire.

“I just like that people get to see what we do in class,” said 8-year-old Maddie Hall, who attends Gateway.

Hall, and her friend and classmate Kanami Okabe, were excited to explain how they constructed the dolls and how pleased they are to see them in the store’s display.

This small exhibit is one of many venues that are linked together on the first Friday of every month by the local program First Friday.

First Friday, headed by Kirby Scudder, has for the last six years transformed downtown Santa Cruz into a hub for local art and artists.

Through the program, sponsored by associated venues and galleries, local artists are able to put their art on display and up for auction. Various galleries, stores and restaurants downtown set up exhibits to promote the community’s local art scene, linking individuals through a shared appreciation of homegrown art.

Art needs to be seen and promoted, Scudder said.

“When I moved [to Santa Cruz] in 2003, I realized there were so many artists here, but so little promotion for them,” he said. “That has always been the point — to promote the huge pool of local artists here in Santa Cruz.”

However, First Friday isn’t just about art.

“In February, we put on Hearts for the Arts,” said Linnaea Holgers James, owner of Artisans Gallery, a venue associated with First Friday. “We had artists who donated pieces, and we auctioned them off. The proceeds were donated to the cultural council of Santa Cruz specifically for art education in schools.”

Hearts for the Arts was only one of many ways First Friday has given back. Artists Sarah Friedlander and D. Hooker were recently recognized for their work to raise and donate money for healthcare for local artists.

Friedlander and Hooker have also previously organized group shows and auctions, donating to such groups as the Tannery Arts Center.

The work of individuals like Friedlander and Hooker has always been the goal of First Friday, Scudder said.

“I’m a huge advocate [for community service], but I don’t tell [the artists] to do it,” Scudder said. “That’s the whole point of First Friday — giving back to your community.”

First Friday is celebrating its 80th event this October. Scudder hopes to incorporate other forms of artistic expression, such as music and dance, because “music and visual art would work really well together” and allow local musicians to showcase their work.

“It looks like First Friday is here to stay, and it’s becoming part of Santa Cruz as a monthly event,” James said. “It has grown slowly, and now people really look forward to it.”