4th Fridays event grows into an ‘art experience’ in Crystal Lake

By Jami Kunzer


A new addition to The Dole Mansion last year, the 4th Fridays Art Event, hasn’t stopped evolving.

Having built up a following—drawing about 1,000 art enthusiasts a month—the event will celebrate its 70th birthday on Jan. 24 with several new additions. Among them are a food truck, an Artist Connect program and an after-hours Late Night at The Dole event with live music, dancing and a cash bar in the mansion’s Listening Room.

It’s more than an art show, said Nancy Merkling, the event’s creator and producer, who first began 4th Fridays in 2011 at the Starline Factory in Harvard. The event moved to the Dole in Crystal Lake last October.

A regional art event held 10 months a year, 4th Fridays continue to feature the attractions fans have enjoyed for years — a  juried mixed art exhibit, juried photo contest, featured artist solo exhibit, vendor artists, People’s Choice voting, live music and a cash bar.

“When I go to any art event, I want an experience. I don’t want to just look at art,” Merkling said of her vision for 4th Fridays. “I want to know there are conversations to be had, relationships to be developed.”

The Jan. 24 event will kick off at 5:30 p.m. with 4th Fridays’ first featured food truck, Fat Tomato, Inc. Food trucks will be available every month from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. While appetizers always have been provided at 4th Fridays, the food truck addition gives visitors the chance to eat dinner at the event, Merkling said.

The art event runs from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Dole, 401 Country Club Road, Crystal Lake, with a $10 cover at the door. For families with one or two parents, children ages 17 and younger are free.

Located in the Lakeview Room of the Dole, the new Artist Connect — featuring Russ Riendeau of Barrington on Jan. 24 — aims to give visitors an inside look at what it’s like to be a working artist. Each month, a featured artist will choose 10 questions to answer and perform small demonstrations.

“Instead of just walking through an art event and looking at artwork and deciding whether it matches your couch, this is a way to actually talk to artists about how they create and why they create,” Merkling said. “We just want to connect people with the artists.”

From 9 to 10:45 p.m. every month in the Listening Room, the new Late Night at The Dole gives visitors looking to “continue the party” after the art event somewhere else to go, she said. Jan. 24 will feature The Shufflers, a Rockford-based trio performing acoustic soft rock. Doors will open at 8:30 p.m. Tickets cost $10 in advance at thedole.org or $12 at the door.

Late Night grew out of visitors asking where to go for somemusic and dancing after the art event, said Merkling, a photographer who at a young age created an idea book full of attractions she’d one day have if she ever ran an art event.

Her efforts all stem from a desire to promote regional artists.

“One of the things we really drive home in our art events is everyone can afford to purchase original artwork from a regional artist,” she said.

With attractions like the People’s Choice Award at her 4th Fridays, she aims to draw eyes to every piece of artwork at the event. The solo exhibits must be earned through previous awards at 4th Friday events, and the photography exhibits continue to grow more popular, she said.

“We have people that drive from Madison and Milwaukee and from downtown Chicago like it’s the ‘Field of Dreams.’ We’ve created quite the following,” she said. “What they typically love is they love the energy and thehigh quality event we create.”