Top Ten Ways to Get Your Art On
You know, usually I write lists of ten: the top ten best whatever in Phoenix. This week was going to be the Top Ten Ways to Get Some Culture…but there are so many options out there these days that I had to split that topic way up! This time around I had a real challenge paring that list down, and this seemed to surprise many of my friends. That's right, Phoenix is all grown up now and we have so many fabulous options for cultural events that it's not easy to choose which are best. As I write this I am missing what I know is an awesome art show downtown tonight. This one is called Lamb Chop and it's an alternative show featuring MORE THAN 80 local artists—wow. This isn't your mama's Phoenix. Shoot, it's not even my childhood Phoenix.
So here's my list of the ten best ways to take in some art in the Phoenix area. Get out there and check it out, especially if it's been awhile for you. Our town has really blossomed!
I was born here in Phoenix and I remember when Artlink Phoenix began. That was in 1988, after the bond election that helped to build The Orpheum and the Phoenix Art Museum. That influx of money and energy into the downtown area helped motivate local artists in the area to plan an event: Art Detour.
Back then I was in high school and my mother was married to a local artist, Nick deMatties. He was part of one of the very first Art Detours and I was there. Art Detour began as a sort of group open house for artists to open their art studios to the public and showcase their work. The idea was you could go downtown to the area where so many of these studios were and walk around in your own time, seeing anything that looked cool. Of course Art Detour provided a shot of local art and culture, but these were not unknown artists: many of them were well-known on the national and international scene.
Eventually this event spawned First Fridays although of course Art Detour is still an annual event. Now Artlink Phoenix has become of the oldest 501-C-3 arts organizations in downtown Phoenix and it is run entirely by volunteers. The next Art Detour is a milestone: the 25th in the series. It will coincide with First Friday in March 2013 and promises to be the biggest and best yet.
In 1994 the First Friday art walk began in downtown Phoenix and it has grown into the largest monthly art walk in the United States. On the First Friday of every month starting at 6:00pm you can tour galleries and other art spaces all over the downtown area—there are more than 100 arts venues participating and providing a free glimpse of the art scene. You'll also find food, music events, and everything from fashion shows featuring local designers to street performers. First Fridays are great for your whole family and there's nothing to worry about with regard to the neighborhood (except lack of parking). First Fridays showcase a true street fair flavor with ongoing arts and culture of Phoenix. You can even park away from the center of the action at the Phoenix Art Museum and take a free shuttle to any of its stops throughout the art walk; since participating art spaces stretch between Indian School Road and Buchanan Street, and from 12th Street to 17th Avenue, there's basically no way you'll walk the entire place in one night. The event just gains popularity and there's no sign of it losing momentum.
Artlink Phoenix states that its mission “is to maintain and enhance our current regular events, including the monthly First Fridays art walk, the annual Art Detour self-guided tour that features several open studios and Mystery Galleries in addition to the galleries and businesses that participate in the monthly event, a Juried Exhibition and an art-related fundraiser.” Artlink Phoenix publishes a monthly online newsletter that you can subscribed to stay in the know about their events. That's also a great way to get information on the individual participating artists and on becoming a participating artist yourself.
Harvest Festival Original Art & Craft Show
The Harvest Festival Original Art and Craft Show is the largest indoor art and craft show going. This year, 2012, marks its 40th anniversary and as usual the Harvest Festival will descend upon the Phoenix Convention Center in late October. The event boasts an almost unbelievable 24,000 plus handmade American products; you can see and buy everything from jewelry to ceramics and pottery, and from original fine art to hand-tailored clothing. Music, photography, hand-turned wood, blown glass, antiques—it's all here (and at a time of year when many of us are in buying mode). The Harvest Festival is a traveling show and roams between California, Nevada and Arizona each autumn. Because exhibitors are juried and must pay to be a part of the show, you have a high quality range of goods at the festival and very little chaff.
There's more to this event than shopping, however, or even just exposing yourself to lots of amazing arts and crafts. There are live music shows throughout the festival and also strolling performers who are truly talented. There are contests and drawings for prizes and plenty of speciality foods for you to sample. And don't worry about your kids; they will stay busy. The festival features an interactive “Kid Zone” to keep everyone happy.
In case you're concerned that a festival like this isn't really a taste of local Phoenix culture, don't be. Each city's festival ends up being unique because so many of the exhibitors are local, and you are sure to get a Phoenix twist at this event despite its large scale.
Tickets are $9 each for general admission, $7 for seniors (age 62 plus) and $4 for children. You can get your hand stamped so you can come and go without purchasing extra tickets.
Scottsdale Art Walk
Downtown Scottsdale is home to a dense network of art galleries that make up the stops on the Scottsdale Art Walk. In fact, there are more than 100 art galleries in Scottsdale, making the area a popular location for art collectors (although of course you don't have to be a buyer to benefit from this amazing selection of art). This year's season for art walking begins in October (once the heat is, well, bearable) and believe it or not, this 2012 season is Scottsdale's 38th!
Scottsdale Art Walk happens every Thursday evening from 7:00pm-9:00pm in downtown Scottsdale. The walk goes along Main Street from Scottsdale Road west to Goldwater Boulevard, and on Marshall Way north of Indian School Road to Fifth Avenue. Area businesses such as restaurants are of course all open during the Art Walk, and free trolley and horse-drawn carriage rides are also available during Art Walk which will help you get from plentiful free parking areas throughout the area to wherever you want to go.
Of course the Art Walk happens weekly throughout each season. At several different times throughout the year, though, there are several “special event” art walks that you may want to make a special point of checking out. In mid-October the kick off Art Walk happens and it features many special events each year. The upcoming 2012 kick off, for example, will feature many well-known artists, wine and cheese receptions, renowned musicians, children's features, and live art presentations including one that will allow patrons to join in and paint. In November the Western Art Walk features artists unique to our region, and in December Scottsdale's Art Walk has a holiday theme. Check the website for all of the other special events and other information.
Phoenix Art Museum
The Phoenix Art Museum is now the largest visual arts center in the American Southwest. The permanent collection houses more than 18,000 works of art and the museum also includes a sculpture garden, a cafe, a research library, a 300 seat auditorium, studio classrooms and the PhxArtKids gallery which is, in and of itself, a fantastic destination for you and your kids.
Obviously the Phoenix Art Museum's day to day collections are enough to recommend it, but here I want to highlight the many traveling exhibitions that come through Phoenix courtesy of the museum. Of course these are always different, but I am hoping that by showing you the current and upcoming exhibits you can see how many amazing things this museum brings to our city.
As I type the Stephen Marc “Passage on the Underground Railroad” exhibit is here for its last day. This incredible exhibit has been in the Norton Photography Gallery all summer and features a decade of the photographic journeys along the stops of the Underground Railroad—both the places and the people. It is a moving and beautiful exhibit, characteristic of the high caliber of work featured in the Norton Gallery. The Steele Gallery features “Paper!” for one more week, and provides a stunning review of the paper and book arts, an area that will fascinate you if you're not familiar with it. The dynamic exhibit, “The Politics of Place: Latin American Photography, Past & Present” continues in the Orme Lewis Gallery in partial tribute to Hispanic Heritage Month. Just opening this week is “Modern Spirit: Fashion of the 1920s” in the Ellman Fashion Design Gallery (this gallery consistently has wonderful offerings). And, of course, there are many, many more exhibits coming to the museum.
If you think you know everything that's in the museum, think again, and go check it out.
Sunnyslope Art Walk
Time was when Sunnyslope, the North Phoenix neighborhood that has as its borders 19th Avenue to the west, Cactus Road to the north, 16th Street to the east and Northern Avenue to the south, was “off limits” in the minds of many Phoenix residents. But Sunnyslope has a very strong, cohesive culture and the residents of the area take a justifiable pride in their neighborhood. Four times citizen groups attempted to form Sunnyslope as its own town; the efforts failed, but this move characterizes the tenacity of the neighborhood's residents.
Sunnyslope has in recent years been experiencing a revitalization and part of this swing is highlighted by the Sunnyslope Art Walk. Obviously this is nothing on the scale of Phoenix's First Friday or Scottsdale's Art Walk, but it is definitely a different taste of local culture and worth doing. Now in its fifth year, the Sunnyslope Art Walk takes place twice yearly, once in April and once in October.
This year the Sunnyslope Art Walk will feature more than 100 local artists and artisans. The walk is free and the various exhibits, food and music stops dot Central Avenue between Dunlap and the canal to the south. The offerings include jewelry, painting and other visual arts, photography and even textiles and fibers. You will be able to sample fare from local restaurants and hear live concerts as well as roaming musicians.
Probably the nicest thing about this Art Walk is that it's big enough to have a nice range of arts and cultural offerings but it's small enough to avoid feeling hectic and give you a happy, homey neighborhood feel. Once you get to know the neighborhood you'll be glad you did. You can park free of charge for the Sunnyslope Art Walk at John C. Lincoln Hospital, The Marketplace at 115 E. Dunlap or Sunnyslope High School which is on Dunlap just west of Central Avenue.
ASU Art Museum
One of the most overlooked art destinations in town is definitely the Arizona State University Art Museum. Located at Mill Avenue and 10th Street in downtown Tempe, the ASU Art Museum and the affiliated Ceramics Research Center house more than 12,000 pieces. Founded in 1950, the university's museum actually predates the Phoenix Art Museum.
Some of the museum's best offerings include the Southwest Art section which emphasizes the work of Latino artists, some of them local and the Art of the Americas section with its accent on modernist and contemporary Latin American work. This is hardly surprising given that the museum was started by a local private collector Oliver James when he donated much of his collection of Mexican and American art. The museum also highlights new media with its Contemporary Art gallery. And, of course, thanks in part to the proximity of the Ceramics Research Center the American ceramics collection boasts an impressive array of American ceramic pieces.
Another major bonus to this museum as an arts destination is the fact that the museum features so many interesting guest artists and other speakers. Thanks to the size of the university (Arizona State University is the nation's largest research university) and its art programs these visiting participants are the source of a a constant influx of energy into the museum. For a taste of this dynamism, check out the museum's blog which I have listed below. Another manifestation of the museum's energy and impact is the ongoing focus on service to the community; this focus is evidenced by many of the special events hosted by the museum and the outreach to youth and educators in the community.
Enjoy the Arizona State University's Art Museum Tuesday through Saturday from 11:00am to 5:00pm (except for Tuesdays when the museum and ceramics center both stay open until 8:00pm). Parking for visitors is plentiful in the Apache Boulevard Garage or in the limited museum-designated spots located at the south end of the Tempe Center on the northeast corner of Mill Avenue and 10th Street.
Arizona Latino Arts & Cultural Center
The Arizona Latino Arts & Cultural Center (ALAC) has as its mission providing a central cultural space for celebration of and advocacy for Latino culture. The ALAC leadership take an active role in the community at large as well as the local Latino community. The ALAC's mandate is much broader than just fostering Latin arts and culture; the organization also endeavors to empower local activists and make them part of a greater arts and culture network. This exemplifies ALAC's understanding of the importance not only of supporting Latino culture but also the role of arts in all walks of life.
Inside the ALAC, Galeria 147 is the main exhibition area and hosts a variety of shows. Some of the exhibits feature solo artists and others are themed shows spotlighting many artists. Musical shows and dance features also grace ALAC. The offerings here are not as narrow as you might guess. Some recent events have included a children's exhibit designed to help community children voice their ideas about art, family and community and a staging of the play of a local playwright and MFA student that deals with issues of racial friction.
ALAC is active in the Phoenix community. Each year the center plays a major role in both Cinco de Mayo activities and in Hispanic Heritage Month. Recent related projects have included a performance by Ballet Folklorico Quetzalli, performance art shows and outdoor salsa dancing in the downtown area for the public.
One of the most important roles that ALAC plays in Phoenix is that of a bridge between mainstream Phoenix culture and the Latino community. ALAC events are always open to the public and in place to benefit the entire Phoenix area.
Arizona Fine Art Expo
This year marks the 7th annual Arizona Fine Art Expo. The expo is a ten week long event in far Northeast Scottsdale and it takes place in the beautiful weather of January, February and March. This is a very special event because rather than being “just” another juried art show the Expo combines the best of the juried fine art scene with the intimacy and insight of the studio tour. The aim of the expo is to provide a more educational, hands on experience for the community and this unique flavor sets the Arizona Fine Art Expo apart.
The event features more than 100 juried artists in various genres—sculptors, painters, designers—working in their own studio spaces and interacting with attendees. Everyone is encouraged not only to watch but to participate in hands-on demonstrations with the spotlighted artists, providing a much different experience than most of us are used to. Many of the artists are actually creating new work in the company of expo attendees which is an amazing process to witness.
In addition to being able to witness fine art in process the expo hosts wine tastings, live music and other entertainment. In the center of the tents you can see the sculpture garden and take advantage of that stunning space while you eat, chat and watch artists blow glass, sculpt stone and create pottery.
Especially on weekdays the expo is incredibly serene. There's something very therapeutic about watching someone slowly paint wax onto cloth and dye it repeatedly as a batik tapestry blossoms before your eyes. For those who might argue that the Phoenix area is hopelessly behind the national cultural curve, the Arizona Fine Arts Expo provides compelling evidence to the contrary.
General admission is $8, $7 for seniors and children under 12 are admitted free of charge. Parking is free.
Part of the Roosevelt Row arts district in downtown Phoenix, Modified Arts is an art gallery and space for music and other performance. In the past the space hosted more musical events than art shows and was a charmingly seedy venue for alternative shows. Recent changes in the management of the gallery have led to its current focus; although there are still occasional music shows there, usually these are more avant-garde or experimental. The recent Seven Ate Nine music series is a great example of the current musical features at Modified; acts like RPM Orchestra, which calls itself a “Proto-Industrial Americana” act and scores silent films ensure the Seven Ate Nine series is edgy and interesting, and this characterizes the current feel of Modified's music scene.
The gallery now prides itself on being a nontraditional art space and focuses on contemporary art. Modified Arts consistently works to show art that is edgy and fresh in an informal environment that is widely accessible. The gallery is well-suited for performance art and exhibits high quality performance art shows, many more than most local galleries.
Modified Arts often features artwork that is political. Recent shows include the multimedia work of local artist Jen Urso which explores the relationships between power structures, security and the people; Urso's work presents the message that authority must be questioned. A contrasting recent feature showed the work of Heather Lembcke, colorful, abstract, modern depictions of nature. This is the sort of contrast and range you can expect from Modified Arts.
Perfectly in step with the revitalized downtown art scene, Modified Art continues to promote truly original work and enhance the Phoenix arts experience. Be sure to call ahead when you decide to visit, as the hours are very limited: the gallery is open first and third Friday evenings from 6:00pm to 9:00pm and Saturdays from noon to 4:00pm.