For reasons we can’t entirely fathom, people consistently underestimate the Phoenix art scene. One reason could be that we’re a relatively new city and in a desert. Visitors — and some residents — can’t shake the mental image of a one-horse Western town where the highest level of artistic achievement is the saloon’s honkey-tonk player. (Ironically, the frontier-themed areas in Cave Creek and Chandler regularly hold well-respected arts and entertainment festivals.)
In actual fact, the Valley possess an excellent symphony, a nationally recognized ballet company, the largest art museum in the Southwest, the best instrument museum in the world and a venue that hosts major touring Broadway shows. Don’t forget the numerous other symphonies, ballet companies, museums, bands, performance venues, festivals and other arts-related activities you can find.
If you want to explore the Valley’s art scene and aren’t sure where to start, we recommend something free. Many Valley cities host regular family-friendly nights of arts and entertainment. Here are the major ones to check out near you.
The monthly Chandler Art Walk welcomes 35 or so local artists to showcase paintings, photos, glass art, pottery, woodworking, jewelry and other styles. At the same time, you can enjoy live music from local musicians and check out downtown Chandler’s business establishments. Some months offer a fun theme, such as April’s Taste of the Islands.
Where: Dr. A.J. Chandler Park, 3 S. Arizona Ave., Chandler
When: 3rd Friday of the month from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
More info: www.downtownchandler.org
The Gilbert Art Walk invites a wide range of handpicked artists who work in many mediums. Each season you’ll see a core group of local artists plus new artists each week. Live music will entertain you as you browse. Pets are allowed.
As a bonus, the Gilbert Farmers Market takes place next door, so you can drop in an buy fresh produce as well.
Where: Water Tower Plaza, 45 West Page Ave., Gilbert
When: Oct. – April, 1st and 3rd Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
More info: www.gilbertartwalk.com
Mesa’s 2nd Friday Night Out offers a range of activities. Stroll more than 60 booths that feature work from local artists and listen to live music from local bands. In addition, see street performers, win prizes, check out on-site food trucks and local businesses, and more fun. Each month offers a different theme, from “Medieval Mayhem” to “Dog Daze,” “Cosplay,” or the spooky “Nightmare on Main.”
Where: Downtown Mesa, Main St. between Center and Country Club
When: 2nd Friday of the month, from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.
More info: 2ndfridaynightout.com
Phoenix offers two art walks: First Friday and Third Friday. As the names suggest, these take place on the first and third Fridays of the month.
First Friday cover a huge area of downtown Phoenix — there’ a trolley if you don’t feel like a long walk — and offers a festival-like atmosphere. Art remains a major focus through the participation of spaces like the Phoenix Art Museum, the Herberger Gallery @ Arizona Center, The Nash jazz school and dozens more. However, it also sees plenty of activity from street entertainers, vendors, local businesses and other groups.
Third Friday, on the other hand, claims to be “what First Friday was 10 years ago.” It focuses almost entirely on the art galleries and spaces in the area. There should be no surprise then that the people who show up tend to be more interested in art.
Where: Downtown Phoenix – Roosevelt Row, Warehouse District, Grand Ave., and more
When: 1st and 3rd Fridays, from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.
First Friday: artlinkphoenix.com/first-fridays
Third Friday: artlinkphoenix.com/third-friday
Billed as “America’s Original ArtWalk,” the 40-year-old Scottsdale ArtWalk takes place every Thursday, except Thanksgiving. It sees the member galleries of the Scottsdale Gallery Association throw open their doors to the public. You can get a taste of the best local artists and Southwest-inspired art.
In addition to art, enjoy a stroll around statues, fountains and other delightful landscape. A trolley trolley can take you around when you tire of walking. A horse-drawn carriage ride also makes for a pleasant evening.
Where: Scottsdale Arts District, Main St. west of Scottsdale Rd., and Marshall Way north of Indian School Road. Look for “ArtWalk the Line” sidewalk decals.
When: Thursdays from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
More info: scottsdalegalleries.com