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It's a sticky Saturday morning in mid-August, and Tara Logsdon is fried.
The sun beats down on Logsdon, 31, as she arranges her bizarre-looking paintings next to some artful teddy bears and handmade clothing on the outdoor stage at Holga's, during the downtown Phoenix apartment complex's monthly flea market. The funky 12-unit tenement houses assorted "artists-in-residence" like Logsdon who contribute work to monthly group shows or events like this.
Logsdon's current customer, a toothless homeless man, browses her work, but isn't interested in the canvases covered in brightly colored, pop-style depictions of wildlife or kitchen appliances. Instead, he's more interested in the personal stun gun or maybe the shower curtain she's also selling.
Other hawkers at the garage sale -- including fashion designer Emily Blanche and painter Indigo Verton -- are faring just a bit better. Things are usually much more crowded during First Friday art walks, as the driveway and nearby sidewalks are packed with peeps who come for Holga's rowdy gatherings featuring live music and other spectacles.
But outside of those Friday evenings, things are pretty dead both at the complex and throughout the Evans-Churchill Neighborhood -- the district south of Interstate 10 between Central Avenue and Seventh Street, starring the various galleries of Roosevelt Row. Logsdon and company are eager to change this with events like the Saturday morning flea market, providing Valley urbanites with an alternative to sipping coffee at Starbucks with their morning papers.
Logsdon's pocketing the soiled singles she got for the stun gun and getting back to relaxing in the shade when she hears a shout.
Robby Love, a digital imagery artist who regularly hangs at Holga's, has spied some trouble and announces, "Fuckin' heads up!"
A pumper truck from the Phoenix Fire Department has pulled up in front of the complex and parked on Garfield Street, and two firefighters in navy blue tee shirts are heading purposefully for the tables piled with art and assorted junk.
"Oh, shit, I wonder why they're here," Love says. "Do you think they're gonna shut this down?"
"Chill out, let's just wait and see what happens here," replies Ian Wender, a photographer who works days as a land surveyor for Salt River Project. At 41, Wender is older than most of the Holga's crowd, and his tends to be the voice of reason. This morning he's serving pancakes to his fellow residents.
Normally, Logsdon and the rest of the Holga's posse wouldn't have batted an eye when a truck full of beefy smokebusters rolled by their residence. But after the last First Friday art walk on August 5, they're a little more suspicious of such a visit.
For years, the Friday night parties have gone largely unnoticed by the cops and other government types. But last month City Hall was all over Roosevelt Row, with Phoenix police officers on horseback looking for underage drinking and other violations, as well as inspectors from various local governmental agencies who came along for the ride and detailed various code and ordinance violations at Holga's and along Roosevelt Street. Fearful their rowdy monthly fete is in danger of getting squashed, Holga's residents and others on Roosevelt and over on Grand Avenue are terrified that any future non-First Friday activities could be shuttered as well.
They're terrified, in short, that the party's over.
But on this day, the four-alarm fears of those at the flea market are for naught. The firefighters are just cruising yard sales, killing time between calls, looking for a bargain.
"You can't blame us for being paranoid, especially with all that's gone on," says Logsdon. "Everybody's on edge these days . . . everything's changed around here."
Historically, First Fridays have been pretty lawless. For a few hours every few weeks, a chunk of downtown Phoenix turns into a free-for-all carnival, complete with fried chicken for sale on the sidewalk, open keg parties at nearby houses and -- on occasion -- a fire-breather jumping into the middle of the bumper-to-bumper traffic on Roosevelt Street to perform. The monthly event started in 1993, but didn't pick up steam 'til recently; in the past couple of years, gallery owners have stood by between 6 and 10 p.m. and counted up to 10,000 people through the doors on a given Friday night.
John Logan and the other members of the roving band The MadCaPs, which performs in the back of a pickup truck, have been hassled by the cops, and there have been noise complaints and some parking tickets.
But until August, city leaders seemed oblivious to the fact that a hipper, less organized version of the Arizona State Fair (or a gigantic frat party -- take your pick) was going on under their noses, on a monthly basis. Which is odd, considering that on any given First Friday, you can see a parade of city types, walking around like anthropologists or sociologists, pointing at the spectacle of people actually coming to downtown Phoenix to look at art (and at each other).
On Friday, August 5, everything changed -- at least, that's what the artists fear. That steamy, rainy night, the crowds were a little smaller than they've been on other First Fridays, but the Phoenix cops and city and county inspectors who showed up on Roosevelt Row had plenty to see and do -- and take notes on. They skipped Grand Avenue, another FF hub that's a little edgier, and less popular with the masses, but Roosevelt got nearly a dozen officious visitors.