Artlink Needs to Rethink Art Detour

The 24th annual Art Detour went down during the third weekend of March, and the fact that it happened at all is perhaps its greatest accomplishment. Something needs to change. A lot of things, actually.

Our impressions from the weekend: A lot of artists have given up on the annual event. And perhaps it's time for Artlink to either seriously rethink the purpose of the weekend or toss in the towel.

True, there were a couple of great exhibitions. James Angel, David Dauncey, and Randy Slack of 3CarPileUp put up a killer show at Legend City Studios.

Artwork by Nomas and Colton Brock at First Studio
Claire Lawton
Artwork by Nomas and Colton Brock at First Studio
Tony Zeh's piece, which was written on by Bob Booker at Eye Lounge.
Courtesy of Tony Zeh
Tony Zeh's piece, which was written on by Bob Booker at Eye Lounge.

On Roosevelt, Eye Lounge housed a buzz-worthy 6x6 fundraiser (more on that later) and the collective put together a strong showcase of their latest works. From Melissa Martinez's glowing tulle cloud with blown-glass rain drops to Sarah Hurwitz's invitation to peer through her kaleidoscope lenses for a gem show, "Fresh" had whimsy, cohesion, and a skill level that was unmatched by the scores of other group shows that had been tossed together or decided upon by an arts community popularity contest.

Grand Avenue was its usual quirky self. The Mutant Piñata Show at Bragg's Pie Factory wasn't the strongest example of local art, but it was exactly what it promised: fun. And the politically charged lotería cards and canvas work by El Moises and local tattoo artists were a strong addition to the usual from Steve Gompf, Annie Lopez, and Jeff Falk at Deus Ex Machina in La Melgosa.

There were a lot of exhibitions and shows to see — Artlink's map included 52 locations, and ours included about 25 "must-sees."

While we shuffled up, down, and around during Third Friday and the official Detour Saturday and Sunday, we were baffled at Icehouse's decision to schedule two weddings during that weekend — weddings that we inadvertently crashed by sneaking behind the buffet table and up the stairs to the newly opened, though largely disappointing, gallery shows. And we nearly attempted a break-in to see Peter Bugg and DOSE's show at Willo North after arriving to the gallery at 3 p.m. on Sunday and seeing the red sign: "closed." (Thankfully, that show's up through April's First Friday.)

More disappointing than poor organization and hours that weren't exactly "by the map," though, was noticing that the small crowds of attendees were the same crews we usually see during any other art event. In fact, most of the "Detourers" were artists.

Many of the Detour's discussions centered on the 24-year-old event's relevance, given that it follows a Third Friday artwalk and reaches mainly the same audience.

The conclusion was simple: If it decides to carry on, Artlink must rethink Detour.

During Art Detour, Artlink spends most of its small budget on producing a map (that's carried in the Downtown Phoenix Journal), creating and hanging banners and yard signs, and hiring trolleys and buses to get people from one art area to the next.

But what if the organization refocused and used those funds to support art shows throughout the year with small grants that could cover postcard costs or art supplies? What if instead of banners and signs that signified one weekend in March, the organization made larger efforts to educate the city that art exists downtown year-round (and that maybe the best shows can't be crammed, forced, and slapped into one weekend)?

Perhaps instead of gathering monthly to bicker about Art Detour details, deadlines, and membership fees, Artlink could help provide a volunteer base to assist gallery owners in staying open during business hours.

We've said it before and we'll say again: In its current state, Art Detour exists as a sore reminder that perhaps it's time for Artlink to recognize the achievements of the arts community throughout the past 24 years, to celebrate the success of each arts neighborhood (Roosevelt, Grand Ave., 16th Street, Melrose), and to take a much-needed curtain call.

There's nothing harder than volunteering, and there's a recognized challenge in attempting to herd a slew of artists and gallery owners into the stables to put their newest, best work on the walls for an annual event.

But if only five or so of the 52 shows were standouts, and that's what the organization will continue drawing maps, hanging banners, and calling for the community members to see, then it will be a disservice to its community and to its artists.

If you didn't make it out to Art Detour, most of our favorite shows will be up through April's First Friday. Rest assured, the 3CarPileUp guys will still be at Legend City Studios, you can still take a peek at Hurwitz's gem show, and the Mutant Pinata Show will be open at Bragg's Pie Factory.

Perhaps the only real Detour drama you missed happened on March's Third Friday — a night before Detour even officially started.

On the opening night of Eye Lounge's annual fundraiser show, members of the art community mingled and snatched up small-scale works donated by local artists.

The show's an opportunity for Eye Lounge to raise money, for collectors to snatch up pieces they recognize (each is signed by the artist on the back and is left unlabeled), and for artists to experiment with size, medium, and — in photographer Tony Zeh's case — message.

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