Art Detour 24: Sure, it Was Better Than Last Year, But Artlink Still Needs to Rethink Its Relevance After 24 Years

Art Detour 24: Sure, it Was Better Than Last Year, But Artlink Still Needs to Rethink Its Relevance After 24 Years
photo by Claire Lawton

It was a humid, soggy weekend for Art Detour 24. And the weather was as unpredictable as the artwork.

The weekend, officially organized by Downtown non-profit Artlink, is two days of studio tours and gallery openings (we'd argue that it should have included the night of Third Friday, but more on that later). Traditionally, the event is a chance for local artists to show the public what they've been working on and hopefully reach a wider audience than the monthly First or Third Fridays.

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

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

Dauncey's self-portraits were intricate and thoughtful, both in composition and content. Angel's apocalyptic explosion reflected the artist's skill color and form, and Slack's large-scale plays on pop-culture in pop colors were mesmerizing (and readable, if you took a second). The foot traffic in the space was slow (blame the studio's "off the beaten path" location), but the talent and technique was there.

Installation by Sarah Hurwitz
Installation by Sarah Hurwitz
photo by Claire Lawton

On Roosevelt, the Eye Lounge collective put together a strong showcase of their latest works.

The exhibition, titled "Fresh," was a breath of exactly that after stopping into a few galleries that featured work we'd been seeing for weeks (and months).

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, the show had whimsy, cohesion, and a sense of 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).

The Mutant Pinata show at Bragg's Pie Factory
The Mutant Pinata show at Bragg's Pie Factory
photo by Claire Lawton

Grand Avenue was its expected quirky self. The Mutant Pinata Show at Bragg's Pie Factory wasn't the strongest example of local art, but was exactly what it promised: fun. And the politically-charged loteria 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 La Melgosa.

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

And while we shuffled up, down, and around during Third Friday and during the official Detour Saturday and Sunday, we were baffled at Icehouse's decision to schedule two weddings during that weekend (two 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."

But more disappointing than poor organization and hours that weren't exactly "by the map" was noticing that the small crowds of attendees were the same crews we'd see during any other art event.

In fact, most of the "Detourers" were artists.

Some complained about the weather, some about the "slow days." But the common conversation revolved around the 24-year-old event's relevance when it directly follows a Third Friday artwalk and mainly reaches the same audience. The conclusion was simple: If it (poorly) 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.

This year, the organization wrangled a few double-decker buses carrying signs "Phoenix to London" (which must have been an easy gig to grab on St. Patrick's Day).

But what if the organization refocused and instead used those funds to serve as a regularly updated resource for the community that supported great art shows that happen throughout the year instead of those that are crammed, forced, and slapped into one weekend?

What if it instead provided a volunteer base that could help galleries stay open during regular (or even semi-regular) business hours instead of celebrating the majority of galleries that decide to open their doors during the day -- for two days a year?

Or -- like we've said before and we'll say again -- what if it kindly recognized the achievements of the arts community within the last 24 years, celebrated the success of each arts neighborhood (Roosevelt, Grand, 16th Street, and Melrose come to mind), and took 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 five or so of the 52 shows were stand-outs, and that's what the organization will continue drawing maps, hanging banners, and calling for the community members to see, then it will continue as a disservice to its community and to its artists.

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