Art Detour 23: Why Artlink Should Let Go of Its Own Event ... and Itself

In an effort not to smash the piñata or prematurely blow out the birthday candles, I waited until Artlink's 22nd birthday was officially over to say it:

It's time to go.

By go, I mean disband, fizzle out, cut the losses. Take your much-deserved bows on your way out the door, Artlink -- recognize that you've served a purpose in the local arts community and brought a large number of downtown galleries into the spotlight

And face the fact that you're no longer needed.

It's a good thing. Phoenix is lucky (yes, lucky) to have the arts community that it does - Roosevelt Row, Grand Avenue and the Melrose District, to name the largest three, strongly support their galleries and are working together to connect their audiences (hopefully by staying open during normal business hours), and to bridge the small distance gaps between each other.

This partnership was never more obvious than at an arts community meeting over the weekend to discuss and game plan for Artlink's pay-to-play Art Detour, which is NOT this weekend.

Art Detour works like this: Galleries pay Artlink $100 and in exchange are included in official Detour marketing and advertising. This fee used to include shuttle services between galleries and placement on a fancy map, but Artlink President Sloane Burwell says there will be no trolleys this year and representative Mike Oleskow says the map will depend on time and resources (read: unlikely).

Um, so what are galleries getting for $100? And just what is Artlink doing to earn it? The truth is that the organization simply isn't needed any longer.

Blame the bad economy or simply maturation, but "rogue" is in, and galleries throughout Phoenix have begun to participate in the event without paying - they simply create facebook events, pass out fliers, and open their doors with art on the wall for a weekend. Gallery owners have even agreed to use their own Detour artwork to promote the upcoming event and are using uniform yellow balloons to indicate participation instead of relying on a map.

Burwell says Detour is like First Friday, in that galleries host art openings, and unlike First Friday in that it's meant to introduce people from all over the state to different galleries during the day, for a whole weekend.

OK. But one of the biggest things Art Detour had going for it (along with maps and trolleys) was the fact that people knew to expect it on the first weekend of March. Now that's gone, too.    

This year, Artlink decided to change the dates of Detour from the traditional first weekend of March to the third weekend. Seems like a small enough change, but if you've been in this city for long enough, you'll know change is hard to make and the new dates have regular Detour attendees and artists alike confused (just see the slew of events posted for this weekend that still read "Detour Opening!").    

Art Detour is one of Artlink's main functions, though Burwell insists that the nonprofit is looking to expand in education efforts. And Art Detour is a great idea, which is why it's been around for such a long time.

But in the meantime, Artlink has changed -- membership numbers have dwindled, they no longer coordinate shuttles for detour or First Friday, and the only maps they provide are now printed in the Downtown Journal.

And as Artlink has evolved (or devolved, really) the Phoenix art scene has grown up too, and what it doesn't need anymore is a supervisor.

Check out plenty of group exhibitions, solo shows, and performances during this year's Art Detour on Saturday, March 19 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday, March 20 from noon to 5 p.m. in any downtown gallery with a yellow balloon.

More information can be found at this event page (or this one), and yeah, I'll be making a map.

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Claire Lawton
Contact: Claire Lawton