It’s been 30 years since Art Detour launched as a way to highlight the downtown Phoenix art scene. Early on, creatives simply opened their galleries and studios for a two-day self-guided art walk.
Over time, the event has grown more complicated, as Artlink, the nonprofit that puts on the event, has sought new ways to connect artists, businesses, and community members.
For its 2018 edition, Art Detour sprawled into a six-day affair that included exhibitions, studio visits, symposiums, and other art-related events in Phoenix.
But having more days, and more activities, didn’t add to the Art Detour experience. It replaced the joy of discovery with the tedium of a too-long to-do list.
It’s tough to enjoy art when you’re in perpetual motion, trying to get from one event to the next.
Of course, that's always been part of the Art Detour experience. But having six days of programming makes it tough for even the most dedicated arts supporters to take it all in.
A jam-packed schedule wasn't the only challenge that came with this year's event.
For the first time, Art Detour designated specific days to exploring venues in different downtown art districts. One day was dedicated to Roosevelt Row, another to Historic Grand Avenue, and a third to the Warehouse District.
That meant less attention for the Central Arts District, with art venues including Shortcut Gallery and Megaphone PHX. The district-focused approach also overlooked venues like The Hive along Calle 16.
Another problem? Not everyone buys into the idea of labeling districts, especially after seeing how artists who helped make Roosevelt Row popular were displaced after developers decided an arts district would be a cool place to build apartment complexes.
We get the impulse to go big or go home, especially during a milestone year. But simplicity can be just as effective.
Programming also included two Creative City Symposiums held on Monday, March 19, and Tuesday, March 20. Held at Crescent Ballroom and Phoenix Art Museum, respectively, they drew about 200 attendees between them. And they featured interesting discussions. But they’d be just as effective presented separate from Art Detour, and at another time of year.
People who participate in Art Detour are especially interested in seeing exhibitions and studios. If organizers devoted one day to each, you'd have the makings of an accessible art walk.
Fortunately, there’s a lot that organizers got right this time around.
The best parts of Art Detour 2018 brought people together with a shared sense of community.
That included the Art D’Core gala on Thursday, March 15. It featured a single-night exhibition of work by established artists, who handpicked up-and-comers to exhibit alongside them. For several hours, Bentley Projects was full of people celebrating the city's creatives.
And the art was spectacular — especially a bright red, large-scale steel sculpture by Pete Deise and a cut-paper streamer by Sam Fresquez suspended from the ceiling at one end and wrapped around a tire on the other.
The Oak Street Alley Mural Festival on Sunday, March 18, drew artists, neighbors, and other art supporters for a casual day of energetic mural painting and music. It built on the feeling of community, much like Xico’s Steamroller Sunday experience that same day, and The Walk held at Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area the day before.
Still, all of them don't need to happen during Art Detour.
They’d all work well as standalone events, much like the Grand Avenue Festival held each fall.
Artlink could try to cram them all into one huge happening again. But next year, they might want to consider adopting this mantra instead: Less is more.
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