Artlink's New President on Changes to Art Detour and the Future of First Fridays

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Back in March, around the time Artlink's annual Art Detour was scheduled to take place, many members of the art community argued whether Artlink's existence as a local, overarching arts organization was still necessary (our answer: "no"). 

And in a better-later-than-never response, Artlink's making a few changes. 

Earlier this year, Artlink president Sloane Burwell stepped down and was replaced by interim president Mike Oleskow of After Hours Gallery in Phoenix. Oleskow has a new vision for the nonprofit arts organization, which has been struggling to find a new identity and purpose within the downtown arts community. 

He sees a frenzy of activity going on within individual business or neighborhoods, but Oleskow argues that there's no single local arts entity that captures information from all of them and brings it together in one place (other than Facebook, that is). And that's exactly where he believes Artlink should come in.

More on Artlink and plans for an improved Art Detour after the jump.

​"I think we do need an organization (whether it's Artlink or somebody else) taking on the arts advocacy for downtown," he explains. "There are a lot of groups out there supporting theaters, museums, high-level art, but there aren't many of them supporting the grassroots, independent owners."

Oleskow says he's hoping to build a model that looks more like Kimber Lanning's Local First Arizona, which has had success with its Certified Local Fall Festival and Independents Week promotion.   

Some of the changes he plans to implement include heavy promotion via social media, and a major overhaul to Artlink's website, which was painfully out-of-date almost every time we've checked in over the past year. 

Artlink's two galleries, A.E. England and Artlink Heritage Square, will continue to operate under volunteer curators Cory Weeks and Angelica Jubran-Bishara. 

Oleskow also says there will be more of a focus on getting serious buyers out for Third Friday, which remains less crowded and more art-centric than First Friday. "I don't want it to be blue hairs coming in," he quips, "but I think it's a time to get younger 20-, 30-, and 40-somethings looking at collecting art and investing in the community, the local restaurants." 

That's not to say Artlink is bowing out of the First Friday picture.

Their information station will continue to be set-up at Phoenix Art Museum, and once fall arrives, an Artlink-contracted trolley will make stops at the participating galleries and neighborhoods.

"One of my goals is that by the fall, when the cooler weather kicks in, we get more information from the businesses and the neighborhoods as to what's happening," Oleskow says. 


A possibility he's considered is sending "spies" onto the shuttle route to informally report on new stores opening or interesting shows to check out. That way, it's not just Artlink telling you what to do.

So what of the annual Art Detour?

Claire Lawton
Our own Art Detour map was one of the only maps available this year.

Artlink was blasted for this year's strange handling of the event, which featured very last-minute maps, gallery-organized yellow balloons, and a date change that left some locals heading downtown on the wrong weekend.

With patrons confused about the different between Art Detour and a standard First Friday, Oleskow hopes to broaden the annual event to include something unique that you can't see every month -- for example, a festival in Margaret T. Hance Park with exhibits on clotheslines, performance art, and bands

The new president's Detour ideas are intriguing, and clearly he knows that the organization has to change to fit an arts scene that has changed dramatically in the 23 years since Artlink was first founded. Whether or not Artlink adapts enough to survive, we'll just have to wait and see.


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