Detour de Force

Driving up the Seventh Street exit ramp from I-10 West, there is a sign with a white arrow, pointing you south. It reads: "Cultural/Sports Facilities."

While the words may seem at odds with each other, the curators of the downtown Phoenix arts community want to show you otherwise. In the shadows of Bank One Ballpark lurks a burgeoning movement of artists and galleries -- and with a collective curl of their index fingers, they're beckoning you inside. Under the aegis of the annual Art Detour, they just might succeed.

"The downtown arts community is really booming right now," says Shari Boulanger, vice president of the Artlink board. Nonprofit Artlink -- the organizing force behind Art Detour -- was founded in 1988 for the development of a vital arts community.

Art Detour may be the one weekend a year where Phoenix lets all its culture hang out. For a few days, the normally tranquil streets of downtown Phoenix are transformed: People swarm, moving from gallery to gallery, drinking wine and eating hummus, and, most important, appreciating art.

The event kicks off on Thursday night, February 28, with the Artists' Preview Reception at Art Detour headquarters, the Arizona Center. Nearly every participating artist will be showing a preview piece at the reception, which begins at 5 p.m. with a silent auction.

Friday, however, is when the revelry truly gets under way. For the first time in Art Detour history, it will coincide with Artlink's monthly First Friday event, making attendance expectations soar. A smaller-scale version of Art Detour, First Fridays have become a downtown staple.

"Thousands of people have been attending First Fridays," says Boulanger. "People have been calling us, wanting to get involved. It's just exploding."

Changes are in place for Art Detour as well. According to Boulanger, 25 percent more spaces are participating than last year, and the number of shuttle buses has been increased accordingly. Downtown businesses are finally taking notice, too. Patrons shouldn't be surprised to see works displayed in local bars and restaurants.

"We have a lot more businesses joining us," she says. "They're just finding out. These people are usually really interested in the arts, and then they find that it's also good for business."

Plenty of galleries will feature live entertainment, most notably the artist collective Holga's, which promises to lure patrons with its assortment of belly dancers, fire breathers, DJs and bands performing throughout the weekend.

The goal of Art Detour is simple, says Boulanger. "We want to make sure that there's always a space for artists." And, of course, to give Phoenicians some insight into the culture they never may have known was there.

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Meghan Gaynor