Phoenix Annual Parade of the Arts Gets a Cosplay Twist for 2016

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Old-timey parades with waving flags and dignitaries in vintage convertibles may have fallen out of fashion. But in downtown Phoenix there's one parade with a completely different vibe that's a local tradition: Phoenix Annual Parade of the Arts.

It's happening Saturday, November 12, in conjunction with the Grand Avenue Festival. The parade kicks off at 6 p.m. at Unexpected Art Gallery

Called PAPA for short, the free event has been going for more than a decade now, though the focus and route have changed through the years. It started in 2005 as a street festival, says Sahar Mitchell, who coordinates each year’s event with Stephen Strange, the other half of the performance duo they call Strange Family Circus.

Today it’s a pedestrian and bike procession that also incorporates non-motorized floats created on foundations such as push carts or red wagons.

Every year, it has one thing in common: community participation.

"It’s all about artistic expression,” Mitchell says.

Anyone can take part in the parade, which has a different theme each year, and is always family-friendly.

This year’s theme is superheroes, which means you can basically show up in your Batman T-shirt or throw a cape over whatever you happen to be wearing that day and fit right in. Don’t feel intimidated if you’re not into hardcore cosplay. But don't hold back if that's your thing.

Some people spend a year making elaborate costumes or floats, Strange says. But others just show up. It’s all good.

Still, there’s a caveat.

Every year the PAPA parade announces awards in several categories, which typically go to people who’ve invested some time and energy ahead of time. If you want to be considered by the judges, you need to register at Unexpected Art Gallery at 5 p.m. on parade day.

In keeping with the superhero theme, awards are being given in five “avenging league” categories with fancy names like “the colossal costume clan” and “gathering multitudes of droves.” They’re the awards for best costume and best group effort, respectively.

Awards will also be given for best float, best decorative bike, and best kids or pets entry. Because it’s an environment-friendly event, only non-motorized floats are welcome.

The parade will leave Unexpected Gallery at 6 p.m., travel northwest on Grand Avenue towards 15th Avenue and Roosevelt Street, and then pivot back toward the gallery – where awards will be presented from the PAPA stage, and the Circus Farm will perform a fire show.

In years past, the parade has launched from Bragg’s Pie Factory, then made its way to and from a lot across the street from Oasis on Grand. But the lot is part of a new commercial development, so Unexpected Gallery is the 2016 PAPA headquarters.

The parade is one of several ways community members can participate in Grand Avenue Festival activities. Find information on the others — including making your own recycled fashions, flowers for Grand Avenue planters, or public art for hanging gardens or woven fences – on the festival Facebook page.

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