The Phoenix arts scene is humming along. Creative types are opening new venues, artists are collaborating across disciplines, and First Friday art walks are bustling. Art is popping up in all sorts of unconventional places – including bars, churches, and hair salons. And public art, from murals to light rail installations, is prevalent in several Valley cities.
It’s due in part to an event called Art Detour, which was started in 1988 as a way to highlight the local arts scene. The first one was held in 1989. The two-day event, which gave rise to First Friday art walks that continue today, is organized by Artlink — a nonprofit group whose mission is to foster art, business, and community connections.
And while it might've succeeded in creating those connections, much of this year's event felt uninspired.
Art Detour 28 took place in downtown Phoenix on March 19 and 20, but so did several other art-related events. ASU’s Grant Street Studios opened its doors those same days for studio tours, demonstrations, and exhibitions. And Mesa Arts Center presented its annual Spark! Festival of Creativity on March 18 and 19. Both events offered a mix of exhibitions, open studios, ways to interact with artists, and hands-on activities. It's a mix that Art Detour could benefit from, too.
Most Art Detour exhibitions were similar to those typically found in downtown venues on First and Third Fridays. And the majority of the shows were on view the night before Art Detour 28 launched, which gave those who'd already seen them little incentive for returning over the weekend.
So it's easy to see why Art Detour might not be the most unique or spectacular option.
Granted, it's hard for a single umbrella event to capture the spirit of downtown's many distinct art districts — including Roosevelt Row, Grand Avenue, the Warehouse District, and Midtown. Each has its own unique vibe, and each is geographically separated from the others, making it hard for people to take it all in.
But it didn't help that Roosevelt Row wasn't one of this year’s five park-and-ride hubs. Two downtown retail sites, Arizona Center and CityScape, made the cut. That those non-arts venues were included as hubs — while downtown Phoenix's most recognized arts district wasn't — made for a pretty powerful message.
That’s not to say that nothing cool happened during Art Detour 28. Attendees got to see new works with a balance theme by the Fortoul Brothers in their 40 Owls pop-up gallery space; a mini-retrospective of Carolyn Lavender’s work presented by Phoenix Institute of Contemporary Art in a shipping container gallery in Roosevelt Row; and Beatrice Moore’s annual "Mutant Piñata Show" on Grand Avenue.
Beyond those highlights, some of the event's best offerings weren't noted on the Art Detour map.
Only Articipants, who pay an Artlink fee of $60 to $96 a year, are noted on the Art Detour map and other publicity materials. So some attendees might have missed out on visiting places such as the Chocolate Factory or La Melgosa.
Jeff Slim, the 2015 Big Brain award winner for visual arts, was working on new pieces in his La Melgosa studio. Colin Chillag, who received the 2013 artist award from the Phoenix Art Museum’s Contemporary Forum, showed works at the Chocolate Factory. And Joseph "Sentrock" Perez, the 2011 Big Brain visual arts honoree, completed a new mural just in time for Art Detour viewing. It's not the first time ancillary must-sees have popped up around Art Detour, and it's unlikely to be the last.
Spaces that strayed from the typical Friday night artwalk fare were the most exciting parts of the event. For instance, Grand ArtHaus hosted several artists live-painting in the new artist collective studio/exhibit space during the event.
Grand Avenue actually organized its own event, Detour de Grand, which took place Saturday, March 19 — and included bands, beer, and a bike ride. Given ways the metro Phoenix art scene has expanded during the last 28 years, other arts districts would do well to follow suit in terms of putting their own unique spin on Art Detour weekend.
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Time and again, people who attend Art Detour rave about opportunities to see artists’ studios and talk with them about their work.
Moving from an exhibition-focused event to a studio tour model might be just the ticket for turning Art Detour into a must-attend event. Artlink has already shifted somewhat in that direction, offering a separate shuttle this year for those keen on visiting studios.
ASU's Grant Street Studios struck just the right balance with its TAG Open House, presented by graduate students in The Art Grads club, which featured three exhibitions, dozens of open studios with present artists, a mix of visual with performance art, and artist demonstrations. Observe, Art Detour organizers. And learn.
Correction: This post has been edited from it's original version to clarify that the first Art Detour took place in 1989. An earlier version of this article stated that there were no shuttle stops in Roosevelt Row, but there were two.