Medlock Plaza
Here's an uncomfortable truth, Handmade Nation fans: All indie craft festivals are not created equal. You'd think, given the name, that this would be a real specialty niche and that you could pretty much expect to find super-cool handmade and vintage awesomeness at every table at such events. Not so. Frankly, we've seen so much junk out there that we think most craft festivals should be called crap festivals. Some of this stuff isn't fit for Regretsy. Ah, but we digress. Because, really, we're here to give you the hint about the one local craft festival you should visit: Frances and Smeeks' Indie Crafeteria. Snuggled into the parking lot at Medlock Plaza — typically on the first Friday of December — this gathering isn't large, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in style. Last year, we found tote bags sewn from vintage Muppets bedsheets, crystal and leather jewelry from local artisan Lucky Designs, and, in a rare appearance north of McDowell Road, we saw Beatrice Moore hawking her bump chenille wreaths and other Kooky Krafts. When you're done at the tables, you can shop at one of our favorite collections of local shops — Frances, Stinkweeds, Red Hot Robot, and Smeeks (Practical Art is just around the corner). By early December, you should be able to say you've completed your holiday shopping. Pretty crafty!
Long before every town was setting up tents and hawking ceramic Kleenex holders several times a year, Scottsdale was making a name for itself nationwide with its annual arts festival. Now, this is the way it should be done: great art, great food, great setting. Music, performance, crafts for the kids. The prices aren't cheap, but neither is the artwork for sale. Even if you're just looking, it's worth the price of admission to wander booth to booth on what's typically a perfectly springy March day, checking out enormous metal sculptures and pretty little oil paintings. We find it inspiring.
Kara Roschi and Ernesto Moncada came up with the idea to offer insider tours of First Friday spots last spring, when street closures turned off a lot of folks to the popular art walk. Even though the Phoestival was discontinued (at least for a while), the pair went ahead with a bilingual tour of the Roosevelt District for September's First Friday, with plans for future tours of Grand Avenue and Central Phoenix. We love this idea. Roschi, a performance artist, dons a fancy red dress for the occasion, hence the name. The tours are free, and all are welcome. Check out The Red Dress Tours Facebook page for more details, or call 480-225-9735.
Westwind Studios
Take a run-down and vacant motel, do some renovations, stick a bunch of artists in each room, and see what happens. That's what the folks behind Westwind Studios, a living and working community for artists, did for this year's Art Detour Weekend. We wandered through a headache-inducing suite with red and blue balloons, streamers, and drawings, as we donned some old-school 3-D glasses. Another space featured an audio and video-projection installation that buzzed and whizzed as we moved through the space. But the shining star of the experience was our last stop, into one of the motel rooms turned studios, in which ASU professor Adriene Jenik was kneeling on the floor. She was making tick marks on the wall in charcoal — one for every Iraqi death. The performance piece lasted all weekend. The powerful performance, combined with the other stimulating mini-exhibitions, made for the best stop of Art Detour.
We're not going to make another joke about the economy. What we will do instead, however, is tell you about the best thing to come out of these rough times: the "pop-up galleries" along Marshall Way in Scottsdale. The past couple of years have seen too many gallery closures along the once-bustling Scottsdale Artwalk fave. Early this year, Bentley Calverley of Bentley Gallery read an article in the New York Times about "pop-up galleries." In big cities like New York and London, landlords have temporarily rented vacant space to artists at super-low prices. The folks at Bentley Gallery made some calls to their neighbors, and landlord Dewey Schade answered. With his reduced rent, 5 & 6 Fine Art Space and other pop-ups have treated Scottsdale to some fabulous art shows ever since. Nice silver lining, eh?
Unsung Gallery
Outsider art, for those of you who may not know, is art made by an untrained person for no other reason than to exercise creativity. In fact, that may even be too much explanation. Outsider art comes straight from the heart without concern for gallery shows, critics, or patrons. Much as a child would, some people are simply moved to take pen to paper, paintbrush to canvas, or, in the case of a recent anonymous artist who showed at the Unsung Gallery, a model sailboat to the wood shell of a vintage radio. We stumbled on the gallery, housed in the vintage and antique store Universal Furnishings and Offerings (UFO), and have since been blown away by the stream of raw, unpretentious art that owner Leonardo Ramirez has found. Often, his artists prefer to remain anonymous. Ramirez features work by individuals who live on the fringe of normal society — one artist is disabled and spends his hours making diorama light sculptures. Another is diagnosed with schizophrenia and lives at the Arizona State Hospital. If you think the stories are intriguing, just wait until you see the art.
Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art
We don't want to get over-the-top corny, but when folks do good in the world, they should be recognized for it. With this award, we're not talking about someone who did something ultra-hip or nice-looking; we're talking about helping other human beings in need. This basic tenet of do-goodery is met with the "Arts Engagement" series at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. In this program, Banner Health teamed up with the museum to help folks living with Alzheimer's. Participants are invited to join specially designed tours and hands-on art activities. In spring 2010, SMoCA docents went the extra mile and donated funds, out of their own pockets, to waive the fees for the majority of the class participants. Now that deserves some serious praise — even if we have to get corny.
The Lost Leaf
The Lost Leaf
On the second Tuesday of each month, you'll find aspiring artists (21 and over only, please) bent over the tables at The Lost Leaf in downtown Phoenix, drawing their hearts out, at the behest of local Artists (yes, with a capital A) Rachel Bess and Matt Dickson, who've turned a lark into a full-fledged happening. For just $7, for three hours once a month, you can draw live models, sip a beverage, and live the boho life. Who knows? Maybe one day, those sketches will be worth something.
Cartel Coffee Lab
We like our baristas snarky. Occasionally, though, baristas are too busy filling coffee orders to lay on the snark. That's why the cardboard signs at Cartel are so subtly brilliant. "Get off your phone or we'll release the raptors," one sign displays in black and red Sharpie with tiny teeth in the "o" of "raptors." Another sign urges you to "bitch all you want, but cappuccinos are for here." We can't take our cappuccinos to go? Normally we'd be furious with an insatiable anger, but your cutesy sign of cardboard affixed to your back wall makes us want to smile instead. Bless your cardboard snark, Cartel.
Phoenix-based artist Spencer Hibert makes all kinds of art. He paints and sculpts; his latest creature is called Goo Goo Ghandi, and it looks like sort of a cross between the Incredible Hulk and a super-drippy, see-through candle. Cool. But our favorite Hibert creation is the Miigii, an opaque little plastic guy that comes with a set of stickers with which to customize him. Hibert makes 'em big, but he also made 'em super-small — small enough to fit in a vending machine. Make that thousands of vending machines around the world. You can buy a set of mini Miigiis on Hibert's website, but it's more fun to see if you can spot them in a vending machine at the grocery store. Happy hunting!

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