Best People Watching 2014 | Arizona State Fair | People & Places | Phoenix

When the Ferris wheel starts turning and the food starts frying, Phoenix fair-goers find themselves abuzz with talk of the most ridiculous rides, the craziest confection concoctions, and the lineup of slightly less than A-list musical acts. But truth be told, our favorite attraction at the Arizona State Fair just so happens to be the cheapest: admission. One ticket into the fairgrounds guarantees hours of top-notch people-watching. From teardrop-tattooed gangsters holding giant stuffed teddy bears and tethered adolescents being toted along by their parents to grim carnival workers blowing bubbles and scantily clad ladies chowing down on cotton candy, there is no event more eclectic than the annual Arizona State Fair.

Allison Young

Attention, ladies, gentlemen, and everyone in between. It's high time we came out of the water closet. The world is not black and white, and a lot more happens in a restaurant bathroom than just number one or number two. Perhaps no one knew this better than the late Scottsdale designer Janis Leonard, who designed the He/She bathroom at AZ88. Take a step inside this transgender commode and you'll find yourself surrounded by mirrored panels, strange music, and a montage of miniature movie screens depicting everything from sound hygiene procedures to softcore pornography. It's discotheque meets toilet and totally worth a trip (or two) away from the table.

It's tough to pinpoint the heart of Phoenix's independent literary scene, but Four Chambers just might be it. The journal, released twice a year, collects works of fiction including locally produced poems and short stories, with the goal of creating a stronger network of culturally conscious locals by building up a community — hence the name. Founded by Jake Friedman, who's spent time working with Hayden's Ferry Review and Central Phoenix Writing Workshop, the publication awards cash prizes to authors and features illustrations. Past editions have included works by Shawnte Orion, Natasha Murdock, and Allyson Boggess along with art from Isaac Caruso, Ashley Macias, and James B. Hunt. And we're eagerly anticipating issue three, set for release in March 2015.

Local arts dynamo Tania Katan launched this spoken-word series in 2012, and it — fueled by local talent and Katan's actor pals in Los Angeles — was an overnight success. Sometimes humorous, often touching, and always entertaining, this hour-plus of live readings from people such as actress Kim Porter and playwright Michael Grady and live music from local fave bands like The Pübes quickly became a go-to cultural event. High points this past year included actress Linda Dearmond's emotional tale of her son's suicide; Porter's hilarious piece about meeting a stranger who'd just chopped off his own finger; and Katan's own story about the time she almost became famous. Around here, Katan is famous for bringing us the best spoken-word series the Valley has ever seen. Full disclosure: New Times is lucky to be partnering with SMoCA and Katan to bring the city a special "Tales of the City" Best of Phoenix edition of Lit Lounge.

In-the-know art fans and schmoozers alike drop in between 5 and 10 p.m. on the first Friday of every month, not only to cruise Phoenix Art Museum's current exhibitions and ogle its permanent collection for free, but also to see and be seen among like-minded creatives. Even those who've already seen the latest that PAM has to offer stop by to rub elbows, and maybe to pick up a free Artlink map of that night's gallery offerings out in the world. Culture vultures and art-scene newbies eye one another in the company of collectors and art historians, and everyone looks smarter and hipper doing it, because they're in a museum. Check it out — and prepare to be checked out, in return.

Andrew Pielage

After 28 years on Scottsdale's Marshall Way, Lisa Sette Gallery has moved to midtown Phoenix. Its new home is a semi-subterranean building by late Midcentury Modern architect Al Beadle. Wrapped in white scrim, it's a beautiful, minimal space in white and gray that's a sleek backdrop to pieces showcased by Sette, the perennial tastemaker. Ultimately, that's what makes the gallery the best. For its opening show, Sette displayed works from an array of artists, including Mayme Kratz, Mark Klett, and Carrie Marill, the latter of whom provided a new body of work for the gallery's final Scottsdale show.

It's no secret that we're fans of Becky Nahom. The ASU grad and arts scene up-and-comer (who's worked or volunteered at nearly every major arts institution in town) won a 2014 Big Brain Award for her curatorial efforts. With her partner, Julia Bruck, Nahom launched Halt Gallery, a mobile curating project that allows the duo to bring works they love to new spaces. This year they've presented site-specific shows by Laura Spalding Best and Elysia Holland Michaelsen at Hot Box Gallery and Eye Lounge. But as they continue curating, the pair plans to diversify the spaces where they hold exhibitions. Best keep an eye out.

Contain yourself. The downtown Phoenix arts scene has a new pop-up gallery that's made from a repurposed ocean-certified shipping container — and it's a must-see. The Greg Esser-helmed arts project launched with help from Phoenix Institute of Contemporary Art, Roosevelt Row CDC, and grant funding from ArtPlace America. Since then, the small mobile arts space (it's just 20 feet long) has hosted works from Amelec Diaz, Maral Tabrizi, and Laura Spalding Best, who displayed pieces inside the gallery and gave its exterior a fresh coat of paint by way of a mural.

Not too long ago, Marshall Way in Old Town Scottsdale was the place to be on Thursday evenings, for art walks that predated downtown Phoenix's crazy First Fridays and actually offered art you might want to buy and hang on your walls — assuming you could afford it.

One by one, though, the big Scottsdale galleries have shut down, leaving Marshall Way a ghost town, save for one old favorite: Kraig Foote's Art One. Not only is much of the work in this gallery a deal at any price, it's priced to sell and created by students. This is not a student gallery as much as it is a gallery that sells professional-quality work that happens to be created by students — at affordable prices. Over the years, we've heard again and again from local artists who say they never could have broken into the business without Foote's support. He's got good taste and a big heart, and we hope Art One never goes away.

The warehouse district is on the up and up. And ASU's Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts is getting in on the action. Along with five graduate studio programs from the School of Art, the school moved its Step Gallery from Tempe to a warehouse renovated by preservationist Michael Levine. The industrial space features exposed brick and bright orange-red beams, while the painted white centralized gallery space features exhibitions by the school's graduate students. Yes, it's a bit off the traditional First Friday path, but the art space is the perfect place to catch Arizona's up-and-comers.

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