Best Comedy Festival 2016 | Bird City Comedy Festival | Megalopolitan Life | Phoenix

Every big city needs its signature festival that people from all over the country (and if it's good enough, the world) flock to. Los Angeles has FYF Fest. Denver has the Great American Beer Festival. Chicago has Taste of Chicago. And while Phoenix does have the McDowell Mountain Music Festival, the Strong Beer Festival, and the Devoured Culinary Classic, we think Bird City Comedy Festival could be the one to really put Phoenix on the map. You know, in the festival world, at least. Sure, this hilarious fest just debuted this year, but with national headliners like Emily Heller of the Baby Geniuses podcast and Beth Stelling of @midnight and Jimmy Kimmel Live, plus plenty of spotlight for local talent, we can't wait to see what comes next.

Atop concrete floors and divided into rooms without ceilings by bright white walls often tacked with notes and works in progress are the studios for select graduate arts students at Arizona State University. Despite the sliding metal doors conjuring a jail-cell-like look, we imagine Grant Street Studios is a great spot to hole up while prepping for a thesis exhibition and bouncing ideas off other student artists. What's more? The studios are open once a year during Phoenix's annual artwalk blowout called Art Detour, during which anyone can tour the spaces, peek in on artists at work, discuss what they're up to, and see someone who very well might be the next big thing.

Andrew Pielage

Designed by Midcentury Modern architect Al Beadle, this semi-subterranean gallery wrapped in a white scrim beautifully backlit at night, is itself a work of art. Lisa Sette, a gallerist for more than three decades, presents visual art in various media, as well as installation and performance pieces from emerging and established artists for local and international art aficionados. Recently, the gallery has featured new works by local artists including Rachel Bess and Carrie Marill, and presented the first gallery exhibition of works by British artist Bruce Munro, whose primary medium is light. The gallery represents its artists at renowned international art fairs, and works with new and experienced collectors, as well as collecting museums, to build and enhance their assemblages. In doing so, it inspires local artists to pursue exceptional artistry and technique, while setting the Arizona arts scene on the world stage.

Empty space in a bustling city can be such a drag. But Isaac and Gabriel Fortoul, the brothers and artists who've adopted the moniker 40Owls, are making sure one beautiful space in downtown Phoenix doesn't sit completely unused. Their pop-up gallery inside an office space along the Central Corridor has great bones — exposed ceiling rafters, red brick walls, and concrete floors. During a March exhibition titled "Fortoul Brothers Phoenix," the brothers transformed the space into an immersive art experience. Visitors walked through an installation of giant teardrop sculptures suspended from the rafters as they arrived, then explored paintings and sculptural works — including a pair of pieces connected by a winding path of moist sand. Live DJ music and a bar with Fortoul Brothers art as a backdrop is always part of the pop-up gallery experience here, and there's always at least a small sampling of merchandise with iconic Fortoul Brothers images, which include nude women, pineapples, and water drops. People who go know they'll get the full package, making the 40Owls pop-up gallery a place to not just see art, but to experience it.

Weave your way through the halls of Grant Street Studios, home to Arizona State University's masters of fine arts students' studios, and eventually you'll arrive at Northlight Gallery. It's one of the university's four exhibition spaces dedicated to works by its students (and sometimes its faculty), spotlighting some of the Valley's most thought-provoking works displayed in the high-ceiling setting of a salvaged brick warehouse just south of downtown. Overseen by director and curator Liz Allen and previously located in Tempe, Northlight moved to Grant Street in 2014 and exhibits photographic works by students as well as the work of international emerging artists and university-affiliated creatives. Legitimizing the work of students by sharing wall space with globally relevant works? The warehouse district's where it's at.

Gotta say, since Roosevelt Row's found itself overrun with development and condo construction, we've found ourselves spending much more of our twice-monthly artwalk hours scoping out the city's slantiest stretch. Indeed, the arts are booming on Grand Avenue, and our fingers are crossed that this is just the beginning. Well, not the beginning, exactly. Gallerist Laura Dragon's art space {9} the Gallery has been hosting exhibitions and events for years now and has hit quite the streak, collaborating with Tara Sharpe's Artelshow to host an art show and site-specific dance performance, developing relationships with Valley art favorites including Joseph "Sentrock" Perez (who's based in Chicago now, but visits the Valley frequently) and Lauren Lee, and finally giving women street artists their due with a gallery exhibition titled "Rue Femme." After years of museum and gallery shows around town ignoring women street artists, {9} put them in the spotlight. It's that combination of paying attention, passion, and willingness to take risks that makes it a model in the burgeoning arts district.

It's no secret that there are countless galleries, restaurants, and bars in downtown Phoenix that are great for taking in all that is First Friday. But if you want to ride the supreme First Friday vibes, you need to put yourself on Fifth Street between Roosevelt and Garfield streets. Peruse the street vendors selling everything from original paintings to silverware jewelry, pop into one of several galleries that line the street, drop by the Lost Leaf to catch an inevitably cool local act, and grab an ice cream cone from Melt or an iced toddy from Jobot. And then, just park it. The activity and buzz animating this downtown street might just be the best work of art you'll see all night.

Best Place to Learn About Native Southwestern Culture

Heard Museum

Besides obnoxious, people who say that Phoenix has no culture are actually kinda racist. No culture? Tell that to the Heard Museum, the Southwest's premier hub of Native American art and history, home to educational events, art exhibitions, and festivals. It's been open since 1929, and serves as the Valley's go-to source for those curious about both their local history and what kinds of art indigenous people across the county craft. Wanna know the story behind the road named Indian School or the impact the region's railways had on its Native people? You'll find both — and get the chance to see contemporary artworks as well as historic items. And here you thought we were being dramatic.

Last time we checked, it cost about $20 million to take a jaunt on a commercial space flight, so until we've saved up the dough, we like to replicate an out-of-this-world experience at Phoenix Art Museum. "You Who Are Getting Obliterated in the Dancing Swarm of Fireflies," more commonly known as the Firefly Room, is a 2005 mixed-media installation with LED lights by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. Step inside (pro tip: move slowly, and keep your left hand on the wall until your eyes adjust), and you're transported to another realm; tiny color-shifting lights suspended from the ceiling get reflected in mirrored walls and a black marble floor to breathtaking effect, creating a dazzling, multi-hued starscape. We're still keeping an eye out for that NASA Groupon deal, but until then, the Firefly Room is your best bet for an in-town space odyssey.

Gridlock, haboobs, Sheriff Joe — life in Phoenix can be harsh sometimes. Fortunately, there exists in the center of town a space so secluded, so peaceful, we almost don't want a lot of people to know about it. Okay, fine. We'll share.

The next time you need a moment of Zen, you're welcome to join us at Ro Ho En, also known as the Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix. Completed in 2000 as a symbol of the relationship between Phoenix and its sister city Himeji, Japan, this 3.5-acre "strolling garden" offers stress relief and inner calm in the form of paved paths, shade trees, stone sculptures, friendly wildlife, and a central lake. The Garden hosts special events now and then such as tea ceremonies and an annual moon viewing festival, but really, any time is a good time to feed the koi, exhale deeply, and experience a little serenity now.

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